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Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470041239
ISBN-10: 0470041234
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Editorial Reviews


"Retrofitting Suburbia advocates drastically overhauling much of America's older suburban development, and shows in considerable detail how to make it happen. At the heart of the opus is an analysis of 36 real-world projects that demonstrate not only that suburban redevelopment is economically viable, but also that the movement is well under way." (Period Homes, 2010)

"Ellen Dunham-Jones focused much of her talk on redeveloping the failing shopping centers and big box stores of suburbia. Her book, "Retrofitting Suburbia", looks at more than 80 examples done around the country." (The Florida Times-Union, May 2010)

"…offers an interesting look at the possible future of suburbs, and what to do with all those abandoned malls and warehouse -style stores with sprawling parking lots. Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson present the argument for "retrofitting" existing low-density communities and commercial strips into sustainable, mixed-use spaces that reduce urban sprawl and the dependence on cars." (Cincinnati.com, November 21, 2009)

"Aging suburban cities, especially first tier cities, are finding it more and more difficult to afford the massive infrastructure and services necessary to accommodate those thinly spread homes and businesses. Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson call this the "suburban form" in their recent book, Retrofitting Suburbia. They partially define the suburban form as isolated buildings, single uses, auto-dependence, low density, and streets and roads that branch out and often end in cul-de-sacs." (National League of Cities, November 2, 2009)

"Why, where, and how should suburbia be retrofitted? This content-rich, well-written book provides compelling answers. The book's analysis and commentaries are rigorous and comprehensive, predicated not on academic theory but on planning and development history, social science, demographics, market conditions, and regulatory considerations." (Architectural Record, November 2009)

"…highlights a handful of innovative suburban revamps that have already gained traction. Some examples highlight the benefits of simply re-inhabiting existing buildings. Others chronicle "re-greening efforts" to restore local ecology and wetlands while bolstering adjacent property values. But many of the book's examples focus on the redevelopment of what the author describes as a "fragmented habitat whose public realm is designed for cars" not people." (Builder Magazine, October 15, 2009)

"A well-regarded new book-Retrofitting Suburbia - describes the results as "incremental metropolitanism". It consists of connecting and filling in to increase the density of both people and uses on the same acreage, making better use of infrastructure and energy and creating environments congenial to walking and socializing, all of which aggregrates demand sufficiently to support convenience retail and restaurants." (Illinois Times, October 22, 2009)

"Overall this book is an interesting read and just about the first to deal in any depth with what no doubt will emerge as a major concern of academic debate and planning and design practice." (Environmental and Planning, 2009 Vol 36)

"We aren't proposing to demolish entire single-family neighborhoods" says Prof. Dunham Jones at Georgia Tecyh. Rather, "the idea is to revitalize an area by inserting more choices for people, especially more urban choices." (Wall Street Journal, September 19-20, 2009)

"Well-illustrated case studies make up the bulk of the book. These range from in-filling garden apartments and reimagining dead malls to revising Levittown and remaking Main Street. Along the way the authors offer useful how-to details: organizing charettes, dealing with building codes, analyzing sites morphologically. Like their predecessor, the authors are remarkbly optimistic about the possibility of solving the problems with which US communities are burdened." (Choice, August 2009)

"…a book documenting the successful redevelopment of shopping centers and other types of properties." (Harvard Business Review, July - August 2009)

"In Retrofitting Suburbia…Dunham-Jones and Williamson target the outdated, unsustainable developments of existing suburbs. With the reduction of vehicle miles traveled as their goal, the authors see transit options and increased density as the key means for success....the book leaves no suburban condition untouched." (A Daily Dose of Architecture, July 2009)

"Retrofitting" suburbia has to do with environmental sustainability as well as economic: greater densities, diversity of uses and reduced car dependence. The authors' examples range from fitting solar collectors to individual houses to finding new uses for abandoned big box streets and introducing public streets into the vast tracts of privately controlled land associated with shopping centres." (Ottawa Citizen, 7/27/09)

"...suburban infill developments and redevelopments are springing up all around the country. A recently released book explores several of the most interesting and successful of these projects. Retrofitting Suburbia documents dilemmas the nation faces as a result of changing demographics and volatile economic conditions." (Residential Architect, 6/3/09)

"Retrofits, as they're called, take a variety of forms, from "raze it all and start anew" to creative adaptation of an existing space, such as the Food Lion supermarket in Denton, Texas, that became a public library. Each process shares common goals: reduce the blight, scale down sprawl, cut car traffic, amp up foot and bicycle access, and eliminate barriers between residential and retail space. In "Retrofitting Suburbia," Ms. Dunham-Jones and Williamson argued that similar revitalizations are necessary to accommodate the rapidly changing suburban culture." (Christian Science Monitor, 5/22/09)

"Dunham-Jones and Williamson use real-world case studies to show how older (or even empty) office parks, malls, and residential subdivisions can be reinvented and revitalized through changes in transit patterns, rezoning for mixed use, and adaptive reuse of existing buildings and roads. The book is jam-packed with innovative cases spanning small and large scale projects, and frames them within the context of urban planning theory." (Popgadget.net, 5/19/09)

"Retrofitting Suburbia overflows with innovative examples, from decreprit Walmarts reimagined as elegant churches, to derelict edge-city highway strips transformed into multi-purpose boulevards. The book's ultimate goal is to create a sort of primer in what the authors call "incremental metropolitanism" - a design philosophy that sees Jane Jacobs' spirit living on in the repurposing of "ghostboxes" (abandoned big box retail outlets). Retrofitting Suburbia assembles all the essential tools a designer needs to join new frontier of sustainability." (Azure Magazine, April 29th, 2009)

"I love books. I have hundreds of them. Many are great resources. But none have proved as valuable as the recently published Retrofitting Suburbia. The introduction does a wonderful job of explaining "urban versus suburban form." Every elected official in every local of government needs to read this book cover to cover." (Urban Review STL, April 28th, 2009)

"An excellent recent book called Retrofitting Suburbia is essential reading for anyone interested in just how much possiblity there is in the reimagining of suburban space as sustainable space." (CivicCamp, April 17th, 2009)

"…a timely book co-written by Atlantan Ellen Dunham-Jones, proposes a way to turn dead malls - as well as ailing office parks, older subdivisions and strip-center-lined aretrial roads into lively places. She and co-author June Williamson have adapted those principles to mint what you might call New Suburbanism." (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 12th, 2009)

"…do a splendid job of explaining and illustrating what they call "incremental metropolitanism" in Retroftting Suburbia. The authors make clear at the beginning that by "urban" and "suburban" they are talking about the kinds of built environments that can appear anywhere." (American Planning Association, April 2009)

"The American suburb as we know it is dying. The suburbs need to be remade, and just such a transformation is under way in regions that were known for some of the worst sprawl in the U.S. communities. Many Americans will still prefer the space of the suburbs - including the parking spaces. People want to balance the privacy of the suburbs with more public and social areas" says Dunham-Jones. But the result will be a U.S. that is more sustainable - environmentally and economically." (Time Magazine, March 12th, 2009)

"…is the latest volume to tackle the complex problems of urban-suburban flux. The authors rightly explain that the city and suburbia are intimately interrelated rather than oppositional, and that suburbia is constantly evolving, with many older suburbs around the United States today ripe for urbanization.This book is important and well-intentioned, and its subject is certainly deserving." (The Architect's Newspaper, March 4th, 2009)

"If I am right, and central cities alone can't handle the growing demand for urban living, then there is only one practical choice: we are going to have to urbanize the suburbs. This, in fact, is the premise of this new splendid book by two architecture professors. They argue that the remaking of the american suburb not only needs to happen but already is happening, in places scattered all over the country. And they offer reporting and superb photography to back up their claim." (governing.com-Alan Ehrenhalt, March 1, 2009)

"Architects Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson confront the challenge of redeveloping abandoned suburban retail space in their new book, Retrofitting Suburbia. The detailed text also explores several creative solutions in which progressive planning has reinvigorated suburban communities nationwide." (Popular Mechanics, February 2nd, 2009)

"Most of the book's case studies involve projects of 40 acres or more. The authors say large projects are needed to achieve the critical mass necessary to induce behavioral change," such as encouraging more walking and less driving." (New Urban News; Jan-Feb 2009)

"With some of the nation's fastest growth occurring in many suburban communities over the last couple of decades, some current residents might ask why do suburbs need to be designed? Yet, changes taking place in the American economy, marketplace, lifestyles, demographics and design philosophies have necessitated a re-thinking of how we have traditionally ordered our outlying residential communities. Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson make a strong case for this in Retrofitting Suburbia." (chicagoarchitecturetoday.com; 1/09)

"What's happening around the country is that such places as dead shopping malls, underperforming industrial and business parks, empty big-box stores, worn-out strip malls, aging garden apartments and older subdivisions near transit stops are being changed into vibrant, mixed-use development of various kinds. This - the point of the book - is a good thing. Perhaps its most important contribution is a vision of metropolitan regions that have a number of vibrant and populous town centers." (The Hartford Courant; 1/11/09)

"This is the first book I've come across that is specifically targeted at how to redevelop and reposition suburbs for the 21st century world. I think the case studies are particularly relevant. The book provides many examples to study, in areas ranging from enclosed malls to edge cities. The authors are pretty fair in showing both the good and the bad of these. Given the wealth of case studies and reference materials, I think that this is a book that deserves to be on the shelf of leaders in all suburbs in need of redevelopment." (theurbanophile; 1/10/09)

"…the greatest threat to suburbs over the next decade is this: "There might not be enough people to live in them." So says June Williamson, author of Retrofitting Suburbia. In the 1950's, 50 percent of American households had children. Now, says Williamson, that percentage has shrunk to 35; by 2030, it'll be down to 25 percent. So suburbia is due for a massive makeover. Yes, it's time for a retrofit." (grist.org; 1/15/09)

"Dunham-Jones said big-box enclosed malls have become a dying breed as more shoppers prefer going to shop at strip malls or "lifestyle" open-air mall. In an upcoming book, "Retrofitting Suburbia", co-authored by Dunham Jones, she's included case studies of places across North America that have turned dead malls or big-box stores into thriving community centers." (CnnMoney.com; 12/17/08)

"Its encouraging to see that there are enough suburban retrofits to fill a whole book. Retrofitting Suburbia helps provide evidence the new administration needs to put together a broad spectrum program that will create jobs, improve quality of life for all, and energy independence." (metrpolismag.com; 12/24/08)

From the Back Cover

A guide, with multiple case studies, for redeveloping out-of-date suburban developments into more urban, sustainable places

The last fifty years have been dominated by the reproduction of sprawl development patterns. The big project for the next fifty years will be retrofitting sprawl into sustainable places.

Considerable attention has been paid to development in urban cores and new neighborhoods on the exurban periphery. But in between, the out-of-date and unsustainable developments in existing suburbs also provide enormous opportunities for regeneration. Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs is a comprehensive guidebook for architects, planners, urban designers, developers, and elected officials that illustrates how existing suburban developments can be redesigned into more urban and more sustainable places.

Framing the larger arguments advocating this kind of suburban evolution, the authors—both architects and noted experts on the subject—show how development in existing suburbs can absorb new growth and evolve in relation to changed demographic, economic, and regional conditions. Beyond simply re-skinning buildings or changing use, the best suburban retrofits systemically transform their neighborhoods, increasing connectivity and walkability, while contributing to affordability, transit, and sustainability.

Innovative case studies provide on-the-ground examples of successful attempts at:

  • Retrofitting regional malls, shopping centers, and office parks

  • Adaptive reuse of big box stores

  • Urbanizing residential subdivisions

  • Converting apartment complexes for new demographics

  • Transforming commercial strip corridors

At once intelligent analysis, hands-on guide, and urgent call to action, Retrofitting Suburbia will open the way for architects and urban planners interested in sustainability and smart growth to recognize the opportunities in our oft-neglected suburban landscape.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (December 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470041234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470041239
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #620,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Morningside Heights in Manhattan looked surprisingly suburban at the turn of the century. One of the most striking comparisons in this book shows a photo of Morningside Heights in the late 1800s beside a photo of a modern, suburban apartment complex outside Dallas. The two photos look remarkably similar, even to the point of having cattle in the background. Manhattan's transition from rural to suburban to urban happened surprisingly quickly, and throughout this book it becomes evident that no matter the physical infrastructure of a place, transition is possible.

While having background in urban planning certainly helps understand the context of this book, and there is some planning jargon, any reader interested in the future of suburbs will find this book interesting and approachable. To a large degree this book consists of a series of case studies of various suburban retrofits--how to make such places more walkable, transit friendly and less generic. Effectively, the author is arguing to make these places more unique and relevant to human needs rather than accepting the current status quo of auto-centric design. The photos and diagrams from all over the country are superb and really convey the impact retrofitting can have on communities. The transformations include malls being changed into community town centers (complete with housing and other mixed uses), suburban office buildings being changed into condos, and even strip malls transformed into schools.

To the urban planners who may use these case studies professionally, there is not much discussion or advice on how to handle political or economic battles.
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Format: Hardcover
This book tells us why and how to retrofit suburbs, and in particular aging suburban commercial areas.

First, the why- older suburban office parks, malls and strip malls often cannot successfully compete with newer, shinier commerce further out in suburbia. And because they are often surrounded by developed land, they cannot adapt simply by expanding. So they need to change or die. Moreover, there is a more public-spirited reason for change: if suburbs are adapted to become more pedestrian-friendly, they will generate fewer car trips and thus less pollution.

Second, the how. The typical suburban commercial area involves buildings set back far from the street, thus making walking inconvenient. The area between the street and the buildings is typically dominated by parking lots.

The authors' formula, put simply, is: build a bunch of stuff where the parking lot is now. Make some of it residential, so people can walk to the shops and offices (thus increasing the market for the shops). And instead of disorienting superblocks, make these residences, shops and offices on a grid of streets that are narrow enough to be easily crossed by pedestrians. Put the parking in decks surrounded by "liner buildings" so that it doesn't impair walking or uglify the neighborhood. Finally, the authors show numerous examples, to show how doable it all is.

Why only commercial areas? Residential areas are not so easily changed, because a typical subdivision has hundreds of owners while a strip mall has only one. So the only way to change a subdivision is to buy out every owner.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Since the 1950's, the United States has demonstrated a rapid pattern of suburban growth. Over the years, it has become evident that this growth pattern of large lots, ample private space and auto dependent development has its downfalls. Environmental concerns, rising gas prices, and the changing needs of society as those who originally bought into the suburban neighborhoods post World War II age and people have less and less children have begun to necessitate a change in the suburban growth pattern. In Retrofitting Suburbia, Ellen Dunham--Jones and June Williamson provide an innovative look into this issue and discuss potential solutions through various case studies from around the country.

The authors begin by discussing five reasons why retrofitting takes place. The first of these is that aging and out of date properties, such as dying malls, retail strips and office parks are beginning to create fears of blight in suburban areas. Also, regional cities are growing into edgeless suburban cities, depending highly on auto transit. Now, however, traffic and air quality concerns have led to communities searching for solutions to transit issues, resulting in public transit options being considered. This type of development encourages the redevelopment of underperforming areas into mixed use and walkable areas around transit stops.

The third reason is the changing locational and economic identity of the suburbs. The "bedroom suburbs" of the fifties that were originally far from the central city are now in central areas due to expansion, and they desire to make themselves destination points. The demographics of the suburbs are changing as well, along with the markets they appeal to.
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