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Retrofitting Suburbia, Updated Edition: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs Paperback – March 29, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0470934326 ISBN-10: 0470934328 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470934328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470934326
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


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

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

"…offers an interesting look at the possible future ofsuburbs, and what to do with all those abandoned malls andwarehouse -style stores with sprawling parking lots. EllenDunham-Jones and June Williamson present the argument for"retrofitting" existing low-density communities and commercialstrips into sustainable, mixed-use spaces that reduce urban sprawland the dependence on cars." (, November 21,2009)

"Aging suburban cities, especially first tier cities, arefinding it more and more difficult to afford the massiveinfrastructure and services necessary to accommodate those thinlyspread homes and businesses. Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamsoncall this the "suburban form" in their recent book, RetrofittingSuburbia. They partially define the suburban form as isolatedbuildings, single uses, auto-dependence, low density, and streetsand 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? Thiscontent-rich, well-written book provides compelling answers. Thebook's analysis and commentaries are rigorous and comprehensive,predicated not on academic theory but on planning and developmenthistory, social science, demographics, market conditions, andregulatory considerations." (Architectural Record, November2009)

"…highlights a handful of innovative suburban revamps thathave already gained traction. Some examples highlight the benefitsof simply re-inhabiting existing buildings. Others chronicle"re-greening efforts" to restore local ecology and wetlands whilebolstering adjacent property values. But many of the book'sexamples focus on the redevelopment of what the author describes asa "fragmented habitat whose public realm is designed for cars" notpeople." (Builder Magazine, October 15, 2009)

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

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

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

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

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

"In Retrofitting Suburbia…Dunham-Jones and Williamsontarget the outdated, unsustainable developments of existingsuburbs. With the reduction of vehicle miles traveled as theirgoal, the authors see transit options and increased density as thekey means for success....the book leaves no suburban conditionuntouched." (A Daily Dose of Architecture, July 2009)

"Retrofitting" suburbia has to do with environmentalsustainability as well as economic: greater densities, diversity ofuses and reduced car dependence. The authors' examples range fromfitting solar collectors to individual houses to finding new usesfor abandoned big box streets and introducing public streets intothe vast tracts of privately controlled land associated withshopping centres." (Ottawa Citizen, 7/27/09)

"...suburban infill developments and redevelopments arespringing up all around the country. A recently released bookexplores several of the most interesting and successful of theseprojects. Retrofitting Suburbia documents dilemmas the nation facesas a result of changing demographics and volatile economicconditions." (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 existingspace, such as the Food Lion supermarket in Denton, Texas, thatbecame a public library. Each process shares common goals: reducethe blight, scale down sprawl, cut car traffic, amp up foot andbicycle access, and eliminate barriers between residential andretail space. In "Retrofitting Suburbia," Ms. Dunham-Jones andWilliamson argued that similar revitalizations are necessary toaccommodate the rapidly changing suburban culture." (ChristianScience Monitor, 5/22/09)

"Dunham-Jones and Williamson use real-world case studies to showhow older (or even empty) office parks, malls, and residentialsubdivisions can be reinvented and revitalized through changes intransit patterns, rezoning for mixed use, and adaptive reuse ofexisting buildings and roads. The book is jam-packed withinnovative cases spanning small and large scale projects, andframes them within the context of urban planning theory."(, 5/19/09)

"Retrofitting Suburbia overflows with innovative examples, fromdecreprit Walmarts reimagined as elegant churches, to derelictedge-city highway strips transformed into multi-purpose boulevards.The book's ultimate goal is to create a sort of primer in what theauthors call "incremental metropolitanism" - a design philosophythat sees Jane Jacobs' spirit living on in the repurposing of"ghostboxes" (abandoned big box retail outlets). RetrofittingSuburbia assembles all the essential tools a designer needs to joinnew frontier of sustainability." (Azure Magazine, April29th, 2009)

"I love books. I have hundreds of them. Many are greatresources. But none have proved as valuable as the recentlypublished Retrofitting Suburbia. The introduction does a wonderfuljob of explaining "urban versus suburban form." Every electedofficial in every local of government needs to read this book coverto cover." (Urban Review STL, April 28th, 2009)

"An excellent recent book called Retrofitting Suburbia isessential reading for anyone interested in just how much possiblitythere is in the reimagining of suburban space as sustainablespace." (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 intolively places. She and co-author June Williamson have adapted thoseprinciples to mint what you might call New Suburbanism." (TheAtlanta Journal-Constitution, April 12th, 2009)

"…do a splendid job of explaining and illustrating whatthey 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 environmentsthat can appear anywhere." (American Planning Association,April 2009)

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

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

"If I am right, and central cities alone can't handle thegrowing demand for urban living, then there is only one practicalchoice: we are going to have to urbanize the suburbs. This, infact, is the premise of this new splendid book by two architectureprofessors. They argue that the remaking of the american suburb notonly needs to happen but already is happening, in places scatteredall over the country. And they offer reporting and superbphotography to back up their claim." (, March 1, 2009)

"Architects Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson confront thechallenge of redeveloping abandoned suburban retail space in theirnew book, Retrofitting Suburbia. The detailed text also exploresseveral creative solutions in which progressive planning hasreinvigorated suburban communities nationwide." (PopularMechanics, February 2nd, 2009)

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Its encouraging to see that there are enough suburban retrofitsto fill a whole book. Retrofitting Suburbia helps provide evidencethe new administration needs to put together a broad spectrumprogram that will create jobs, improve quality of life for all, andenergy independence." (; 12/24/08)

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

"THE BIBLE OF THE RETROFITTING MOVEMENT." —Blair Kamin,architecture critic, Chicago Tribune

A guide, with multiple case studies, for redevelopingout-of-date suburban developments into more urban, sustainableplaces

The winner in the Architecture & Urban Planning category ofthe American Publishers Awards for Professional and ScholarlyExcellence (The PROSE Awards)

The last fifty years have been dominated by the reproduction ofsprawl development patterns. The big project for the next fiftyyears will be retro-fitting sprawl into sustainable places. Thisedition of Retrofitting Suburbia, which includes a Foreword byRichard Florida and new updated Introduction by the authors, is acomprehensive guidebook for urban designers, planners, architects,developers, environmentalists, and community leaders thatillustrates how existing suburban developments can be redesignedinto more urban and sustainable places.

Retrofitting Suburbia in the press:

Retrofitting Suburbia was featured in Time magazine's March 23,2009 cover story on "Ten Ideas Changing the World Right Now"

"In their book, architects and academics Ellen Dunham-Jones andJune Williamson . . . recommend urban strategies to solve suburbanproblems. The book's numerous case studies show that this strategyhas its merits. Increasing density, transit, and walkability often(though not always) can help to revitalize struggling communities."— Allison Arieff, The New York Times

"Why, where, and how should suburbia be retrofitted? Thiscontent-rich, well-written book provides compelling answers. Thebook's analysis and commentaries are rigorous and comprehensive,predicated not on academic theory but on planning and developmenthistory, social science, demographics, market conditions, andregulatory considerations." — Architectural Record

"Architects Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson confront thechallenge of redeveloping abandoned suburban retail space in theirnew book, Retrofitting Suburbia. The detailed text also exploresseveral creative solutions in which progressive planning hasreinvigorated suburban communities nationwide." — PopularMechanics

"Hats off to Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson. Their workis helping us chart a way to better suburbs, better communities,and a better, more fulfilling way of life. Wielding carefulresearch, eye-opening before-and-after case studies, and a panoplyof urban design solutions, Retrofitting Suburbia presents a highlyconvincing argument for both the desirability and the feasibilityof redeveloping failed suburban properties into more sustainableplaces." — from the Foreword by Richard Florida

Customer Reviews

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It will also be very important to involve the community when creating retrofits.
C. Romano
This book tells us why and how to retrofit suburbs, and in particular aging suburban commercial areas.
Michael Lewyn
Great book for those interested in Urban Planning and the issues the suburbs have posed!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Junius Gunaratne on March 1, 2009
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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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on December 7, 2009
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. Romano on December 8, 2009
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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