Re-Burbia and the Sprawl Repair Kit

aerial rendering of new buildings around a sprawling outparcel restaurant

   Dwell and are co-sponsoring what they call Reburbia, which is a competition to redesign the suburbs in a more sustainable fashion. Their 20 finalists are now posted for voting, which ends at midnight on Monday.

   Many of the results are shocking... for a variety of reasons. There’s the suburban airship that would actually make sprawl worse, the egg-beaters over the freeway that work better the more we drive, and the tower of boxes that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the suburbs at all. The majority of the solutions are based firmly on the Gizmo Green hope that our gadgets will save us. Matter of fact, several of these entries are such poster children for Gizmo Green that they sparked an idea: look for a monthly post on this blog in the future entitled Gizmo Green Goofiness of the Month. Others, such as the Providence Journal’s David Brussat, have weighed in with similar reactions.

   But embedded within the entries is one that is shocking for another reason: it uses common sense, and actually works! It’s the Urban Sprawl Repair Kit by Galina Tachieva. Galina’s proposal is a toolbox of incremental steps for turning suburban sprawl into urban fabric. And it’s stuff that we can do right now.

   Why repair sprawl? Sprawl, because it requires you to drive everywhere, will begin to become uninhabitable as gas becomes more expensive. Actually, it’s already happening. Last summer, people were already discovering that they couldn’t afford to live where they were living, and had gas prices not eased quickly, they would have had hard choices to make. And with a billion new cars coming online in the next few years in China and India as we approach worldwide Peak Oil, there’s not much doubt where gas prices are going in the longterm.

   So what do we do? Extremists argue that we should simply abandon sprawl and let it rot. Try telling that to the people that live there. To the extremists, the more than 100 million Americans that inhabit sprawl are just statistics, but to the sprawl-dwellers, it’s the place where they’ve made their life’s two largest investments: their house, and the financing of that house. So proposals that hope to just sweep them aside don’t have a snowball’s chance of success.

   Galina’s proposal, in contrast, actually takes sprawl and makes it better, and more sustainable. How is this possible? Anytime you mix uses where there was only a single use (housing, retail, office, etc.) before, you increase the chances that someone can walk to something rather than driving. Anytime you increase the quality of the pedestrian experience, you also increase those chances. Galina’s Sprawl Repair Kit provides tools for these things and much more.

   And in doing so, it stands out clearly against the background of proposals that sacrifice usefulness to be “visionary.” But true visionaries aren’t those who just concoct useless stuff, but rather those who imagine solutions that work... but that nobody else has proposed yet. Check out the Urban Sprawl Repair Kit and see if you don’t agree that it’s the true visionary proposal amongst the finalists. And please vote for it (click the word “votes” in the red arrow to the right) if you agree.

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Friday, August 14, 2009 - 08:20 AM

Bruce F. Donnelly

There's another thing too about Sprawl Repair. It's not just a one-off idea. It's a whole bunch of ideas aimed at the same goal. It's a pity that the website offered so little scope for Galina's work. It is all of the following:

1. A general approach to making the suburbs better

2. A module for the SmartCode, and

3. A constructive entry in competition of polemics.

Oh, and the name. The thing being "repaired" is the urbanism, not the sprawl. 

Friday, August 14, 2009 - 10:37 AM

Michael Rouchell

The common approach to sprawl repair that I see too often is to demolish the restaurant or gas station and then build a "sustainable" building in its place.  At least this proposal reuses the existing buildings to some extent.

Sunday, August 16, 2009 - 09:16 PM

Seamus Dubh

I look at it as bringing back the whole town square concept.  Look at a map of these sprawls, you'll see the names of the towns and cities that use to be there.


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2018