Can Obama’s stimulus package save the soul of suburban hell?

Can we forget the simplistic shovel-ready dogma already and get to work on evangelizing a new master-planned housing mantra to reclaim our communities with the pending federal cash infusion?

Recent stories in The New York Times and New offer some tantalizing ideas on how to transform suburban subdivisions and big-box retail spaces hit hard by the economic downturn.

In a corollary to our blog post on the long-overdue trend away from building urban McMansions, Allison Arieff notes the dilemma of retrofitting suburban sprawl in her opinion piece for the Times:

I still dream that some major overhaul can occur: that a self-sufficient mixed-use neighborhood can emerge. That three-car-garaged McMansions can be subdivided into rental units with streetfront cafés, shops and other local businesses.

In short, that creative ways are found not just to rehabilitate these homes and communities, but to keep people in them.

Knute Berger at New West gets to the heart of the matter in Can Suburbs Be Recycled After Burst:

One of the problems with old-school urban planning is the blank-slate mentality: tear it down and start everything from scratch. One of the problems with suburban and ex-urban development is same mentality: the fields where planned communities would sprout were also seen as blank slates. In America, the era of the blank slate–except as a thought experiment–is over. We now know that natural ecosystems are complicated and so too ecosystems of culture and history; we know the same is true of wildlands and rural landscapes. We’re learning it now with settled suburbia: the challenge is to light up the imagination with the possibilities of adapting them to current tastes, trends, economic and environmental necessities.

As Berger suggests in his post, read the lengthy comments attached to the Times story. There are some worthy ideas on how to simultaneously reclaim the suburban prairie and improve quality of life despite some knee-jerk burn ’em down criticism.

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Wendy Norris

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