The Strong Towns Podcast

Suburban Poverty Meets Sprawl Retrofit

July 19, 2018

This is our fourth dispatch from the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), which took place in Savannah, Georgia in May. Chuck Marohn attended CNU and hosted a series of in-depth podcast conversations about some of the most pressing topics for cities today, with leaders, thinkers, and activists in a whole range of fields. Now we're bringing those podcasts to your ears throughout the summer.

In this episode, June Williamson (associate professor of architecture at the City College of New York), Dan Reed (urban planner and writer) and Galina Tachieva (managing partner at DPZ), discuss the clashes and overlaps between sprawl retrofit and suburban poverty.

Questions discussed in this podcast include:

  • What's the latest research on sprawl retrofit?
  • What are some successful examples of sprawl retrofit?
  • Can retrofit happen using a basic, repeatable template, or do local leaders need to be equipped to decide what's best for their community?
  • In smaller communities without deep pockets, where is the capital going to come from to make these sorts of changes?
  • Where should we invest the money and time to do retrofit, and where does it make more sense to "re-green," i.e. return failing suburban developments back to nature? How do we, culturally, make these decisions when they impact real towns and real (often low-income) people?
  • How do communities handle the increasing pressure on their suburban areas to maintain a certain lifestyle while many of the residents who live in these places simply can't afford the immense costs of suburban infrastructure?
  • In communities dominated by failing suburban developments and utterly lacking investment, is there any strategy to save them?
  • Many lower income Americans who reach a level of financial comfort want to make their homes in the suburbs. Should people (like New Urbanists) who feel they see the writing on the wall in terms of the declining future of suburbs tell these folks to give up on their dream of owning a home in the suburbs?
  • What mental models and assumptions are enabling and underlying the decisions that have gone into the suburban development pattern?
  • What will America look like 20 years from now if suburban retrofit succeeds? What percent of America can actually be retrofitted?