NPR talk with Ellen Dunham Jones: Retrofitting Suburbia

Ellen Dunham-Jones, CNU Board Chair, was recently featured on NPR's TED Radio Hour discussing America's suburbs. Making the case that "the biggest urban revitalization projects are in the suburbs, not downtown centers," Dunham-Jones clarifies that due to the building of the suburbs without thinking about the consequences, we must now 'rethink them.' Further into the interview, the realization of what could be in the suburbs take shape - retrofitting the suburbs to be compatible with thriving small downtown centers.

'Retrofitting suburbia' is a term coined to refer to auto-dependent, underutilized suburbs into vibrant, sustainable communities. Dunham-Jones notes 1/3 of our nation's malls are dying as a result of an over-saturated market. Many suburbs across the United States have started down the path of 'retrofitting the suburbs' already. In St. Louis, Crestwood Commons, a once dead mall, is now home to an artist community - theaters, dance studios, local artists, etc. It is no longer filled with abandoned stores, but is a vital community center serving the surrounding community.

Dead malls, or even big box stores, can be reused as schools, universities, churches, nursing homes, and/or a multitude of office space options. 
Dunham-Jones spoke of the sociologist view of place-making; there are three 'places' vital within a person's life: home, work, and 'a hangout place.' The third place refers to where you would go to 'build your community.' You're not going to go to the local big box store to hangout; you go to a spot that has a mix of uses and people. Mashpee Commons in Cape Cod is the example Dunham-Jones uses as ideal 'place-making.' An old mall with a massive amount of parking, the mall was slowly converted into an urban environment by reclaiming the parking spaces. In the end, it created a mini-downtown center in a vibrant community. 

Ending the talk, Ellen is quoted asking the audience to "start demanding sustainable places" and create dynamic suburbs. 

To listen to the NPR talk, visit 'Why do the Suburbs still Matter?'


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