For the past two decades, suburban areas have been making a slow transition from car-dependent to people-oriented design, with more options for walking, cycling or public transportation, according to Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization.
ULI recently published a report, “Shifting Suburbs: Reinventing Infrastructure for Compact Development,” detailing how this change is mostly driven by generation Y, who favor the convenience of urban-style living in more densely populated areas.
The U.S. population is expected to increase by 95 million in the next 30 years, and most of the growth will occur in suburban towns, which makes smart suburban land use essential to growth. But redeveloping these areas is harder in practice than in theory, according to the report.
The report recommends that local officials enact policies to support new infrastructure, including renovating mall complexes, changing road layouts and consolidating storefronts to a town center.
The report includes a case study of Dublin, Ohio, one of the fastest growing suburbs in the country. The city manager recognized the need for more convenient housing options for an incoming wave of young professionals. Part of Dublin’s plan to manage this growth was to build wider sidewalks, more public spaces and better roadways.
Other towns also have already begun this huge undertaking with mixed results. ULI researchers acknowledge that funding, zoning issues and opposition from residents can slow or stop the shifting suburban landscape. Some cities may lack the personnel with the skill sets to develop urban-like areas.
The report suggests that suburban areas form partnerships between public and private sectors to help fund projects. Projects should include redeveloping suburban infrastructure with intricate planning and careful designers. Companies may be enticed to relocate in suburban areas where talented young professionals live instead of in urban areas.
Due to demographic changes noted in the study, researchers say that suburbs must shift their focus from baby boomers to the next generation of young workers.