In recent years in the UK, urban designers have tried to convince many in the built environment field and beyond such as developers, elected members, government officials and communities, that walkable, green, permeable, non-car dependent neighbourhoods are more liveable, good for health reasons and better for the environment. The government is trying to sell these types of development to reluctant local communities to solve the housing crisis whilst avoiding sprawl. The contributors to this book start from a different point but arrive at similar conclusions and recommendations.
Suburban life, central to the American dream for most of the 20th century, has lost it shine and the result is economic decline and a lack of investment. The causes for the decline are demographic, cultural, social and economic: the nuclear family of two parents and two children is no longer prevalent; the suburban population is ageing and poorer; while Millennials prefer the buzz of the city to the peace of the ‘burbs, dislike commuting, don’t patronise out-of-town malls, and are attracted to diversity. They are moving to the cities and shunning the suburbs. Local authorities rely for their fiscal income on activity centres such as business parks or shopping centres; these subsidise the residential areas which cost more (for instance in education) than they contribute to the authorities’ coffers. But as the activity centres are increasingly less attractive and residential areas become older and poorer, therefore requiring more services, local authorities’ deficits increase.
The solution is to re-urbanise the suburbs, to create more urban, walkable neighbourhoods connected by public transport, and this book shows that this makes economic sense whilst offering all the advantages of good urban design. It is divided in four parts with Setting the Stage dealing mostly with the above; and Suburban Markets taking the three main suburban land uses, housing, office and retail to show how each one can be urbanised to the benefit of all. Part three consists of Cases Studies for Walkable Urban Places, mostly from the United States and principally from the Washington DC area. One case study from China sits somewhat uncomfortably in the middle of these as both the context and the management processes are totally different, even though the issues may be similar. The last part, Bringing it All Together deals with planning and placemaking in a way that readers would find familiar. It includes a number of recommendations and lessons to take from past experiences.
The spirit of the book can be summarised in one sentence: ‘Placemaking doesn’t just create a livable, culturally sensitive built environment, it holds the key to succeeding in the marketplace’. It should provide useful arguments to embattled planners and urban designers wanting to sell their ideas, even though the American context is not the British one.