Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Suburbia: The Next Renewal Frontier; Seminar's Keynoter Is Asking Visionaries to Rethink Redevelopment

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Suburbia: The Next Renewal Frontier; Seminar's Keynoter Is Asking Visionaries to Rethink Redevelopment

Article excerpt

Byline: ROGER BULL

When Ellen Dunham-Jones talks about redeveloping and revitalizing neglected areas, she's not talking about the inner city. She's not talking about downtown. She's talking about suburbia, a place where change does not come easily.

"We tend to think of downtown as dynamic, expect it to evolve," she said. "But we have a cultural expectation that suburbs should remain frozen in time in the exact condition they were first built."

Dunham-Jones is a professor of architecture and urban design at Georgia Tech, the author of "Retrofitting Suburbia" and the keynote speaker at Tuesday's Region First 2060 workshop and seminar being put on by the Urban Land Institute at the University of North Florida.

There, architects, developers, planners, etc., will meet to hear and to talk about sustainable developments. They'll break into eight groups to create plans for redeveloping eight areas, from urban to rural, around Northeast Florida.

But Dunham-Jones' focus is all on suburbia, specifically the commercial side of suburbia. A basic problem, she said, is this: As suburbs have continued to expand, new shopping centers and big-box stores have built farther and farther out, often leaving half-empty shopping centers behind them.

That doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who has driven down any major road in Jacksonville. But it is happening everywhere, she said. It was bad before the recession and has only gotten worse.

The solution, she said, is not simply to find new retail stores to move into those spaces because there's already too much retail space as it is. Instead, it's time to rethink what should be where that shopping center stands.

And there are two important factors at play:

- Though many of these centers were built on the edge of growth, they're now in pretty central locations.

- The very nature of suburbia is changing. While it was once considered a place of families, children and swingsets, the 2000 Census found that two-thirds of suburban households had no children, Dunham-Jones said.

A lot of former shopping centers or at least the ground they sit on, she said, are being turned into high-density, mixed-used developments, often with parking garages and an urban feel that have been out of place in suburbia for the past 50 years. …

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