Fall 2009 Inspiration

Despite the economic downturn, national public education spending is up 6.4% over the past year. While other markets have suffered from lack of fi nancing, nearly $200 billion in state and local government aid was included in the stimulus plan and is strengthening the education sector. As spending in this sector is tied to enrollment demands, elementary spending slightly decreased this past year, while middle schools have remained steady and high schools have seen the largest area of spending. Locally, Atlanta Public Schools continues to build projects funded through the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax Program (SPLOST) which collects approximately $100 million annually.

For these reasons, the K-12 market is attracting more attention from A/E/C fi rms. The collapse of the residential and retail sectors has caused many consulting firms to branch out into other markets. This has resulted in a highly competitive bidding process, but fi rms with limited K-12 experience will fi nd it diffi cult to enter this competition. There are many firms that are established experts in this market, with an understanding of the owner’s unique requirements regarding issues such as scheduling, safety and sustainability.

A/E/C Mega Meeting: Retrofitting Suburbia

Ellen Dunham-Jones was the keynote speaker at this year’s A/E/C Leadership Roundtable Mega Meeting addressing the topic of suburban sprawl. With more than 200 people in attendance, Ms. Dunham-Jones discussed her new book Retrofitting Suburbia and the following topics that relate to our current economic climate and our design/development industry.

Our industry is facing massive foreclosure numbers, dropping tenant leases, and increasing energy costs. Owners, designers and developers are forced to begin to think outside the box, literally. Dilapidated retail centers, dead big box stores and grayfields (parking lots) are the prototype of suburbia and the ideal candidates for urbanization, re-greening and rehabilitation strategies.

  • Urbanization: Full scale retrofits (changing a closed-air mall to a high density, mixed use open-air development)
  • Re-Greening: Restoring natural resources (removing a run-down strip center and restoring the area to a natural floodplain)
  • Re-Inhabitation: Mixing uses, community serving businesses, and pedestrian friendly stores (redeveloping an empty big box Wal-Mart into a mega church or temple)

Suburbia was built on cheap land, cheap oil, and cheap water with mainly unsustainable materials and a lack of public space. With an immense increase in transportation, housing and energy costs, it’s imperative that we focus on impacting climate change and enhancing affordability. Consider the following statistics:

  • The average Atlantan drives 66 miles a day (national average: 33 miles/day).
  • The average office employee uses 30% more energy driving to work than an office building uses during the eight hours the employee works.
  • Suburban job growth is outpacing urban job growth by a factor of six.

It’s important to have green buildings, but more important to locate them properly. We need to start focusing on retrofitting the fundamental infrastructure and redirecting growth of the suburbs. Single-use developments inhibit the growth and stability of Suburbia. When designers and developers introduce the synergies of a walkable mix of uses and public spaces it results in reduced traffic, increased health, and increased property values.

Retrofitting Suburbia offers urban qualities at suburban costs. We can start by building on parking lots, widening sidewalks, adding trees, introducing bike lanes and incorporating pedestrian friendly shopping. Suburbia is getting old and the presentation of new urbanism and sustainable infrastructure can support slowing communities and local businesses in this challenging economic climate.

If you would like to learn more about the topic of preventing suburban sprawl, you can purchase Ms. Dunham-Jones’ book Retrofitting Suburbia, available for purchase at Ms. Dunham-Jones is a professor at Georgia Tech and holds a M.S. in Architecture. She will also be organizing and presenting at the 2010 Congress for New Urbanism annual program: Prescription for Healthy Places, May 19-22 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Currently she is involved with LWARPS – We Can Reverse Sprawl – in 100 years

  • Transit on every major corridor
  • 1000 ft buffers on stream beds (reservoirs, etc.)
  • Subdivisions that are too close to water or too far from transit will not be viable (eco-transfer)

Now is the time for looking ahead to retrofitting suburbia. Goals include:

  • Planners changing zoning
  • Public to partner
  • Architects/Engineers to develop complex designs

Click here to listen to the podcast of the event.

Malory Hunter, Business Development Manager
Foresite Group, Inc.
SMPS Atlanta, Newsletter Editor