Saturday, August 15

Reburbia Contest Finalists

Inhabitat and Dwell magazines, publications that lean pretty heavily in the direction of modernist architecture, are holding a competition for ideas on retrofitting suburbia into a more sustainable form. They're calling it Reburbia. This is a good discussion to have, because the suburbs currently dominate the built environment in America whether we like it or not. Even if every citizen were convinced tomorrow that a distinctly urban and distinctly rural landscape is preferable, it would be impossible to simply remove all infrastructure and start over. The era of blank slate planning is long gone. Let's hear some ideas.

Twenty Reburbia finalists have been selected, ranging from the purely fantastical or ironic to some that are quite practical and suitable for incremental implementation. My two favorites are Urban Sprawl Repair Kit by Galina Tahchieva:


and Big Box Agriculture by Forrest Fulton:



The Repair Kit is a series of nicely done drawings representing New Urbanist techniques for densifying different kinds of suburban sites. Big Box Agriculture moves in the opposite direction. Parking lots are converted into farms, and the structures become greenhouses with attached grocery stores. Actually, most of the other entries include some agricultural component. Regenerative Suburban Median by Brian Alessi puts the farms in the center of wide streets, for a bonus traffic calming effect. For some reason all of the others suggest removing agriculture from land, either putting it all indoors or suspending it in the air.

Thinking comprehensively, it seems that both the urbanizing and the ruralizing approaches will be necessary depending on the site. The urbanizing option will probably work best for inner suburbs and some nodes along transit lines, but obviously there would not be enough demand to do this everywhere. Conversion to agriculture would work better in the more isolated exurbs, especially in metropolitan areas suffering from economic decline. I disagree with some of these finalists that commercial sites would be ideal for farming, because they are usually located along transportation corridors. I think that we're more likely to see residential lawns being used for small-scale farming and the density happening along the important corridors.

One thing that's missing entirely from the list of finalists is industry. I know it doesn't feel very green to envision the manufacturing and warehousing districts of the future, but if the United States has any intention of curtailing imports from far away lands (and the energy it takes to get them here) we'll have to make at least some of our stuff closer to home. Even the more thorough environmentalists I know are not willing to go without a minimal amount of material goods and modern conveniences. I'm all for local carrots, but where are the carrot peelers coming from?

No comments: