Sustainable Suburbia: A New Development Model for Fallow Suburban Residential Sites

DiCecco, Mark
Llewellyn, Clark
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fallow: (of farmland) plowed but left unsown in order to restore its fertility or to avoid surplus production. The recent economic crisis has put suburban single family residential community building at a standstill. This has left unfinished projects across the country. Many of these projects are entitled sites, with infrastructure, utilities, roads and graded lots in place or in various states of completion. These residential lots without houses lie fallow while the developers of these sites often are no longer involved with the projects, typically leaving the lots with a financial institution incapable of maintaining them in the short term. There is now an opportunity to encourage sustainable development within these very locations. This project will take a typical block of low-density single-family homes within a typical site and replace it with a higher-density, net-zero-source-energy, sustainable multi-use neighborhood within the same space. The typical approved suburban development has standardized land use, individual site sizes, and road locations and widths. As part of its approval, the development had to account for supplying the site with water, sewer, storm drain, electricity and gas utilities. Using an individual home as a benchmark, the research will look at house and lot size in relation to demographics and use patterns, determine the demand for land and utilities, and then develop an alternative solution that decreases the load on these existing utilities while increasing the density of residential units within the site. These findings will be combined with placemaking town planning ideals. The advent of the new Green Economy requires places for new companies to innovate and create the products and services of the future. Provisions for business incubator type flexible multi-use opportunities within the block will provide these places. The goal will be to create an integrated sustainable model block to replace the current suburban standard, and provide options for how to take this block and increase its scale to a larger multi-block community. As the economy recovers, developers will repurchase these currently distressed properties and begin to build on them. There is a need to provide them with a sustainable alternative to the current suburban model. The research will demonstrate that there is an opportunity to increase on-site unit count without the costs associated with upgrading or replacing the existing infrastructure to do so, or increasing the need for additional utilities and services to the site. This rationale would apply to the developer proposing this change to the jurisdiction that approved the original project, and has the ability to provide an opportunity for the jurisdiction to meet its affordable housing goals. Creating a neighborhood as opposed to creating a block of houses would make the project more approvable and attractive to buyers. The public needs to understand that the single family suburban subdivision is not environmentally sustainable, that it is possible to live more sustainably while living in a more compact community that contains more than houses, with opportunities to walk or bike to work, services, and greenspace. They need to have a choice in how to live as well as where to live, and they have a responsibility to their children and the planet to live within our environmental means. With this understanding, as they chose to live this way, developers will tailor their development practices to meet this new market demand. It is hoped that eventually there will be no more of these fallow projects, people are living in real sustainable communities, and we can lead by example in a new way of living and how we develop communities.
196 pages
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