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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Some suburbs, that were created out of opposition to many core aspects of urbanity, now turn towards creating their own version of a downtown.

Recently I got the chance however to see a prominent example of it in real life and that was a very interesting experience. What do you think? Are these new suburban downtowns a promising concept for the future of suburbia? Are they a way to make distances shorter again or are they merely a dressing up of an equally car dependent society?

The new town I have seen myself is Reston, VA. An exurb beyond the Washington beltway next to Dulles airport. Metro access is under construction and a station next to new Reston Town Center is planned. Even though the urban "style" center only extends for a few blocks, it feels lively if not vibrant, at least on weekends, with lots of restaurants/bars, shops, offices, expensive apartments around. You know you are in suburbia however when you see the vast array of parking decks around it which are also heavily used.

Reston Town Center:
http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=qgsvhg8jm1jx&lvl=17&dir=0&sty=o&where1=Reston, VA&form=LMLTCC
 

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Journeyman
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When it's ringed by parking garages and few people can walk to it, it's not a good sign. This looks like one good street but not much around it. The other nearby highrises and other buildings are set back in suburban style. Good mixture of uses but not done well from an urbanity standpoint.

You can do it much better. Buildings can go to the street and parking can be below grade. With more housing and decent transit, offices and retail can have less parking, whether that's because the individual ratios are lower or because some uses share (offices and movie theaters are a perfect match for example). Downtowns can work both with highrises and with just six-story woodrames. For residents to support any significant amount of the retail it's best if they're in the thousands rather than the hundreds.

The DC area has much better examples. So do other cities.
 

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Park avenue , Winter park , a suburb of Orlando , we have our own little downtown , a very nice walkable historical area with nice shops and parks but no skyscrapers of course
 

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Most of the suburbs that I'm familiar with already have their own downtown, so there is no need to build one.
 

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Journeyman
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Most regions have a lot of older suburban downtowns. But growing those and adding new ones is a great way to handle metro growth, assuming they have decent transit connections.

The office component is best focused on the areas with the best transit and with a critical mass of offices plus supporting hotels, lunch places, etc. Other "downtowns" can be as simple as a few houndred housing units, a little pedestrian-oriented retail, and a small amount of office space for neighborhood-focused stuff like realtors and insurance agents.

Many center-less suburbs in my area have chosen to add some "there" there. Same with many that have centers but want to strengthen them. Lacking TIF and subsidies in this state, they still have a toolchest. Often they use their need for a new city hall and/or library to leverage a public/private development with a little retail and some apartments. Park-n-ride garages are common. There are varying levels of success....park-n-riders don't buy much on their way home, and some of these municipalities hit the recession poorly. And most are in their early years, if they're off the ground at all. But it's a promising trend that they want centers, and that a fair amount has happened.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
When it's ringed by parking garages and few people can walk to it, it's not a good sign. This looks like one good street but not much around it. The other nearby highrises and other buildings are set back in suburban style. Good mixture of uses but not done well from an urbanity standpoint.
Of course, if you are looking for fully urban standards, you'll be disappointed with any suburban project. It is also highly disappointing how a totally suburban mall was opened just north of the Town Center as well (even though the mall as well as its periphery seem to be pedestrian accessible).

I have to say however, that things look worse on Google maps than they are. I can tell you that it is actually fairly easy and safe to walk from the adjacent residential housing to the Town Center. Official ways may not all be that straight forward but there are few fences ;) Regarding the parking decks. They are not a real obstacle as they fit into the grid street layout. Some of those parking decks also feature regular commercial uses.

A quite fascinating feature of Reston which might be rather unique is an extensive bike trail/ walkway network across the region. Town Center seems to be connected to it. I'd expect there is a pretty efficient bike connection to many of the neighbourhoods. While I did not see that system myself and while I think it is not terribly overused this would have great potential.


You can do it much better. Buildings can go to the street and parking can be below grade. With more housing and decent transit, offices and retail can have less parking, whether that's because the individual ratios are lower or because some uses share (offices and movie theaters are a perfect match for example). Downtowns can work both with highrises and with just six-story woodrames. For residents to support any significant amount of the retail it's best if they're in the thousands rather than the hundreds.
But you have to create a working mixed use core first and in Suburbia you can't do so without a hell of a lot parking facilities. Of course, one should aim at reducing the parking space in future projects in the area, as the quasi urban core gets an attracting factor on its own, being able to afford a reduced offer in parking lots. It will depend a lot on how the area is continuing to develop, if Reston will turn into a real city or remain suburban as it is.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Most of the suburbs that I'm familiar with already have their own downtown, so there is no need to build one.
There are lots of suburbs in the US that have nothing even remotely like a functioning town centre, not even on a small scale. While others might something what you describe, there is definitely a lot of potential for new "dowtowns" in the US.
 

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Is there such examples in Europe?
Many suburbs in Stockholm for example are built completely around railway stations. These suburbs often have a miniature "downtown" at the station in terms of basic city centre functions. These areas tend to follow the "ABC" concept popular in planning in Sweden (Arbete, bostad, centrum which translates to work, housing and central place roughly) where suburbs are intended to be more than just dormitory commuter traffic generators, but actually provide employment and a centre for needs of the population.

Some "suburban" districts such as Sundbyberg in Stockholm have also adopted a policy where for every apartment in the suburb there is also a job thus generating a good deal of reverse commuting as well as commuting to the city centre.
 

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Slartibartfas, the parking garages aren't a problem just because of ugliness or superblocks. They also represent voids in density. Put that parking below the buildings and use those blocks for housing or other uses and you'll have real density. (I agree that few suburbs can handle low parking ratios, but you can push it subsantially below the ratios you see in sprawly offices if transit is any good, like 3/1000 instead of 4/1000.

My comments aren't necessarily about what's economical. Just what makes good urbanity and function. Of course, if land is expensive enough and soils are easy enough, going below grade will pencil in many cases. And if transit is good enough, you can substantially reduce parking. And the bit about sharing parking aided by the right mix of uses is certainly doable. In my region, some suburbs use commuter rail garages to double as retail and/or movie theater garages since the peaks are different times. A development in Downtown Redmond shares parking between medical office, hotel, and residential uses. These things work.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
^^ But these examples are more like preventing mono use traffic creating sleeping suburbs in first place. I was talking more about creating a new centre in a messed up mono use suburb which lacked anything that deserved that name before.

I am not sure there examples of that in Europe but I would not rule it out either.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Slartibartfas, the parking garages aren't a problem just because of ugliness or superblocks. They also represent voids in density. Put that parking below the buildings and use those blocks for housing or other uses and you'll have real density. (I agree that few suburbs can handle low parking ratios, but you can push it subsantially below the ratios you see in sprawly offices if transit is any good, like 3/1000 instead of 4/1000.
I am not sure that a place like Reston downtown could handle all that parking demand with underground parking alone. Actually I don't know if there is any underground parking additionally to the already immense parking deck capacities. But I am principally with you, I also strongly prefer underground parking.

I think the density is not so much a problem if highrises are part of the game like in Reston Town Center. Especially if along major routes the parking decks should feature attractive ground level use. The average density (within pedestrian distances) would still be fairly good.

I think transformations like these can only be gradual processes. You can't build good transit systems around pedestrian hostile nothingness. So you'd have to have some gradual development. Something like in Reston can work both ways, being attractive for pedestrians within the new development while still being attractive for car drivers as well regarding parking access. Once a multi use core is established, one can try to connect it with the neighbourhoods and possibly even with high priority transit. (Restons advantage is that its in the DC area and on the way to the airport, hence getting metro access soon, which makes a local bus network much more feasible as well)

Of course one can also try it the other way round, but then, the transit needs to be adapted to handle heavy P+R while establishing some attractive TOD as well. This is no easy task either.
 

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^^ But these examples are more like preventing mono use traffic creating sleeping suburbs in first place. I was talking more about creating a new centre in a messed up mono use suburb which lacked anything that deserved that name before.

I am not sure there examples of that in Europe but I would not rule it out either.
My bad. I really can't think of any examples where I live now, though if I go looking, I am sure there are examples in the UK as they have far more of an American city planning model than the rest of Europe.
 

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all suburbs have a functioning town centre and large, main High street in London, usually with pedestrianised areas, dept stores and one or two small malls added to the existing shops. Its usually centred off from a main train or tube line, and around a traditional market. I think this is pretty much the story in all large European cities.

eg:









p







 

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Plus, some of those areas are inner city districts. You can't call Brixton and Shepherd's Bush ‘suburbs’ – they're within a 4 mile or so radius of Charing Cross and are densely populated. Look at how packed and built up that picture of Shepherd's Bush is; pure urbanism.
 

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Plus, some of those areas are inner city districts. You can't call Brixton and Shepherd's Bush ‘suburbs’ – they're within a 4 mile or so radius of Charing Cross and are densely populated. Look at how packed and built up that picture of Shepherd's Bush is; pure urbanism.
Kingston and Croydon (the first 2 pics) are definitely suburban though.
 
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