Three Articles Consider the Changing Shape of Communities

Dave Garlock, 1000 Friends Communication Intern

Recently the shape our communities will take in the coming years, specifically in the suburbs, has been a hot topic in the media. Three interesting articles recently crossed our desks, discussing how things can change for the better.

The Urban Land Institute recently published a report, What’s Next: Real Estate in the New Economy, which looks into how coming societal changes, such as accelerating globalization, shifting demographics and evolving technology, will alter the real estate market and the shape of communities between now and 2020.  A major driver of these changes will be the Millennials, or Generation Y (which it describes as Americans in their teens to early 30s).  This is the largest American generation ever, and will cause large shifts as it continues entering the work and housing markets.

The report focuses on broad categories such as “Live,” “Renew,” and “Move.”  In “Live,” it predicts that people will move into smaller units or multi-generational households, and states that both the Millennials and the aging Baby Boomers want to live in dense, walkable neighborhoods.  ”Renew” considers natural resources, stating that the most desirable buildings to tenants looking to save money will be energy efficient ones in locations that reduce the need for driving.   “Move” claims that Millennials and Boomers both want to live where there is access to public transportation.

A pair of recent New York Times opinion pieces also discusses the future of shape of our communities, specifically in suburban areas.  In “The Death of the Fringe Suburb,” Christopher B. Leinberger argues that auto-oriented suburbs, the places hardest hit by the recession, need to re-envision themselves if they are to recover.  This is because, as discussed in What’s Next, the two biggest generations in American history, the Boomers and the Millennials, increasingly prefer pedestrian and transit-friendly neighborhoods, with better access to jobs, entertainmen,t and parks. Leinberger concludes that governments need to invest in these neighborhoods with alternative transportation and the repair of existing infrastructure.

Louise A. Mozingo, in “To Rethink Sprawl, Start With Offices,” observes that while it's common to express concern about housing sprawl, there isn’t as much talk about suburban offices, which make up over half of the total office space in the U.S.  Currently, these suburban office complexes are often isolated, with no sidewalks, transit, or housing nearby.  Mozingo sees three ways to solve this problem.  First, governments should stop supporting new suburban offices by ceasing to pay for new highways that subsidize them.  Second, zoning for new offices should encourage offices to be built near residential and commercial space, and with alternative transportation links to both cities and areas where their workers live.  Finally, cities can encourage businesses to move back into downtowns, which already have transit. Rising energy costs will make isolated suburban offices unsustainable, so cities that follow these guidelines, Mozingo argues, will be the ones that succeed.

To learn more about how 1000 Friends of Oregon advocates for these kinds of changes here in Oregon, see our page on vibrant communities.