Courses, Conferences, Seminars and Lectures
Downtown from Scratch: Both New and Maturing Suburbs Want an Urbanity of their Own
Date(s): May 1, 2007
Time: 12:00 - 2:00 PM
Location(s): Lincoln House, Cambridge, Massachusetts
No longer accepting registrations for this event
Tracy Metz, a native of California, is a journalist and author based in the Netherlands. She is currently a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and is affiliated as such with the Lincoln Institute. She covers the Arts for the quality national newspaper NRC Handelsblad and writes articles and books on architecture, urbanism, landscape and mobility, both in the Netherlands and abroad. She is an international correspondent for Architectural Record, a contributor to Metropolis, Graphis, Domus and Surface, and a frequent lecturer and juror on design issues throughout Europe and the US. Her most recent book is FUN! Leisure and Landscape, about the impact of our leisure activities on our use and perception of our surroundings. She has recently also taken up a position as visiting scholar at the Netherlands' National Planning Institute, where she is working on a book on the future of downtowns and their revitalization in Europe and the US.
Many cities in the US have been working on the revitalization of their historic downtowns for the past fifteen, twenty years with varying degrees of success. All across the country millions of dollars are being pumped into city centers that saw their popularity decline as that of the suburbs rose. But as the suburbs have matured, becoming less an extension of the city and more of a place in their own right, they are discovering that – just like the city they left behind - they need a downtown too. Even brand-new developments on the edge of the urban periphery now sport all the attributes of a walkable downtown.
This working paper looks at four 'downtowns from scratch' in various parts of the country:
Reston (Virginia, outside of Washington DC), which added a downtown some forty years after the residential areas were built;
Mashpee Commons (Cape Cod, Massachusetts), a New Urbanist replacement of an ailing town center with a themed and privatized retail and residential center;
CityPlace (West Palm Beach, Florida), containing not only retail, leisure and residential but also public space and an existing theater, all fitted into the existing street pattern
Verrado (Arizona), a complete new town outside Phoenix for 30.000 people with public space, retail and residential in its downtown.
At first sight these new downtowns are (self-)conscious, hyperdesigned attempts at remodelling the suburb into something resembling what we once called a city - without, of course, losing all the attractions of suburban life. Is this what urbanism looks like at the start of the 21 st century? Is a 'downtown from scratch' an opportunity to undo all of history's messy mistakes and make the perfect place? These new downtowns can perhaps be seen as a manifestation of the deep-rooted American belief that the places we have made, and therefore we ourselves, can be reinvented.