One could argue that the resurgence of our cities does not necessarily portend the fall of the suburbs. But while many cities have been benefiting from an influx of wealth, the suburbs have been suffering a rise in poverty. From 2000 to 2010, the number of poor in the suburbs or the nation’s largest metro areas grew by 53 percent to a record 15.3 million. And while poverty has increased in cities as well, the growth rate in the number of poor living in the suburbs was more than twice that in cities during the decade—and the suburbs are now home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country. This isn’t just the Great Recession at work; as early as 2005, the suburban poor outnumbered their city counterparts by almost a million. “We think of poverty as a really urban phenomenon or an ultra-rural phenomenon. It’s increasingly a suburban issue,” says Elizabeth Kneebone, Brookings fellow and coauthor of a recent Brookings book on the topic, “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.”
But as with most things, decay isn’t evenly distributed. More affluent suburbs are “revitalizing”:
Some developers have actually turned their focus on these dead or dying malls. Ellen Dunham-Jones, architecture professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and June Williamson, associate professor of architecture at the City College of New York, have documented this phenomenon in their book, “Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs,” a comprehensive look at efforts to retool, reinhabit, or return to nature abandoned suburban forms. In some cases, this means turning gargantuan forgotten malls into hip, urbanized residential villages. One such experiment is under way in Lakewood, Colorado, an affluent suburb west of Denver. The former Villa Italia shopping mall, a 1.2-million-square-foot indoor mall built in 1966 that had fallen on hard times, has been turned into Belmar, 104-acre pedestrian-friendly community that has apartments, condos, town houses, office space, artists studios, and a shopping and entertainment promenade on twenty-two walkable, urbanized blocks. Now, instead of turning into the mall’s giant parking lot, you end up cruising along a downtown main drag, Alaska Street, which is lined with old-fashioned streetlights, coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants. There are more than a thousand housing units, which range from town houses to loft condominiums to small-lot single-family homes, as well as a row of ground-floor artist studio and business incubator spaces. A public art project called “Urban Anatomy” has installed small works of art and fragments of poetry on manhole covers, sidewalk joints, and grates throughout the development, highlighting overlooked details of the urban environment.
The whole setup is definitely still suburban—the new urbanized village includes a Zales, Yankee Candle, and Sur La Table—but these suburbanites can leave their loft apartments on foot, pick up an espresso, and go hear a poetry reading, all on a site where Foley’s, Dillard’s, Montgomery Ward, and JCPenney once sat. There are dozens of these projects at other malls around the country. “It’s time to let the suburbs grow up,” Dunham-Jones says.
(via Meredith Yayanos)
P.S.: Suburban decay is an interesting search term for Flickr.