The 'burbs are back, but they will be different this time.

suburbia
© Matthew Spremulli via MIT News

It's so thrilling to read about the recent MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism conference on the Future of Suburbia. The brief summary in MIT News is limited, but it is so exciting; as one tweeter noted,


Joel Kotkin was there, to remind us that the suburbs are where we want to be.

“This is the reality we live in, and we have to deal with it. Most people want a detached home.” Indeed, over 82 percent of owned homes in the U.S. are detached.

Jed Kolko was there, to remind us that people are moving back to the suburbs and they are growing faster. We covered this earlier when he reported:

After volatile swings in growth patterns during last decade’s housing bubble and bust, long-term trends are reasserting themselves. Population is growing faster in the South and West than in the Northeast and Midwest, and faster in suburban areas than in urban counties; both of these trends accelerated in 2015.

And those vast suburban lawns that we love to hate? Landscape architect Joan Nassauer described one finding:

By area, homeowner lots in suburban residential developments store as much carbon as do managed northern forests. And homeowners prefer more carbon-sequestering native planting and mature trees — if that’s what their neighbors have. These findings can inform tactics to “nudge” suburban development toward providing more ecosystem services.

Alan Berger, professor of landscape architecture and urban design was there to talk about the autonomous car.

Autonomous vehicles will change the design of suburbs in the future,” Berger added, “potentially allowing for the removal of up to 50 percent of their current paved surface. This would have tremendous positive environmental impacts on the watershed for cities downstream.

hyperloop pod© Hyperloop technologies

Knut Sauer of Hyperloop Technologies was there.

Musk’s original concept involved a theoretical route between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the hyperloop offers the potential to connect not just urban cores but any point on the landscape, dramatically reducing the time it takes to get from place to place. “It’s a vision of full-blown decentralization,” Berger says.

And drones. according to attendee Chella Strong writing in DIRT,

Nick Roy, MIT associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, provided yet another example of autonomous mobility: transportation of goods by drone. The drone industry, he said, aims to “take the friction out of transportation, so that anyone can get anything at anytime and anywhere.”

Berger also notes that “designed intelligently, suburbia can be a highly productive test bed for clean energy, clean water, food, carbon storage, social diversity, and certainly affordable housing.”

I am getting all of this off an MIT press release and the information is sketchy; not much appears to have been written about this conference yet. But it sounds so grand; hyperloops, autonomous cars, the return of suburban office parks, drones dropping lunch dropping out of the sky, all that green space sucking up carbon. I can't wait.

Tags: Cities | Self-driving car | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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