Topic of the week: Suburban retrofits in our region

By Jonathan Neeley (View full story online on Publisher Title)

Dan Reed says there’s been some major progress since Dunham-Jones’ 2010 presentation:

The nation’s two biggest suburban retrofits are happening right here, in Tysons andWhite Flint. There are a few others around the country (Carmel near Indianapolis and Dublin near Columbus), but not many.

In places like the DC area, suburban retrofits are basically the default for new development: houses on small lots, a mix of house types, and recreating a street grid. New townhouse developments almost always have alleys now.

Pretty much every shopping mall in the region is either adding a mix of uses (Tysons, Columbia, Wheaton, Springfield), being redeveloped as a neighborhood (Landmark, White Flint), or at least exploring the possibility of one or the other (everyone else).

While earlier “suburban retrofits” had really traditional architecture (Bethesda Row, Reston Town Center) or fakey traditional architecture (Market Common at Clarendon, Downtown Silver Spring), you’re seeing more modern design. Mosaic District and Arts District Hyattsville are pretty good examples of that.


Dan Reed points to a more manageable, less pricey example:
You could call Arts District Hyattsville the anti-Tysons, as it shows how you could do a suburban retrofit on a much smaller (and less expensive) scale. The project itself is very small, just a few blocks in size, and with three-story rowhouses instead of 30-story towers.
Unlike Tysons, where development is occurring on big, privately owned parcels (which you would have for office parks and shopping malls, etc.), Arts District is taking place on a piece of land the City of Hyattsville assembled from a bunch of smaller parcels with different owners.

But the big innovation is what’s built there. Everything that’s in Arts District Hyattsville is stuff that already gets built in suburban places: wood-framed townhouses, one-story strip retail, mid-rise apartments – but was simply organized in an urban pattern with a street grid and the parking in back. The result is a place that was much simpler to build (though it still got hammered in the recession) but is still a good piece of urbanism. Germantown Town Center has a lot of similar characteristics.

“Good point,” says Chung, “but downtown Hyattsville had a relatively tight block pattern to start with since it was a streetcar suburb. For almost all other suburban sites, the existing condition is superblocks. Infilling a street grid is tremendously expensive. Not every site is ready for that either, as University Town Center has amply shown.”

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