Jane Thurber, Chair - Michael Davidson, Member
New neighborhood and home construction since World War II has been rapid and sprawling. Development companies have used increasingly efficient modular plans and construction techniques to design, grade, and construct sub-divisions across the country with little regard for vernacular landscape or a sense of place. Salmon-colored stucco homes in Ladera Ranch, California could be confused with those in Tucson, Arizona, which look just like communities in Homestead, Florida. Rows and cul de sacs of houses with duplicate floorplans, similar color and finish with standard foundation plantings and landscaping blur into one another, and it becomes impossible to place oneself because the surroundings lack distinct identifying characteristics. The suburbs become a place of "weak and distended sensations, few and far between emotions" (Koolhaas 1994, 218). A sense of place and belonging is lost to the generic city.
Amongst the milieu of suburban development - in fact, at the core of it - are first ring suburbs. Built between 1947 and 1977, first ring suburbs consist primarily of single family, freestanding homes. Within and adjacent to these communities are retail and commercial strips and malls, initially constructed to serve residents and generate revenue. Despite their initial success, shopping centers in first ring suburbs are becoming obsolete in the face of newer, larger shopping areas constructed nearby (Bodzin 2001, 76). Facing obsolescence and declining revenue, these strip malls and shopping centers are closing their doors. The spaces left as these centers close have been termed greyfields: underutilized places in between brownfields and greenfields, often "derelict shopping centers and strip commercial sites surrounded by seas of asphalt." (Gamble 2005, 18) These greyfields are ripe for reuse: there is an opportunity to take advantage of their space and underlying infrastructure in an adaptive reuse of otherwise abandoned spaces in a fully-developed first ring suburb.
A design intervention into the fabric of these dead spaces can imbue them with public benefit and a sense of place. Seas of asphalt can give way to public open space and improve the hydrologic health of the community through infiltration while providing opportunities for recreation and pedestrian activity. Centrally located open space provides opportunities for people to gather, rest, and interact with their neighbors. Existing buildings can provide public services such as libraries and city offices, also incorporating economic benefits to the community with small retail spaces for locally owned restaurants and shops.