Editor’s Desk: Urban Infill

Denser Communities On the Rise

I live in a city that is on the cusp on being recognized as a mid-sized metropolitan area, meaning we’re likely to hit 500,000 people soon, if we haven’t already.  What does that mean for me as a resident?  I mostly drive a short distance to get whatever I need, parking at the nearby airport isn’t a nightmare yet, and big tech companies are quickly settling into my high-desert hometown.  It’s convenient for me, but would the majority of American residents be happy with this way of life?

         Results from The American Institute of Architects recent Home Design Trends Survey show a preference among households for communities to be closer to urban centers.  There are many reasons that homeowners are searching for this trait, but convenience certainly tops the list.  Smaller home lots and a greater integration of land use are among the desires of new homeowners. 

         Taking this trend even further, project development that incorporates infill, or the rededication of land in an urban environment to new construction, is also on the rise.  Also known as land-recycling, infill is a call for more economical and eco-friendly usage of existing infrastructure.  Infill is most certainly a reaction to the urban-sprawl phenomenon that has overtaken the United States since the 1950s.  Cars, shopping malls, and subdivisions took people away from city centers and placed them in cookie-cutter neighborhoods, effectively prompting the decline of urban dwelling.

         Urban sprawl is on the decline, though, and we have millennials to thank for that.  High cost of living and traffic are forcing younger generations away from cities such as New York and Los Angeles and placing them directly into mid-sized metropolitan areas such as my own.  However, instead of saying goodbye to an urban lifestyle, these transplants are attempting to change their surroundings to more closely reflect these large metropolitan areas. 

         A 2010 census study from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs showed that 83% of American residents live in metropolitan areas, and it predicts that by 2030 the number of people residing in rural areas will decrease to 14%.  Personally, I find these results misleading.  A short while ago, suburban areas near me were considered rural, and they’ll continue to grow as more people flock to my city.  We must first take into account that perhaps rural areas are being transformed into more metropolitan areas over time, therefore skewing the numbers.  Aside from this cognizance, the study shows a very real pattern.

We’ve written previously on New Urbanism, the planning and development approach based on the principles of how cities and towns have historically been built: walkable streets, housing and shopping in close proximity, and accessible public spaces.  New Urbanists are zealous in their pursuit of zoning reform and street and building design, while simultaneously advocating for villages, towns, and cities consisting of diverse neighborhoods that are within a five-minute walk from center to edge.  It’s a neat idea, but is it doable?  Perhaps I’ll be able to see for myself as my mid-sized city soars.

editor & publisher
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