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EDITOR'S LETTER: Refurbishing America

One evening, after a grueling commute home, my husband suggested going to an Italian restaurant for dinner. After thinking it over, I decided I would rather cook than head back out the door into the congested, unfriendly roadways it would take to get there. There's no meal worth facing tailgaters and rude drivers.

I don't think I'm alone in my focus on quality of life. Hence, I believe, the current trend is moving away from often unattractive commercial centers and moving toward revisiting the mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods of yesteryear.

A not-for-profit education and research organization, Urban Land Institute (ULI) ( has a mission to provide responsible leadership in the use of land in order to enhance the total environment. Established in 1936, the institute has nearly 17,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.

According to ULI, there are many ways developers can change America's suburbs and achieve user-friendly mixed-use centers. A key suggestion is that new or replacement structures be open to bordering neighborhoods and served by roads connecting, rather than dividing, the entire project.

Last year ULI sponsored a smart growth solutions program looking for answers to particular land use and growth management troubles. The outcome was a book — Ten Principles for Reinventing America's Suburban Strips.

The recommendations, which are designed to apply to centers in any market, were based on analyses of commercial strips along three corridors in the Washington metro area: Rockville Pike in Montgomery County, Md.; Route 301 in Charles County, Md.; and Richmond Highway in Fairfax County, Va. These areas were examined by teams of land use experts from the fields of architecture, urban design, land planning, transportation, real estate development, marketing and public policy.

Richard Rosan, ULI president, says that often when suburban strips are in the planning stages, “changing demographics and consumer demand for more urban, pedestrian-oriented facilities” are not taken into account. The organization hopes its new publication may share helpful strategies and tactics. These standards can be applied anywhere and make any suburban area more economically sound and at the same time more alluring and appealing to consumers.

ULI's principles for reinventing suburban centers

  1. Ignite leadership and nurture partnership;
  2. Anticipate evolution;
  3. Know the market;
  4. Prune back retail-zoned land;
  5. Establish pulse nodes of development;
  6. Tame the traffic;
  7. Create the place;
  8. Diversify the character;
  9. Eradicate the ugliness;
  10. Put your money (and regulations) where your policy is.

Sounds like a logical plan to me. It would be nice to go to a leisurely meal after work without facing ugliness.

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