Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

CHANGE | Retrofitting Suburbia

We have a particular passion for the suburbs and a desire to see improved social, economic, health, cultural and environmental performance in the suburbs. In this recent talk for TED, Ellen Dunham-Jones addresses what’s been happening in suburbs and why we need to start thinking about improving and changing them (the talk is embedded below but the screen is truncated on WordPress). This means not just rethinking the suburbs but actively intervening on patterns of land use and decision making that consistently results in poor environments – this means involving communities, business and government in radically revisioning our suburban landscape.

In Australia, disturbing patterns and inequities are ossifying. The divide between suburban and urban is impacting on housing and mortgage stress, fuel and energy stress, disadvantage and social exclusion, car reliance and the like. Decision makers often seem to be reifying this divide, not only producing more of the same, but more of the worst. Dunham-Jones makes a plea for better suburbs, calling for the next 50 years to focus on the big sustainable design project of ‘retrofitting suburbia’. This will mean rehabilitating dying malls and shopping centres, re-inhabiting dead “big box” stores and transforming parking lots into thriving wetlands. While browsing the TED talks, it’s also worth listening to James H Kunstler, who as an outspoken critic of suburban sprawl observes that America’s public spaces are not worth caring about and that the places that have built have deprived us of the ability to live in a hopeful present. New possibilities for suburbs and suburban life can be envisioned and realised.


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