Panel: The Future of Suburban is… Urban?

  • Speakers:
    Kristen Jeffers
    , Founder and Editor-in-Chief, The Black Urbanist
    Elizabeth Kneebone, Research Director, Terner Center for Housing Innovation, UC Berkeley
    June Williamson, Chair and Associate Professor, Bernard & Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York
  • Moderator:
    Diana Lind, Author & Executive Director, Arts & Business Council for Greater Philadelphia

5 Key Takeaways

  • 1. The suburbs are changing and challenging people’s perceptions. The suburbs have always been more diverse than the traditional white picket fence, car dependent, single-family home, low density areas of popular perception. There are new narratives coming out of the suburbs as the demographic, and economic diversity is only increasing. Housing plays a role in terms of integrating these demographics.
  • 2. Education and empowering people through property are both ways to build more equitable communities. In America, homeownership relates directly to wealth, designed as the primary wealth-building tool explains June Williamson. Tax policy penalizes renters and hinders a person’s access to economic stability. Insufficient housing supply negatively impacts affordability, making it harder for people to become homeowners. Kristen Jeffers talks about “Buy back the Block”, a program to educate young people on property ownership, fixing homes, and home values.
  • 3. There is a mismatch between people and housing typologies. Diversifying the housing stock would contribute to more integrated suburbs. Incorporate more housing options. Loosen regulations to include more upzoning. However, the zoning piece does not stand alone. Elizabeth Kneebone explains the processes, financing tools, and capacity are all just as important factors in developing more diversified housing.
  • 4. It is an uneven playing field, when comparing the different jurisdictions’ abilities to provide services during COVID-19. Different jurisdictions are starting from very different baselines, with different infrastructure and safety nets. Localities and states do not have the resources on their own, says Elizabeth Kneebone, the suburbs will require federal assistance to stabilize communities.
  • 5. The appeal of suburbia is rising, as people want to leave dense city centers. There is a desire for urban-type places in the suburbs that are walkable, mixed-use, with small downtowns, and urban-like amenities. This creates a demand for more retrofitting, explains June Williamson, however the scaling up of the suburbs presents issues of sustainability, and affordability as prices get pushed up.

Featured photo by Christopher Lin on Unsplash