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Can Cities Learn Anything from Suburbs?

HOUSTON – It’s no secret that Millennials worship The Heights and are enthralled by Houston’s Inner Loop in general.

A few years ago, I saw this graffiti scrawled on the side of a building in Houston’s Lower Montrose district” “There is No Life in the Suburbs.”

Without a doubt, Houston’s far-flung suburbs can be boring with uniform housing stock, an over-abundance of chain retail and fast-food outlets and devoid of good places to walk or ride bikes.

However, the suburbs have been location of some excellent developments and innovation. And maybe it’s time to import some concepts from the suburbs to Houston’s older communities nearer to the downtown core.

So maybe it’s time to consider this new study: “Building Stronger Suburbs: Adaptability and Resilience Best Practices from Suburban Houston.”

The study was commissioned by Urban Land Institute –Houston (ULI Houston) and conducted by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

The crux of the study: Houston’s suburbs must share innovations, successes and lessons learned from mistakes to ensure long-term prosperity.

“Suburbs have a lot to teach us,” said the report’s author, Kyle Shelton, in a presentation to the ULI Houston luncheon Thursday at the Junior League building.

The study is based on five case studies from across the Houston region and three focus groups with Houston-area developers, elected officials and government employees.

“Houston is rich in its expertise in both the urban and suburban core,” said Bill Odle, ULI board chair and strategic planning directorf or the architecture firm TBG. “We have the best minds executing some of our region’s most innovative projects, and we knew we could tap into that talent to reveal the most challenging and interesting work taking place, particularly in the suburbs. With the expertise from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, this study examines those best practices and, we hope, also inspires land use that furthers the path of our flourishing, global city.”

Shelton pointed out that there are many things taking place –collaboration between public and private sectors, enhancement of community services (including public safety and maintenance )and expansion of green space–that can be shared and potentially impact not just suburbs but major municipalities. Shelton is manager of the Kinder Institute’s Urban Development, Transportation and Placemaking program.

Shelton said there needs to be more planning on a regional level as growth occurs. “Our regions can no longer just let growth happen.”

Other panelists at the ULI session Thursday included: Peter Barnhart, Executive Vice President & Partner, Caldwell Companies; Lisa M. Kocich-Meyer, Director of Planning, Sugar Land; Wayne Norden, President, Near Northwest Management District.

Barnhart said the suburbs are now attracting more Millennials as that cohort matures, marries and has children and develops the desire for good suburban schools.

Developers are adding more trails, more elaborate swimming pools and public spaces to make suburban communities more appealing.

“We are in an amenities arms race,” Barnhart said.

(By Ralph Bivins, Realty News Report)

Nov. 18, 2016 Realty News Report Copyright 2016

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