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Suburban Hip: The Next Wave of Growth and a New Way of Life in the Suburbs

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About This Webinar

Center-city population growth rates have been slowing since 2011. Analysis of projected population growth in the United States between 2020 and 2030 indicates that family-forming millennials and retiree populations will dominate, both of which lean toward a more suburban lifestyle. Over the past year, the pandemic has accelerated this already growing shift away from urban dwellings towards suburban living. But the suburbs these populations are flocking towards are not the suburbs of the past—they’re very different, life-long communities and they’re rapidly evolving. Designers are prioritizing the desire for walkability, sociability, healthy living, sustainability, and ultimately a lifelong work-eat-sleep-play atmosphere. Suburban growth is not dead; in many cases it’s alive, vibrant, young, and hip in quite a different model than that of decades past.

Watch this webinar to hear our panel of experts discuss their journey in pioneering suburban urban communities nationwide from planning and design evolution, integral partnerships, and our perspective on the future of this new suburban urban way of life. This presentation explores topics related to modern suburban urban land and mixed-use development planning, including:

  • Designing places for social connectivity and the way people interact
  • Building communities with amenities that are desirable in both urban and suburban spaces
  • Transforming environmental challenges into sustainable planning and design opportunities
  • Using principles of urban planning in suburban building to modify existing suburban assets
  • Re-imagining development through public and private partnerships
  • Understanding the role of public agencies in public-private partnerships, especially through policy and zoning regulations
  • Designing elements and programs that are necessary to compete with urban locations and create the “hip factor” that attracts millennials, Gen X, Gen Z, young families, and the new generation of retirees

Jessica Rossi:
Welcome to Suburban Hip: the next wave of growth and a new way of life in the suburbs. Thanks everybody for joining us today. As we explore an increasing shift towards suburban living residents, both young, old, and every age in between are seeking a new imagined experience in the suburbs. And we want to explore today:  Why is that? And more importantly, how do we successfully complete that? My name is Jessica Rossi, I’m going to be your moderator today. I’m a planner and a real estate economist out of Kimley-Horn’s Charlotte, North Carolina office. I work on market feasibility and economic development studies across the country and I personally experienced a growing momentum in mixed-use or multi-use development opportunities in suburban locations.

What I’m seeing is an undeniable interest in delivering well-designed projects that offer the best of both worlds, urban excitement and connection and suburban quality of life. Before we begin with the new let’s think back, maybe 15 or 20 years, you know, what was your perception of suburban living at that time? Now, as a student planner in my graduate program, we spent a lot of time talking about the challenges that suburbs offered places that looked very much like the top image on the screen now limited connection in terms of land uses audio, audio auto oriented mindsets that often resulted in increased congestion, long commutes, and maybe a lack of identity. We always said, you know, there’s no, there, there, and those are all things that we discussed in there, things that are relevant here today. What’s driving not only a resurgence in suburban development, but also a reinvention.

The short answer to that is demographics. Let’s start with the millennials. This group is currently aged 23 to 39, and it includes over 72 million people nationally. And that age range, I’ll say it again, 23 to 39 is really important here. A decade ago, there were no millennials that were over the age of 30. Now, nearly half of them are they’re entering that stage of life where they are settling down. Maybe they’re forming families, they’re buying homes and despite their best efforts, maybe they’re turning into their parents a little bit. There’s a sizable wave of those that are about to enter the housing market for the first time, and they want it all. They want quality housing options. They want quality of life, including high performing school districts. They want quality amenities. On the other end of the spectrum are the active adults and they’re driving demand for locations that offer centralized housing services entertainment, recreation, shopping, dining, all that great stuff, you know, and if their grand babies are nearby all the better. Overall, users are prioritizing the desire for walkability, sociability, healthy living, and sustainability.

Would it really be a real estate conversation without mentioning COVID? The data that we’re seeing strongly suggests that while the demographic trends were already making waves in the suburbs, COVID has really accelerated  that interest because we’re balancing healthy living with more space, especially if we’re stuck in our houses 24/7, and an urban style feel and amenities. So before I ask our very patient panelists to introduce themselves, I did want to make a quick note from a housekeeping perspective. We have lots of questions that are teed up and we certainly have lots of information to share, but I really want to encourage our audience to join in the fun. There’s a Q and A window and we encourage you to put in a question. We want to incorporate what you want to learn about into this panel today. With that being said, let’s dive in. To start, I’d like to ask each of our panelists to share a little bit about themselves, including why out of a firm of more than 4,500 people you’re sitting in the shared hot seat today? What’s your specific interest and experience in suburban development? We’ll start with Eric Bosman. The virtual stage is yours.

Eric Bosman:
Thanks Jessica. My name is Eric Bosman. I’m an urban designer and planner based in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve had the opportunity to work both in Metro Houston, Metro Atlanta, and growing metropolitan areas across the Southeast and Midwest over the last 25 years. Much of my career has been about trying to find this sense of place that Jessica spoke about. Thinking about places that were designed around the automobile and how do we make them more active, more connected, more walkable, and frankly, more sustainable, whether you’re looking at that from an environmental or from a market standpoint.

Jessica:
Great. What about you, Ryan?

Ryan McMaster:
I’m Ryan McMaster, I’m a Development Services civil engineer in our Nashville office and over the last 20 years or so of my career my practice has been heavily focused in many mixed-use and suburban residential developments as a resident of the city of Franklin, which is just South of Nashville. Most of my practice has been focused down in Williamson County and the city of Franklin on mixed-use developments. We’ll touch on that a little bit later, I think on some of those specific details and projects that , I’ve spent a lot of my time, but I think as a resident of a suburban area, , I really am passionate about creating these. They’re places that we can all go visit, take our families, and experience the town, living in a suburban market.

Leo O’Brian:
Hello everybody. My name is Leo O’Brian. I’m a Landscape Architect and community designer, and I’ve been able to have work done in the East Coast and spend most of my career in the West Coast, working on several communities of various densities and types and styles, and I feel very privileged to be a part of these great teams that have built places for people to live, to create memories, to move around and make friends and really have places that are viable. I’m very excited to be a part of this panel  and look forward to talking with you more. Thank you.

Amy Wicks:
Hi, I’m Amy Wicks and I am in our Fort Myers office. I have a unique background. I’m an ecological engineer, but my background before that was really focused on surface water and water quality. I got involved in an awesome project back in 2006, Babcock Ranch down here, close to Fort Myers, Florida in Southwest Florida. As part of getting involved in that early on, it was a sustainable community, was the thought, and it was really before sustainability was a big buzzword, as far as communities go and everything. I got involved and became really passionate about the overall vision and went back to school, got my ecological engineering master’s and I’m still working on that project today as it continues to develop and evolve.

Jessica:
Excellent. Well, now that we know our panelists a little better, let’s dive into some content. Let’s start with walkability. Walkability is arguably one of the key planning and design focuses of the new suburban, urban community.

What is walkable suburbanism and what trends from urban cities are being applied to these re-imagined communities?


Eric
:
I want to start by adding on to the history lesson that you started with. I don’t think we can talk about suburban evolution without really going back to the late 1800s, if you can believe it or not. The notion  of suburbs really dates back to London in the late 1800s. Then there was a seminal piece of work developed by an urban planner named Ebeneezer Howard, that sort of coined the idea of this garden city. What the suburbs were originally intended to be were sort of this combination of the best of the city and the best of the country. I think that notion of what a suburb is hasn’t necessarily changed in terms of its philosophy over a century plus now. But I think what did change, particularly in the United States, by the time we got to developing our suburbs, particularly in the Southern half of the country, we had the automobile. That notion of what the best of the city and the best of the country was very much shaped by the access that the automobile provided in the 1950s, 1960s, up through about the 1980s.

What we got in the United States and the Sunbelt wasn’t so much the garden city as it was the bedroom community. I mean, that’s the challenge. When we were back in graduate school, Jessica, the challenge that we faced is we really had bedroom communities that were alive from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM and then from 6:00 AM to maybe 8:00 AM, and then everybody left and went to work and came back home in the evenings to sleep. What we’re seeing now is that the notion of what the best of the city and the best of the country is junk food looks a lot different now than it did from the 1960s to the 1980s. And the premise of that, I think really is both experience and walkability. What people want now is that notion of the best of the city and the best of the country is a place where you can walk from home to go grab dinner or a drink, or an ice cream or a slice of pizza where you can go out, not in COVID times, but as we were leading into COVID now, I think what we’re going to see in spades coming out of COVID is people just wanting to be around other people.

As you mentioned, when it’s families with children, when it’s seniors, that doesn’t mean being around tens of thousands of people. Sometimes that means being around tens of people, or maybe hundreds of people, in a place that’s more familial. In a place that feels more like a hometown atmosphere. I think ultimately what we’re seeing in sort of this new wave of suburban development that’s been going on for probably 20 years now, and that we’re going to continue to see more of, is this notion that our suburban downtowns in particular need to be walkable. They need to be a little more in intensity and experience than what our traditional downtowns were, that they’re more connected because what people want to do is be able to go out for that stroll. They want to be able to access goods. They want to bump into their neighbors, but they want to do that in a place that feels not too overwhelming from a scale standpoint, that feels more connected to their community and feels like a place that they can call their hometown.

I think finally to create that type of environment, that truly is walkable, takes a very different type of site design and architectural design than what we’ve traditionally seen in the suburbs. It’s sort of flipping what we think  a suburb is from a design standpoint on its ear a little bit because if you want a place that’s truly engaging and walkable, it’s just designed differently than what a lot of our suburbs are sort of built around and intend to do. It’s bringing the streets up to the sidewalk. It’s having generous sidewalks. It’s not having the 30 acre park necessarily, although that’s really important. It’s about having that small-scale pocket park, where the arts festival, where the Friday night jazz concert, where the couple with the guitar can gather and play and create that sense of attraction, that sense of experience and a stronger sense of community. That’s why the drive for walkability is really about creating the proper scale for the types of places that people want to be.

Amy:
I think that was a really great point, Eric. But one of the things that I want to add to that is I think we need to keep in mind the weather. We’re down here in South Florida, which sometimes is a luxury because it’s beautiful out right now while half the nation is buried in snow, but our summers are brutal. It’s hot, nobody wants to walk anywhere, and we have this awesome thing called rainy seasons since we don’t get winter and summer. We get 60 inches of rain over the course of six months, and so it’s also being able to plan for that. How can you provide shade and shelter along pathways and trails to make sure that it’s being walkable? That’s definitely something that we found is really important to incorporate.

It was really a challenge for us really early on as what we were starting to see was, it’s walkable, we’ve created this engaging environment, but what if nobody wants to walk? It’s only a block, but nobody wants to do it. Really paying attention to those types of features, making sure the buildings have awnings and things to help shelter, especially in the Florida sun or the Florida rain, has been really important in making Babcock Ranch success.

Jessica:

Very interesting. I’m going to throw a phrase out there that I’ve seen in some reading about the new wave of suburban development. It’s the idea of designing through observing the way people interact. Amy, as you just finished up, what does that mean to you and how do you think that’s integral to the new suburban urban?


Amy
:
I actually have a good story. I told you my background, I’m a surface water engineer, and when we got involved in the beginning of Babcock Ranch, we did a bunch of tours and I was really kind of confused in the beginning. Why are you taking the engineer with you? I don’t know how that’s going to help you. They wanted to tour all of these walkable communities throughout Florida and what I started observing was we would go from place to place and it was a quarter mile or a half mile. They say, “okay, we’ll bring the car around so I can go down to the coffee shop. Okay, well, bring the car around so I can go down and see the band shell.” There were all of these great places, but they weren’t willing to walk it.

They were saying, “these are all beautiful, and this is what we want to do.” And it was like, guys, I think you’re missing something! You’re not willing to do what it is that you’re trying to make everybody do. As we were working on Babcock, one of the things that we really tried to do was make different opportunities, because what we saw was we don’t know how those people are going to interact once they get out here and it could be different than they interacted when we were out touring. We’ve tried to leave three different options really.

If you look at the engineering drawing, we tried to leave large pathways along the sidewalks and everything, and really towards those commercial corridors. There’s 10-foot sidewalks on both sides, very heavily landscaped to kind of create that experience that Eric was talking about, but we didn’t want to stop there because we were afraid that people weren’t going to get out and walk and we were going to have the same situation that you see in a lot of walkable communities. We also added several green spaces, pocket parks, and all of those have a different experience from being a sunset, looked out to a garden, to just an open up overall park area, a little lakeside deck, some benches and random green areas really that were connected by much smaller segments of about a quarter mile each.

Maybe if you can just go out of your home, go a tenth of a mile, get to one of these green spaces, well, it’s not going to seem too far to go ahead and get to the green space, and it’s not going to seem too far to get to know the next green space and before you know it, you end up right in the center of town anyway. The third one we really did is we left a lot of green spaces between the communities as we continued to develop so we could figure out how we needed to connect to those in the future. You can see that on the map where on the edges of the residential subdivisions we’ve left green areas. Some of those were turning into sidewalks. Some of them, we found that people haven’t used at all, and some of them, we are finding that we’re just going to make a mulch path there and that’s what the people want. We’ve kind of left that flexibility into what we’re designing so we can create it around the way the people are actually living and embracing the community.

Leo:
This is a great example, Amy, because what this starts to look at is how do you create what I call a village? As community designers, we’re tasked with creating community  in sometimes remote places or sometimes in places that are right on the outside of cities and how do we create the sense of village or this place where people can walk and connect? I was able to work on a recent project called Woodbury in Irvine. It’s a little different project; it’s a suburban project but it is near urban areas. It’s not trying to be a city itself; it’s trying to be more of a village. In the upper right-hand corner, you can see  the plan for this community: about 4,200 homes 636 acres. It’s about a six-dwelling unit per acre average on the gross scale, and 14 different parks. The reason why I wanted to show it is it’s a great example for what the future I think could be for suburban development. It’s all about scale. Six hundred acres is a really large area, and if you can   connect it to the regional trail system like this community does, people can have that option to be able to ride their bikes for miles if they want. But then if somebody is, as you can see on the bottom right-hand corner, if somebody just wants to get outside, maybe they’re a young mother and they just want to get out for a half hour and they don’t want to walk more than maybe a hundred feet, that the idea that you could have these pocket parks, these small little areas, which really bring the village feel home to your neighborhood.

That way you can really create  this place for people to interact and place for people to gather. It’s about scale and it’s about design detail. What I love about this project is that you can see in the upper left-hand corner, we’re able to create front porches and front areas for people to be able to come right down to the street from their home. In the bottom left corner, there’s a 20-acre common park area that has a school, public parks, a swimming pool, and then has a connection to the retail village center, which is up in the upper right-hand corner of the project. That really creates a sense of gathering for the whole community. This project for me is a great representation of how to bring design into an efficient, yet very livable, and wonderful place to live for generations to come.

Jessica:
Thanks, Leo, I love the idea. I think both of you touched on it really well of having flexibility as you go to allow for changes and to allow for you to react to the community and how they’re receiving the project. Ryan, let’s get you teed up. I read according to ULI as emerging trends in real estate from this year 2021, the Nashville area where you’re located is considered one of the new boomtowns.

What are some examples in the Nashville area that are showing some of the emergence of these trends that we’re talking about today?


Ryan
:
I think it started going back 20 plus years ago. The developments that come to mind in the middle Tennessee area from a suburban standpoint are Providence out in Mount Juliet, West Haven down in Franklin, and even Meridian down in Franklin, but thinking about some of the original live-work-play type developments, they were a bit more single-family focused and sprawling. You’re thinking of hundreds of acres, thousands of acres, with a retail service area up front that not only serves the development, but also serves the local community surrounding it. I think over the last 20 years, what we’ve seen is a much more densified focus as smaller land opportunities come available, higher density, more focused, mixed-uses on smaller land areas are what we’ve seen evolve over the last 20 years.

Both examples I’ll talk about are located in the city of Franklin. They’re down on the South end of Nashville on the right. Here, you see Berry Farms. Berry farms is 600 acres and it’s three separate parcels right at an interstate interchange with US65. That development has over three-million square-feet of office space, a million square-feet of retail, a couple thousand residential units, and several hotels. Each individual village serves as its own development within a development. Within those areas, you create a central densified gathering space, which I think is so key in these mixed-use hip urban suburban developments. Another examples up at the top left of this image is North Side of McEwen. This site’s about probably a third of the way developed. It’s 50 acres, has over a million square-feet of office space, over a hundred thousand square-feet of retail and restaurants, over a thousand residential units, and a couple of hotels.

What you see here is green village park. Immediately out in front of the office building on each side of the park are a couple of jewel boxes. One is a Jeni’s ice cream, the other is a wine bar getting ready to open. What you see when you have this densification of residential uses with a mixture of office and retail and restaurant and even hospitality, is this central gathering space, whether it’s during lunchtime for the office users or at happy hour for both the office users surrounding residents, or even people that live down the street, having a place to walk down and spend some time with your colleagues or friends or family spend some time out on the park and gather with your neighbors. It’s a sense of lifestyle that I think many people, whether you’re a millennial or active adult, just a lifestyle people are seeking. You’ve seen some of the suburban developments evolve into more dense mixed-use developments like this. In middle Tennessee, we’re seeing more of this. We’re seeing these areas that have very specific retail users that they’re promoting to bring to this development restaurants wine bars, ice cream, yoga studios, you name it, places for people to come gather with their friends and family.

Eric:
Ryan, there’s two things that you mentioned that I want to highlight and reinforce. I think the master plan communities have been one of the most effective ways to create these types of environments, but it takes somebody who’s got a lot of land and a lot of financial backing in order to make those right. The beauty of the master plan community is it’s started in most cases with the image for the residential and it’s about integrating the office and the retail and the open space into that. I think the challenge is that our traditional downtown spaces, they’re already the center of commerce. In so many cases, there’s the resistance to bringing in the residential that is necessary to create these types of environments. As you noted, having that sort of central focus point, that public space, is so important to have the center of being in the placemaking for how these environments get created.

For our downtown environments that are already there, we can’t create that 14, 16, 18-hour life cycle that really makes the restaurants and the retails thrive without the level of intensity and density of housing that you’re talking about. If you’ve just got office employees, we get traditional downtowns that roll up the doors at 6:00 PM. You’ve got to have the office component that makes business work during the day and the residential component that makes business and restaurants and retail thrive at night. Having all of those components and then that primary focal point to make it happen is so important. I think the other mistake that that gets made a lot in trying to create these environments is starting too big. I think what we’ve seen in newer places that are being very successful with this type of development style is starting in a focused, concentrated manner. Yes, that means you’re going to get pushback in terms of density and intensity and residential units, but you almost have to start small to create that critical mass that, that the momentum is created from, in order to, to get things going that create that bigger picture.

Jessica:
Great. I’m going to start putting you all a little pressure on you with some audience questions because I think there’s a really good one that fits very well to some of the things that Ryan you and Eric were both saying.

How do you balance the creative aspects of these projects that are necessary to ensure success with some of the more rigid or steadfast community engineering standards? Where do you toe the line so that you are hitting both ends?

 

Ryan:
It’s certainly a challenge. In many suburban markets when you’re talking about rigid standards, many utility providers require exclusive easements outside the right of way and no other trees, streetscape, or other utilities can be within that easement. When we’re trying to create these urban settings where you’re bringing in buildings to the right of way and you have a lot of hardscape from the back of curb to the face of buildings, there’s a lot of utility providers in the suburban markets to get very anxious when it comes to those type of proposals. Spend a lot of time upfront with those utility providers, with the city, create partnerships and gain their trust, and talk through how these utilities will be provided. I could get into some very detailed engineered dimensions when it comes to where utilities go with respect to right away, but I’ll spare the group with that today. I think that’s certainly something that is a challenge and it takes time creating those partnerships and, and working through those details with the providers.

Jessica:
Great. Great. Any other add-ons to that, to that question? I think it’s an excellent one, but you did a great job.

Eric:
I think so many of the tactics and the elements that you want to create in these walkable centers are the very things that are suburban zoning codes don’t allow for. They were the kind of things they outlawed because they were trying to keep the urbanity out of the suburbs. In a lot of places, I think we’ve got to have a municipality or an authority that is willing to look at the holistic picture and create specials, ending classifications, or allow allowances in terms of those travel lane width and those sidewalk widths and where the buildings are. It’s not about having a setback. it’s about having parking maximums because it’s having too much space that actually starts to tear apart the environment that you’re trying to create. So yes, we’re trying to pack more things in a limited number of space, but that’s what makes it vibrant. We’ve got to have communities and municipalities that understand that vision and then are willing to work with developers and public private partnerships in order to actually create them because the code, frankly, in most places, isn’t going to allow them.

Jessica:
Hmm. Good point. Let’s keep going and shift gears a little bit into sustainability.

How are some of the environmental challenges being transformed into sustainable planning and design opportunities? How are we moving challenges into the opportunity bucket? The perception here is that these initiatives cost more money, but people are willing to pay for them. Amy, do you think that’s true?

 

Amy:
I do. And we’ve definitely seen that at Babcock Ranch. If we go back to when I introduced myself, I said the whole idea of the community from the get-go was sustainability, and as we started putting pen to paper and laying everything out really what we tried to do is say here are the 10 things we have to engineer. How do we use these 10 things in a sustainable type environment and everything? We take a lot of advantage of where our runoff goes. We changed the curb types as much as possible so we can capture that and open swales to convey that water a little bit better. It’s also created floodplain storage for us. As I said, in South Florida, we get 60 inches of rain in six months, so as we’re trying to capture that, we need floodplain storage. We’ve utilized these areas that during the wet season, which is the ridiculously hot season in South Florida also, it’s 95 degrees. So we’ve utilized those areas for floodplain storage. Instead of doing the traditional approach of we’re going to develop these ponds, stick them out in the very back and then put a bunch of homes around them and we’ll call them an amenity.

We now have all of these areas that now have trails and things through them. The trails are entirely usable through the dry season, which is more like 75 to 80 degrees when people want to be out and enjoying the weather. We don’t have the rain and we’re really just having floodplain storage, and it’s an area that we would have used elsewhere and not been able to develop. We’ve also been able to use existing wetlands and things like that. Where we have environmental features coming in, that we need to capitalize on. To take that a step further, instead of the traditional ponds and backyards, we’ve started adding backyard wildlife areas. We’ve created spaces that are similar to wetlands and things, and we’ve really seen the premiums on those properties against the preserves and trails or against those backyard wildlife areas, which is akin to a typical pond that you would see in South Florida and people’s backyards, but planted and not a deep hole in the ground.

I mean, it does store a little bit of water, but a lot of plants and shrubbery in the back where you can see birds and things like that up there, and we’ve seen the premiums on those properties go up. We’ve really amenitized those needs that we had, and it’s really helping sales and everything too.

Jessica:
A quick tack-on, we had an interesting question from a sustainability standpoint that goes in a bit of a different direction, but Leo, this might be a good one for you.

Many areas here in California are going with 100% electric projects due to fire damage and gas. Are you seeing ways to value engineer or design projects using 100% electric?

 

Leo:
Wow. That’s a great question. What a great goal that would be. I think there is a definite opportunity for developers to look at sustainable energy sources or different ways to create communities that are kind of off the grid, if you will. I’m here in Texas right now, and there’s definitely a lot of thinking about, about how people can try to be more sustainable, more off the grid, less reliance on electricity. With all the power outages, it’s definitely a great a great concept.

Amy:
Yeah, I do want to add to that. Just a little bit out at Babcock Ranch, we do have a 150-megawatt solar facility, which will supply more than twice the amount of electric that the community is expected to use. But interestingly, what we’ve seen now that that’s out there and that’s kind of a common theme in the community is about 40% of the homes are also adding solar panels to their homes. They don’t need it. The community is already run off of a solar plant, but they’re adding those solar panels to their homes. I think that it’s more about creating that environment, even going back to what Eric talked about in the very beginning, it’s creating that opportunity for them and they’re really buying in.

Jessica:

How do public and private entities overcome traditional tools and methods in order to catalyze teaming for success on these re imagined developments?

 

Eric:
Yeah, I think I got to jump in on that. There are so many different public sector clients that we work with, and I think there’s a couple of key pieces to it. You’ve got to have a municipality that sort of has a vision for what it is that they want for who they want to be when they grow up, for what that the center of the community wants to focus and be like. So often where we’ve seen communities that have been successful it’s because they did a little bit of upfront thinking or visioning, or even as far as master planning, not to come up with all the rules and regulations necessarily, but to create some buy-in on what the vision needs to be. Because people don’t talk in engineering and planner terms, but when they sort of see it, they know what it looks like and how it feels, right?

So, having a chance to go through a visioning and master planning process, I think helps set that up. Then there are as many different ways to implement it as there are ways that we could think of, but the best examples truly have sort of the sense of public private partnership in a master plan community, the private developer can come in and sort of work on what she or he wants because they own the land and can sort of barter a little bit with the municipality in our traditional downtowns. It really has to have that collaboration of a public sector that has a vision and isn’t throwing it onto the private sector to implement, because we’ve already mentioned there’s code problems, there’s regulatory problems, there’s financing problems. It has to be bringing that vision to the private sector and then finding the right private sector, investor and developer, who also believes in that vision and is capable and interested in making it a reality.

I think vision and partnership, and from time to time, a little bit of a dose of reality in terms of that investment finance part and what it really takes in order to get these projects bankrolled and invested in and built. It’s throwing the rule book out a little bit and looking at the tactics and the strategies that are necessary for these places to be walkable, to be vibrant, to be experiential. Cause you can’t create that in a cookie cutter mode, it’s different for every community because the elements are different, the market’s different, the history is different, and you’ve got to buy into that.

Ryan:
I’ll add a little bit to that as well. In the suburban market that the car is such a focus in something that goes into almost every decision, how are we going to park it? Where do we park it? How do we provide accessibility? When you have these mixed-use developments in a suburban market, you’re relying on not only the development itself. The office users, the residents, hotel guests to provide that vibrant community. You’re also expecting folks from the suburban market to drive in to visit the restaurant, the retail, and the open space park areas. When you’re thinking about parking and you have these mixture of uses in these types of developments having the flexibility to provide a shared parking approach to how we handle parking and many of these densified suburban developments that are heavy, mixed-use focused, you have parking decks and structured parking. Being able to balance the high minimum parking requirements that we’re used to seeing in these suburban markets with a more mixed-use densified development and being able to take an approach like the ULI Shared Parking Guidelines and implementing those into a suburban market that may have never experienced it before and trying to work through those details and digging into the different mixture uses and how that’s parked, I think is an important role as well of working through these mixed-use developments.

Jessica:
Let’s stay on parking for one minute. We had an audience question about how autonomous vehicles and ride sharing services might be changing strategies on parking. Ryan, I think you’d have some feedback there. And then Amy, I’d be interested in some of the shuttle work that’s been happening at that conference too.

How might autonomous vehicles and ride sharing services change parking strategies?

Ryan:
At a minimum, the one thing that we are trying to incorporate into every development is how do you provide those pickup and drop off areas for rideshares? Whether it’s hotel, office, a multi-family, you name it on a regular basis, you have folks coming in to pick up and drop off those riders. Providing that safe environment and a place to pull off and pick up and drop off is important. I think the autonomous vehicle side obviously gets a lot more complicated and has to pull out our crystal ball a little bit and look a little further into the future, but it’s certainly something that needs to be considered. When you’re planning for a development today assuming that autonomous vehicles continues to become more and more of an impact to our daily lives, how can we take some of these areas that we’re currently proposing parking for and use those parking fields that may not be used 20 years from now and be able to redevelop a site? We’re not only thinking about the development and master plan that we’re trying to implement as engineers today, but also thinking out 15, 20, 25 years, how do we use some of these fields and some of these parking areas to further densify as a development progress?

Amy:
We really have tried to incorporate the autonomous vehicles from the very beginning. It was something that the whole team was really passionate about and making sure that there were opportunities out there for autonomous vehicles, which has been really exciting to be part of. What they’ve really started out there is currently there’s two autonomous shuttles out there and the community is continuing to grow. It’s not even 10% developed at this point, but there’s two autonomous shuttles. They’re in the process of developing an app in addition to the shuttles have a regular route that they run. But they’re also in the process of developing an app. In the app, you’ll just be able to call it to come out to your house and pick you up and take you where you need to go. It’s a ride share type process, but in an autonomous vehicle that all of the community is allowed to partake in, so it won’t leave the community. It also doesn’t have its own special roads either. It just travels on the regular roads with everybody else and get you to where you need to be. It’s essentially an autonomous ride share for the entire community.

Jessica:
Very cool. Let’s transition to mobility. I feel like we’re already there, so let’s keep going mobility, creativity and creating access equity.

What are some important lessons learned related to planning access in the new suburban, urban community? What are some central business district amenities that urbanized suburbs are incorporating or are even looking to improve on? And are there any challenges?

 

Ryan:
Yeah, I’ll jump in and take a stab at that one. I touched on this a little bit earlier, but I think when you’re looking specifically at a mixed-use development, I think the retail uses are very important. They have to be authentic. They have to be places that not only serve that dense, mixed-use development, but also bring in folks from the community. A perfect example is North Side McKeown. They have a yoga studio, they have a coffee shop, they have a wine shop, they have ice cream, they have several restaurants. Providing those places where people want to come and they come on a regular basis and gather with their families, gather with their friends, and gather with their colleagues creates that sense of community and just gathering space that energizes and provides a vibrance of a community.

From a central business district amenities standpoint, I think those are key components to try to bring to these densified developments to provide that vibrance that Eric touched on earlier.

Leo:
Another exciting type of suburban urban work is brownfield sites. Not everything is a greenfield these days. Going back into a suburban part of the city, there’s a project in Amino called Park Lane. It’s an old mall that’s been torn down for at least 15 years and just really tough on the community around it. Now it’s under construction and it’s bringing in workforce housing and is bringing in markets. It’s bringing in uses that the community needs right there. It’s a fantastic way to bring access and mobility really down to an area where for many years had been neglected. Part of our work is looking for those opportunities in fill into cities is for me a key component to creating successful cities as they grow and mature and change over time and looking for those opportunities. They don’t all have to be huge sites, but they are all very important.

Jessica:

I think this is an interesting segue from the audience about opportunities for this type of project, maybe in an area that doesn’t have ample greenfield opportunities: is this transferrable to a redevelopment or a re-investment area?

 

Eric:
I think a lot of times, one of the first things we do when we come into an area is sort of create this opportunity analysis because the opportunities are different in every community, whether those are physical opportunities or our financial opportunities. When these types of walkable suburban developments really work it’s because they have a little bit of a sense of authenticity to them that they actually fit within the region and the city and the town that they’re positioned within. I mean, while some of the strategies are the same, what this looks like in Dallas is a little bit different than what it looks like in a Charlotte or in Reston, Virginia, right? They have to take on the flavor of the community in which they’re in. There are components like some sort of central gathering space that are absolutely vital to making these things work, but the size of that space, the character of that space, how it’s programmed might be very different from community to community.

I think we’ve seen examples where we’ve been able to weave that into the fabric. I think we’ve seen examples like Ryan referenced, where there was the old aging retail center or grocery store that needed to be redeveloped. That redevelopment and repositioning the parking lot was an opportunity to create the green space. We’ve seen examples where downtown frankly picked up and moved in some communities that there was a railroad and the town was so small, the land they had to work with wasn’t enough to create the environment they wanted, so they moved a couple of hundred feet across the railroad tracks to where there was an opportunity to reposition land. It looks very different in different communities and while there are common elements, it has to fit the particular situation of the place that it’s in.

Jessica:

We talk a lot about millennials, but there’s this other really large group: I call them the active adults, but they’re also known as baby boomers and those retiring roughly between 2020 and 2030, the retiree population expected to grow by over 17 million. Are they also looking for this type of an experience? Something that’s more of a lifelong community?

 

Leo:
I’d like to show a quick example of one of my recent projects again in California. Esencia is a good example of the future for this kind of thinking. People who are retiring don’t want to be necessarily put in retirement communities. At Esencia, the developer on this project took a lot of chances and was very progressive in their thinking about how to integrate age qualified with millennials. Over 40% of the residents in this community are age qualified. There’s 27 homes and 18 neighborhoods, about 800 acres on this community. I was a master landscape architect on this project, and programming was critical to each of these neighborhoods and finding ways to integrate the populations of the community, which a lot of the retirees wanted to be able to be part of a family life, of kids, and so there’s actually opportunities. For example, in this community, it’s a called Agrahood living. There’s a farm to table farm in middle of a community where some of the retirees can help the kids learn how to plant plants and they can support the K-through-eight school, which is in the middle of the community and really create a lot of synergy between those different communities. There’s also programming that’s only for the adults. For example, this is one of the first homeowners’ associations that I’m aware of in California that actually has a full bar at the pool, so that you can have a beer and watch your kids play if you want to. There’s a lot of really interesting programming that allowed a lot of synergy and a lot of attraction for all the different age groups to create opportunities for people who are retiring to really live well. I just would mention that this community is probably a good candidate for the well community standards. It’s really very innovative in that regard as well.

Amy:
One of the things I really wanted to add to that about Babcock is to step back a second, you need to realize where Babcock is placed, and it is the oldest county in all of Florida. I just looked it up to confirm that that’s still is actually true. The average age in Charlotte County is 59 years old, so it’s almost entirely retirees. As we were doing this, it was “well, how do we do it not to totally alienate the millennials?” One of the things we’ve really seen out there is it’s a 50/50 mix, and I live out there as well. Just to share a story that I saw the other day, we were out in the band shell and they had a bunch of like yard games and everything, like yard Jenga and cornhole and everything else. These young kids came up to this older couple and said, is it okay if we play next to you? They’re like, “yeah, no problem.” Afterwards, when the older couple was packing everything up the kids were like, “well, let me help you out.” They helped packed up and everything and I think having that blend and being able to provide those types of environments has made a big difference and how that community is coming together. One of the things that really made that successful, especially in an area that does have such an old age group already was I mean, Babcock’s first CO was their school. It’s a charter school that’s a project-based learning school and it really started attracting those people and making sure that the right mix was really involved in the community early on.

Eric:
One more thing to throw in here, Jessica, while we’re talking about populations is the design of these places, because there is such an emphasis on open space and walkability and public space. The design of these places is somewhat inherently more equitable than what we’ve seen in places that have been designed in the past too, that are designed in a way to take people apart from each other, rather than put people together. We’d be remiss if we didn’t factor in though the fact that because these places are so desirable and the demand for them is so much higher than the supply. It does mean that financially right now, these types of developments are pricing a big part of the population out of them. The equity story is still one that very much is one that we’re working on and is yet to be told in terms of designing places that are more equitable that are at transit oriented densities in many places that have residents who are anti-transit that need multifamily and a diversity of housing price points to really truly reflect their community, but there are folks that are not on board with that. There are still challenges, but ultimately I do think that this type of development style is created in a way that does create more of an opportunity for equity, but we need the public conversation and the strategies behind it to truly make it equitable from a financial standpoint.

Jessica:
Thanks, Eric. You probably didn’t even know, but we had several questions about equity and access given the high demand in these types of communities and often the price premium associated with them. So, thank you for proactively answering that question. We do have a couple other things out there, but we want to be really cognizant and respectful of your all’s time, and we are coming up very quickly on one o’clock.

I want to thank each of our panelists. I know you certainly gave me a lot to think about and I know that we could certainly nerd out over this all day long and we can catch up after the fact and talk some more. This was really great. If we didn’t get to your question, we got kind of a rush at the end of very well-thought out questions that we would want to cover, have no fear. We’re going to wrap up some loose ends and kind of address some of the remaining questions as a follow-up. Sheena has just put up some information on how you can get to our Perspectives webpage, where there will be the recording of this of this webinar contact information for all the panelists, as well as any follow-up materials and we’ll get to the, some of those questions that we didn’t quite hit today. We encourage you all to follow the link. I believe anybody that’s registered will also get a link in their email, and I just want to say thank you to everybody for joining us, and we’ll see you in the suburbs!

About the Panelists

Eric Bosman, AICP

Eric Bosman, AICP

Eric is an experienced urban designer, community planner, and facility planner. Over the last two decades, he has assisted communities; community improvement districts (CIDs), educational systems and other organizations as a facilitator, planner, designer, and project manager.  As a planner and urban designer, Eric has helped transform and revitalize communities throughout the Southeastern United States.  Many of his efforts combine community design, land use planning, market analysis and transportation planning to create more vibrant, livable communities. He is an accomplished presenter and instructor and has conducted numerous professional development seminars on leadership skills, group dynamics and communications.

Ryan McMaster, P.E.

Ryan McMaster, P.E.

Ryan has spent his career serving development clients with a variety of challenges. He is not only capable of bringing common sense solutions to the table for his clients, but also well versed in the approval processes and logistics associated with multi-phased, multi-year signature projects.  His passion centers around urban hot spots within suburban markets—focused on state-of-the-art office space, upscale residences, popular shopping and eating experiences, interactive green spaces, and fully integrated walkable communities. For more than 20 years, he has provided engineering consulting services on 3,000+ acres, including 3 million square feet of office, commercial and retail, and 4,000+ residential units.

Leo O'Brian, PLA, ASLA

Leo O'Brian, PLA, ASLA

Leo brings more than 25 years of experience creating the vision and design for many award-winning large-scale communities, mixed-use/multifamily, and park/open space projects employing collaborative design strategies to achieve a distinctive character and programming for each. Leo practiced for many years in the Central Texas region before gaining invaluable experience on the east and west coasts, including many projects internationally. Leo’s passion is to create exceptional community projects, use creative inclusive solutions within the urban fabric, and employ sustainable design throughout each project.

Jessica Rossi, AICP

Jessica Rossi, AICP

Jessica works on a wide variety of visioning and economic development assignments for local governments and regional agencies. Additionally, developer and investor clients rely on Jessica’s insight to determine demand for commercial and residential projects and to choose specific concepts to maximize economic development, marketability, and value. Her experience working with public- and private-sector interests is useful in creating innovative solutions to complex issues. As a national resource for the firm, Jessica’s leadership has guided high-quality and innovative planning strategies that are grounded in a market reality.

Amy Wicks, P.E., LEED AP

Amy Wicks, P.E., LEED AP

Amy has more than 17 years of experience managing, designing, and permitting a large variety of projects—from the development and environmental resource permitting of small commercial parcels, to the management and permitting for projects that are over several thousand acres. Amy’s largest project includes a sustainable city, Babcock Ranch, in Florida. Babcock Ranch covers a footprint that is larger than the size of Manhattan and is expected to have more than 50,000 residents. From a focus on water quality enhancement to solar power generation and the creation of lifestyle, Amy’s passion includes providing design services for places that change the way we work and live to offer a better experience for the users of her projects.

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