Turning Suburban Corridors into Something Better in Carmel, Detroit, and Arlington

Pop-up community space on the Livernois Corridor in Detroit.

Pop-up community space on the Livernois Corridor in Detroit.

The topic of suburban corridors drew a large, standing-room only audience at a Wednesday session at ULI’s Fall Meeting in Chicago last week. Lessons from Carmel, Indiana, Detroit, Michigan, and Arlington, Virginia were highlighted at the packed Repositioning Suburban Corridors: From Soulless Strips to Something Better session.

As the description for the session said:

Throughout the country, suburban arterials and corridors—characterized by massive parking lots, a plethora of big signs, underperforming buildings and a total dependence on automobiles for access and circulation—add ugliness, danger and pollution to the landscape. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Learn how three communities are turning suburban corridors around, creating human-scaled places with mixed-use development and 21st century infrastructure.

Ed McMahon, ULI’s Senior Resident Fellow for the environment and sustainability, moderated the panel. He opened by linking the conversation with ULI’s recent report Shifting Suburbs: Reinventing Infrastructure for Compact Development, which noted that corridors are a key remaining suburban redevelopment challenge. He also said that these kinds of corridors can occur anywhere, including inside cities.

Takis Karantonis, Executive Director for Virginia’s Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, described how Columbia Pike was largely bypassed by transit-oriented growth after the opening of the DC area’s Metro system, which drew development elsewhere. In recent years, the community has made many policy shifts—including moving to form-based codes—to encourage more compact, mixed use development. The Pike is also planning a new streetcar line. [Download PowerPoint here.]

Marja Winters, Deputy Director, Planning and Development Department, City of Detroit, described the illustrious past of the Livernois Corridor, in Detroit, Michigan, which in the 1940s was a stylish entertainment hub. The city chose the revitalization of the corridor as the topic for their Rose Center Fellowship year, and as a result of renewed interest and reinvestment, several new businesses have opened. [Download PowerPoint here.]

Mike Hollibaugh, Director of Community Services (Planning and Zoning) for the City of Carmel, Indiana, demonstrated the impact of high design standards for the city’s main commercial corridor. Development in the city is consistently of high quality design, walkable, and compact. [Download PowerPoint here.]

As McMahon noted, suburban corridors are the site of half of America’s pedestrian deaths. Though these corridors are a challenge, examples from Fall Meeting show how they can be repurposed and redesigned to become safer and more urban places.

The session was organized by the ULI Infrastructure Initiative and the Rose Center for Public Leadership.

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