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«A Thesis Presented to The Academic Faculty By Alyssa Shank Durden In Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Architecture I ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

SUBURBAN REVISIONS

A Thesis

Presented to

The Academic Faculty

By

Alyssa Shank Durden

In Partial Fulfillment

Of the Requirements for the Degree

Master of Architecture I

Georgia Institute of Technology

August, 2005

SUBURBAN REVISIONS

Approved by:

Richard Dagenhart, Advisor

College of Architecture

Michael Dobbins

College of Architecture

Michael Gamble

College of Architecture Date Approved: May 16, 2005 ii to my grandmother, Mary Ellen Shank, who inspired me to write and encouraged me to draw since I was little, and gave me the gift of education and unconditional love to see me through.

I would not be where I am without you - don’t forget.

iii

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I want thank Richard Dagenhart, Michael Dobbins and Michael Gamble for their abiding support and encouragement and invaluable wisdom and inspiration. Special thanks to Richard for helping me make sense of my thoughts, challenging me to question them, and believing in me once I believed in them.

iv

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT iv LIST OF TABLES vii LIST OF FIGURES viii SUMMARY xi

INTRODUCTION 1

HISTORICAL LAYERS OF LANDSCAPE AND THE NEXT LAYER 5

The Era of Natural Landscape 7 The Era of the Courthouse Town 10 The Railroad Era 14 The Highway Era 1945-2000 19 The Era of Multiple Centers 24 The Question of the Next Layer 27

THE SUBURBAN SITUATION: THREE PROBLEMS 29

Strip Development Patterns 36 A Changing Demographic 36 Travel Patterns 36 Family Structure 38 Race and Ethnicity 39 Quality of Life 48 The Need for Place 50 THE PROPOSITION 53

THE LOGIC OF THE STATION AREAS 61

v

OVERALL DESIGN STRATEGIES FOR ALL STATIONS 69

Parks and Open Space 71 Streets 73 Buildings 75 Trees 76 Sidewalks 76

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Figure 63 Jimmy Carter Station Area – Urban Village 1 Illustrative Plan 120 Figure 64 Jimmy Carter Station Area – Urban Village 2 Illustrative Plan 122 Figure 65 Jimmy Carter Station Area – Urban Village 3 Illustrative Plan 124 Figure 66 Jimmy Carter Station Area – Urban Village 4 Illustrative Plan 125

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The Atlanta Region is largely composed of low-density, auto-oriented development, particularly in second generation suburbs developed just outside Atlanta's perimeter interstate since 1970. Of these suburbs, Gwinnett County has been the fastest growing county in Georgia since the 1970's up until a recent shift in growth to counties beyond its boundaries. This shift created a situation for Gwinnett County in which Atlantans are attracted outside its boundaries to new development as well as back to the city, for which it once served as a bedroom community, as Atlanta experiences resurgence. The county finds itself between these two forces of change, which provides an opportunity and need for Gwinnett to reinvent itself.

The Gwinnett County situation can be explained in terms of three problems. First there is the problem of abandoned strips. Gwinnett County's development has been guided by national and state highway development. The result is a pattern of roads, or strips, which intersect the highways. As new strips develop, old strips decline leaving abandoned shopping centers. The second problem is a demographic one. As new development continues to move north in Gwinnett and out of the county, middle class residents, for which existing auto-oriented suburbs were created, move as well. A new, poorer and more ethnically diverse population inherited the auto-oriented landscape of the fleeing middle class. This phenomenon is particularly concentrated along the southern portion of the Buford Highway corridor, which extends up from DeKalb County.

The DeKalb County portion of Buford Highway has the strongest concentration of both Hispanic and Asian communities in the Atlanta Region; therefore, it appears that this population continues to grow along the corridor. The problem is one of segregation among polarities: white/hispanic, rich/poor, driver/pedestrian. Those with more money move closer to new development, while those with less money have less choice and are

–  –  –

of life. The third problem Gwinnett County defined for itself. County officials have expressed a desire for defining "the epicenter of Gwinnett." Meanwhile, Gwinnett's cities create plans for "town centers" to create identity in cities that were historically rural railroad towns, which became bedroom suburbs for Atlanta, and have now evolved into places where residents want to belong to a town and not just subdivisions. These new "town centers" are an expression of a need for place in a placeless culture. This need is repeatedly answered blindly with the aesthetics of New Urbanism, but often without the framework, and possibly without inquiry. I propose that there is no one "center" of Gwinnett, but a series of places defined by memory, design, events or rituals that take place there. Using theories of Landscape Urbanism, I propose to improve the situation of these three problems with a design intervention that connects existing New Urbanist and Everyday places to improve quality of life in Gwinnett County. This connective piece will serve as a social condenser in lieu of a center, provide links between polar populations, and reactivate declining strips.





–  –  –

In this thesis titled “Suburban Revisions” I am investigating the adaptive reuse of suburban frameworks and developing a proposition for the appropriate next layer of infrastructure to accommodate a new culture of inhabitants. Until recently, the suburban realm has been avoided by urban designers, thus leaving its development guided by generic land use policy and the bottom line of private, for-profit developers. Those that have considered suburbia in urban design theory, such as Rem Koolhaas, and Howard Kunstler, primarily criticize suburbia for being non-urban, auto-dependent and “sprawling.” However, in this thesis, I ask that one suspend all preconceptions of suburbia, and see it for what it really is, a type within the American landscape with its own evolution, independent from cities, and driven by a different set of forces.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “suburban” as “of, relating to, or characteristic of the culture, customs, and manners typical of life in the suburbs.”1 This open ended definition may evoke a typical image of a generic landscape as viewed from an airplane: identical tract houses lining dendritic street patterns twisting across the landscape, connecting cul-de-sacs to arterial streets, or we might picture a white soccer mom stuck in traffic in her SUV on the way to the mall. Granted this is indeed what we observe when we take off or land in any city anywhere in the county, and the Mall of Georgia does in fact use almost all of its parking spaces on a busy holiday shopping weekend. However, if we take this definition for face value, and if we dissect the evolution of this generic landscape, we begin to see evidence of former ways of life, of cultures that came before, and thus can imagine the possibility of a new landscape and new “typical life in the suburbs” that represents a new culture of suburbanites.

1 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

–  –  –

one would with a text. If we think of the suburban landscape as a text, we find that the culture of each era of suburban development left documentation of their values, policies and way of life in the form of transportation networks and other infrastructure, such as Main Streets, squares, public or semi-public buildings and places. While the evidence of most of the everyday life of individuals of every era gets erased by the following era, the infrastructure investments of each era are adaptively reused and remain to tell the story.

Therefore, we should not be overly concerned with the vinyl-sided tract houses or strip retail that line the arterials. These are merely temporary and are serving the needs of recent culture. What is more important is the design of the infrastructure we create. The blocks, streets, public spaces, public buildings and transportation networks we create will be used and reused for generations to come; therefore, these must be designed to accommodate a variety of cultures and anticipate new ways of life instead of limiting them as current auto-oriented development does.

–  –  –

development, particularly in second generation suburbs developed just outside Atlanta's perimeter interstate since 1970. Of these suburbs, Gwinnett County, located just beyond Atlanta’s perimeter as illustrated in Figure 1, has been one of the fastest growing counties in Georgia since the 1970's up until a recent shift in growth to counties beyond its boundaries; therefore, Gwinnett County will be used as a case study for this thesis.

This shift created a situation for Gwinnett County in which Atlantans are attracted outside its boundaries to new development as well as back to the city, for which it once served as a bedroom community, as Atlanta experiences resurgence. The county finds 2 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

–  –  –

Gwinnett to reinvent itself.

Figure 1 Location of Gwinnett County (Image Source: Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce) The Gwinnett County situation can be explained in terms of three problems. First there is the problem of abandoned strips. Gwinnett County's development has been guided by national and state highway development. The result is a pattern of roads, or strips, which intersect the highways. As new strips develop, old strips decline leaving abandoned shopping centers. The second problem is a demographic one. As new development continues to move north in Gwinnett and out of the county, middle class residents, for which existing auto-oriented suburbs were created, move as well. A new, poorer and more ethnically diverse population inherited the auto-oriented landscape of the fleeing middle class. This phenomenon is particularly concentrated along the southern portion of the Buford Highway corridor, which extends up from DeKalb County.

The DeKalb County portion of Buford Highway has the strongest concentration of both Hispanic and Asian communities in the Atlanta Region; therefore, it appears that this population continues to grow along the corridor. The problem is one of segregation among polarities: white/hispanic, rich/poor, driver/pedestrian. Those with more money move closer to new development, while those with less money have less choice and are

–  –  –

of life. The third problem Gwinnett County defined for itself. County officials have expressed a desire for defining "the epicenter of Gwinnett." Meanwhile, Gwinnett's cities create plans for "town centers" to create identity in cities that were historically rural railroad towns, which became bedroom suburbs for Atlanta, and have now evolved into places where residents want to belong to a town and not just subdivisions. These new "town centers" are an expression of a need for place in a placeless culture. This need is repeatedly answered blindly with the aesthetics of New Urbanism, but often without the framework, producing historic looking houses that will most likely be erased sometime in the future while replicating dendritic street patterns on unconnected parcels. I believe that there is no one "center" of Gwinnett, but a series of places defined by memory, design, events or rituals that take place there. I propose to improve the situation of these three problems with a design intervention that connects existing places to improve quality of life in Gwinnett County. This connective piece will serve as a social condenser in lieu of a center, provide links between polar populations, and reactivate declining strips while creating a sustainable infrastructural spine for future growth in the region.

–  –  –

The history of Gwinnett County represents the evolution of most of the American landscape. By excavating the layers of physical landscapes, we reveal eras of American culture. Each era created infrastructure based on the values and priorities of its time.

The Native Americans forged trails to meet the needs of hunting and trading. The white settlers created courthouse towns, militia districts and land lots in a time when organizing landscape and creating social law and order was priority, and agrarian life was tied to the land. The Railroad Era was about expansion, the bridging of boundaries, and the consolidation of production and consumption in towns. This era created cities, small railroad towns and miles of rail corridors across the county. Finally, the Highway Era transformed once agrarian landscapes, like Gwinnett, into a new landscape we call suburbia. This landscape is comprised of paved highways and roads in dendritic patterns, strip retail and office centers, and mass produced single family housing subdivisions. These represent a post World War II culture that primarily valued capitalism and standardization, which led to the abandonment of agrarian culture and a move to industrialization and urbanization. This led to the further subdivision of land with the use of new zoning tools to control land use. It is by recovering these layers of histories of place and juxtaposing them with one another that Gwinnett may find its identity and collective memory, and it is by acknowledging present cultures that it can define a new landscape.

Suburbs have never been about the cities that they surround, but about national policy; therefore, suburbs around the country are more similar to one another than they are to the cities they surround. To illustrate, Figure 2 shows how the growth rates of Gwinnett County more closely parallel those of the nation and the state than those of

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0 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

-20

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