Five ways to make a suburb more walkable

Rob Steuteville, Editor-in-Chief of the Build a Better Burb, highlights the striking transformation of South Miami into a vibrant pedestrian friendly district, while identifying five revitalization concepts that may be applicable to your community.

South Miami was an early suburb — it was built from the 1930s through the 1960s, with the fastest growth in the 1950s. Like many early suburbs, it benefits from a street grid and small parcels, which allow lot-by-lot rebuilding. South Miami’s center languished for decades before getting a heavy rail station in 1984. Revitalization of the main street area, now called Hometown, didn’t begin in earnest until about 2000 — following the strategy of Dover Kohl, which has its offices there.

In this video filled with excellent graphics, urbanists from Dover Kohl explain in detail how the revival took place. Here’s the formula:

1) Build walkable streets.

Streets at the heart of South Miami were wide, car-oriented, and offered little shade. Sidewalks were widened and covered in brick instead of concrete. Shade trees were installed. On-street parking was added and travel lanes were narrowed. Sidewalk dining was legalized, and benches and street furniture were added.

2) Require street-oriented architecture.

Buildings provide a continuous urban form and awnings provide shelter in South Miami’s downtown, but this wasn’t the case in the early 1990s. Vacant storefronts lined the street. Reduced parking requirements allowed more businesses activity. Code changes ensured that doors fronted the street and storefronts are composed of windows, transoms, and entrances. Awnings provide shade. The two-story height of buildings provides a sense of enclosure.

3) Embrace a mix of uses.

More than 20 new restaurants have opened in the last 20 years. Education and health care employers, along with small offices and businesses provide employment. Within a short walk, people in South Miami can go to the grocery store, dine out, go to the park, or see a movie.

4) Share parking with garages.

Properly design parking garages in an urban center free individual business from providing their own parking. Mid-block garages in South Miami were planned with perimeter buildings to screen the parking from the street.

5) Embrace transit.

South Miami’s revitalization was planned around the Metrorail station, which opened in 1984. At first, this station mainly offered a way for people to get to downtown Miami, but now South Miami has become a destination in itself.

Mayor Philip Stoddard explains how this approach has benefitted South Miami:

“When I visit our Hometown on a weekend night, I ask other diners where they are from and why they came here. Their answer is always the same. ‘We live in the south part of the county and we drive north until we get to the first lovely place where we can park once and spend the evening walking and dining.’ The answer is music to a mayor’s ears. We in South Miami embraced the gracious planning and design of our Hometown District, and we want to continue farther on this path.”

Article by Rob Steuteville, Senior Communications Advisor for the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Editor-in-Chief of the Build a Better Burb website. Build a Better Burb is an online publication dedicated to improving suburban design and planning. Through articles and insights, BBB helps suburban residents, developers, and officials explore solutions from across the country that can be applied to their communities.

Build a Better Burb showcases innovative ideas and practical tips for outstanding projects, seeking to inspire conversation about the importance of design and planning within suburban communities. The articles on the site highlight bold ideas for improving housing, promoting regional planning, addressing parking and creating transit-oriented development. Above all, BBB aims to focuses on what it takes to create a sense of place within suburban downtowns and neighborhoods. Build a Better Burb is powered by the Congress for the New Urbanism and was created by the Long Island Index, a program of the Rauch Foundation.</i>