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Three Lessons for Reinventing the Suburbs

October 11th, 2019 by

Houses in the suburbsNew Jersey Future’s executive director Peter Kasabach joined three other experts (Peter Reinhart, director of the Kislak Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University and New Jersey Future board chair; Bret Morgan, co-founder of Cowerks; and Ralph Zucker, president of Somerset Development) at the Governor’s Conference on Housing and Economic Development Reinventing the Suburbs panel to unpack the top issues facing our suburbs, how we got to where we are today, and the obstacles these places confront as they look to reinvent themselves.  The panel took place on September 17 in Atlantic City.

Here were the top takeaways:

Tougher road for auto-centric suburbs. There are two types of suburbs: traditional town centers and auto-dependent. Traditional town centers, with a downtown, transit station, or Main Street will have an easier time creating walkable, compact, mixed-use centers that are growing in demand for both younger and older populations, while auto-dependent suburbs will have to work harder, be more creative and bolder. Both types of towns have enormous opportunities to use redevelopment as a tool for moving in the right direction.

Embrace change. While towns look to reinvent themselves, they will need to look to new change-makers and create a welcoming space for change to happen. Be flexible, try new ideas, bend standard operating procedures, and always look for opportunities to say “yes” when new ideas are presented that can make your town more walkable, compact, mixed-use and economically vibrant. Antiquated zoning that limits the mix of uses, multi-family housing, and taller buildings should be changed, since this can be one of the biggest obstacles for good redevelopment.

Leadership matters. In every case study the panel presented, the new, exciting project or program would not have happened if local leadership did not support it. Sometimes good local leadership means sticking your neck out and taking a risk, but it can also mean aligning government processes to help initiatives move forward in a timely way or sometimes even having government step back and get out of the way.

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