When Urban and Suburban Unite

Builders, developers, and planners need to carefully consider the scale and type of space that each neighborhood can support for spaces for connectivity, health, and entertainment


For years there has existed an invisible divide between residential and commercial space – a world where urban and suburban simply did not co-exist and where the idea of blending the comforts of home and family with restaurants or work offices seemed an odd mix.

Planners will continue to create functional space that enhances value. These public spaces can play a role in encouraging residents to embrace a lifestyle that encourages interaction, where neighbors can connect with each other and engage in their community enhancing the time spent in the private space or behind the wheel of an automobile.

Commercial areas can have a positive influence on the overall residential community when homeowners take a sense of ownership of these spaces and see them as a logical extension of their own personal space. Think parks, schools, dog parks, community gardens, and farmer’s markets.

Such elements add a vital component of health and wellness for families where they live, and where they can hike and bike, enjoy easy access to healthy foods and gardens and take advantage of walking to parks, gyms, and recreational facilities for exercise and for connecting with friends and neighbors.

The spaces are programmed not only for connectivity and health, but for activities where residents can take in a movie in the park, take a leisurely walk to the library, or participate in holiday festivities that are planned and promoted community-wide.

Jeff Mayer of Mayer Creative, and member of the Urban Land Institute, has a unique, “big picture” perspective on the idea of creating spaces and places for families to live and grow surrounded by healthy, thriving support systems.

“Worldwide, both cities and developers are recognizing that public gathering spaces are where people connect. They bind the fabric of the local culture, and create community identity that extends beyond to the greater world at large,” Mayer said.

Cities such as Portland, St. Louis, Greenville, and many others, are working collaboratively with landowners and developers to realize the opportunity through private-public partnerships.

“In these more urban U.S. environments, there has been growing recognition of the value of blending the indoors and the outdoors, particularly with restaurants and coffee bars, much as has been the paradigm in European cities,” Mayer said.

While the notion of recognizing how valuable community public spaces can be to our individual health and prosperity is trending, organizations such as the Urban Land Institute understand that among the challenges is how to incorporate the appropriate flexibility, scale, and useful types of commercial spaces into a residential neighborhood for its best success.

This requires builders, developers, and planners to carefully consider the scale and type of space that each neighborhood can support, and is willing to engage for best success. One size does not fit all.

Because these public spaces have the potential to offer residents an opportunity to venture out of their interior rooms and backyard spaces into a broader engagement with their neighbors from the front porch, sidewalks, neighborhood parks, and public squares, it is also important to incorporate the natural environmental elements of the region in a way that encourages people to walk from their home to the services they require.

Achieving such cohesiveness and blending designs requires a collaborative approach in the planning process. Working as a “team collaborative” can inspire group discovery of new ideas and encourage an open dialogue to facilitate the decision-making process in an efficient manner.

Successful planning requires experts from many sectors: from economists, engineers, landscape architects, and developers to architects, financial analysts, marketing, sales, entitlements experts, public space programmers, and urban designers.

This unifying team of professionals contributes a broad understanding of the nuances of programming, management and maintenance of public spaces and the critical role these components play in the decisions that are made in the physical design and how it is realized.

The end result can be a community that embraces the vitality and authenticity of the human experience – where families and the commercial services that support them can thrive and prosper together. And where the ultimate goal is for the best health and happiness of all who live there.

Richard J. Flierl, President and Principal, Katalyst, Inc. He may be reached at richard.flierl@katalystinc.com.

Leave a Reply