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How Easy Will It Be To Shift Suburbia?

A recent panel held at the Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with their current exhibition, <em>Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream</em>, provided a reality check for the visionary thinking depicted in the show, writes Jayne Merkel.
March 27, 2012, 12pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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We've already heard rebukes from critics who have taken issue with the schemes presented in the Foreclosed show. According to Merkel, at a the recent MoMA panel, it was the developers' turn.

While the panelists -- two developers, an architecture professor, and a real estate lawyer -- didn't seem to take issue with the assumption that the suburbs are in need of wholesale changes due to changing demographic and economic factors, they agreed that changes to zoning laws "to permit denser new development patterns" would be a difficult task, observed Merkel.

Developers are responding to the changes needs of suburban families by changing their products, rather than the regulatory structure. Ara K. Hovnanian, CEO of Hovnanian Enterprises, a national builder of single-family and multi-family housing, observed that, "One new product is 'the multi-generational and multi-household house' which can accommodate 'boomerang children, aging parents, and older siblings teaming up.' These 'homes within a home' have separate entrances but are connected inside. They would be allowed in many areas restricted to single-family homes."

Jonathan Rose, former chairman of the New York City Planning Commission and a partner in the Georgetown Company, a developer of office, residential, and recreational properties across the country, commented that, "Because of recent demographic and economic changes, 'higher density is becoming viable,' but 'it is easier to do this on open land' rather than in older suburbs because of difficulty in re-zoning."

Summarizing the overall theme of incremental versus wholesale suburban change, Ellen Dunham-Jones observed that, "'Market studies show that 30 percent of the population is unhappy with what the market offers,' but you can't really change options until you modify the laws that created suburban development as we know it."

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Published on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 in Architectural Record
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