ReBurbia: A Suburban Design Competition

Thu, 2009-09-24 01:32

Dwell Magazine and are hosting the first-ever ReBurbia competition, a design competition dedicated to re-envisioning the suburbs. All future-forward architects, urban designers, renegade planners, and imaginative engineers are being asked to think about what they would do if they could redesign the suburbs.

“In a future where limited natural resources will force us to find better solutions for density and efficiency, what will become of the cul-de-sacs, cookie-cutter tract houses and generic strip malls that have long upheld the diffuse infrastructure of suburbia? How can we redirect these existing spaces to promote sustainability, walkability, and community? It’s a problem that demands a visionary design solution and we want you to create the vision!”

This competition makes us all think about the environment, or community, that we live in. During my service in the Army, I was fortunate enough to live in Germany for five years. Their community culture is amazing. They have very dense nodes of development surround by lots and lots of open space. As a side note: I think their density is helped by their history. During the middle ages, villages grew around the castles and wall fortifications so that villagers could get inside quickly when enemies attacked.

The German density allows their communities to really bond. Imagine 90-year-old ladies biking every day for fresh bread or meat in the town center. Imagine being a 5-minute walk or bike ride from nature trails AND also a 5-minute walk from the local grocery, restaurants, or beer halls. In a sense, the German living room extends right down to their town center. Each town has festivals all year long that bring the community together, and the traffic is one-tenth that of the average American city. Most people’s commute involves getting to the local mass transit station and then taking the train to work. When they get home, there’s no need to get back into the car – they can walk everywhere. In fact, most of their town centers don’t allow cars at all. They are 100% mass transit and pedestrian friendly! In America, we don’t even realize how loud our cars and trucks really are. Sitting out in a café in a town center, looking at a 1000-year-old church is a completely different experience than any outdoor café I’ve sat at in the U.S. The peace and the tranquility really makes a difference. 

Compare my experience in Germany to that of the typical American suburb. I drive home from work (sitting in a little bit of traffic). I get close to my house and push the garage door opener. It opens automatically and closes behind me. I walk inside through my attached garage, and the world around me is gone. Do most people ever really get to know their immediate neighbors, let alone their neighborhood? Also, when I’m sitting out on my back deck, I hear the air brakes of trucks, loud motorcycles, and whooshing cars. It’s just me, but people with a solid sense of community seem to enjoy life more and be more engaged.

The deadline to enter the ReBurbia competition is THIS Friday, July 31. Enter the Inhabitat / Dwell ReBurbia competition by sending up to 5 images and a statement about your design proposal. You can submit as many entries as you like, but each individual entry should be focused on one singular design problem/solution (i.e. a McMansion farm rehab, a bicycle transportation hub, a piezoelectric, energy-generating freeway paving system). Entries will be judged on clarity of idea, usefulness of design, and visual/aesthetic appeal of renderings. The competition entry form is located at the ReBurbia web site.

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