The Middle Ring suburbs are a category of older suburbs, caught between downtowns and (at least until the real estate crisis) the well-off exurbs and outlying suburbs. Their socio-economic decline during the past 40 years has been documented as investment went to downtown centers and exurbs. Today, the Middle Ring suburbs may have become an area of opportunity for re-investment. The real estate crisis has shaved values in the exurbs by 20-40 percent, even in East Coast cities, while Middle Ring suburbs have retained their value remarkably well.
This proof of resilience, in combination with excellent access to urban transit and state and federal highways, as well as a trend toward slow but gradual densification, shows the contours of future investment in our cities. The Middle Ring suburb is a phenomenon mostly characteristic of the East Coast and Rustbelt cities, where a particular confluence of mass transit availability, aging infrastructure and housing stock, and particular locational advantages, such as proximity to both exurbs and downtowns can be found.
The basic premise for this particular study, is the need to depart from the development model usually associated with downtowns and exurbs. The study first defines the Middle Ring spatially, identifies particular zones of opportunity within it, and proposes a model that includes a series of ingredients. The model proposed here exists in an abstract white space, disregarding the limitations and constraints that any specific site would impose. Its general principle is to:
• introduce specific value-adding programs;
• attract and mix potential audiences with specific infrastructural re-wirings; and
• develop a specific parking solution.
The model is, more specifically, based on (1) the upgrading of infrastructural joints and relations; (2) the introduction of specific spatial-programmatic ingredients that are not appropriate in exurbs or downtowns; and (3) the insertion of a series of container buildings that can be used as parking first, yet turn into office or loft space within a few years.
Finally, the model foresees the deployment of a series of more generic, optimally value-engineered office or residential modules on top of the more generic convertible parking structures. The elements contained in these bases add up to about 12 ingredients, which could be deployed in various combinations of less than 12, and tailored to specific sites. Of course, such implementation, as well as the testing of various combinations of ingredients, should constitute a next step.
Project Director: Alexander D’ Hooghe
2012 Cambridge, USA
Toward a Development Model for the Middle Ring Suburbs