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Suburbs Look to Create Urban Settings

The face of Central Ohio suburbia is changing. In some suburbs planners and developers are moving away from cookie-cutter sub-divisions to something called "walkable urbanism" - projects filled with apartments, condos, quaint shops and offices.

WOSU's Mike Thompson has the story of two Columbus area suburbs trying to bring a little urbanism to town.

Dublin is your quintessential upper middle class suburb. lots of sub divisions. golf courses . strip malls- albeit it fancy strip malls. But its downtown - its main street has been understated. That's changing.

Crews are working on the second phase of the bridge high project. They are constructing brand new buildings that look like they have always been there. The facades change from clapboard siding to brick to stone; the roofs feature a variety of gables. The retail spaces are right against the sidewalk. Bucking the two generation long trend, this retails space is designed for people driving mini vans but people on foot.

Dublin City manager Terry Foegler says its part of a plan to re-make Dublin's downtown. "It's a much more urban environment - higher density retail, higher density housing than Dublin has seen before - housing above retail."

Dublin is looking to re-make its bridge street corridor - basically the area along route 161 from Sawmill road to the outerbelt. Boston based urban planner David Dixon is helping Dublin study and plan the future of the area his vision is to get rid of large, empty, asphalt dominated strip malls. "It will feature tree lined streets with condos and apartments, some kind of development along the river, maybe even a pedestrian bridge across the river," said Dixon.

Upper Arlington is doing much the same thing but for different reasons. Upper Arlington is full. There's really no where else to build houses, stores or office buildings. So it's trying to re-make the dozen commercial spaces it has. Upper Arlington Senior planner Chad Gibson says the city adopted an ordinance for commercial development that sounds very un-suburb like, "It calls for higher density construction. It requires that buildings be taller and it lays out maximum number of parking spaces."

Backers of walkable urbanism say this strategy is not some pie in the sky vision. They say it's the direction development is going. Carol Coletta studies cities and hosts the radio program Smart City. She says new urbanism is market driven, "This is not wishful thinking on the part of a few urban planners. These are changes that people want."

The suburban developers are looking at the impact of an aging population. The two generation long bubble of young people that bought all those homes in sub divisions. They are now looking to sell as they age. Dublin's Terry Foegler says they are also looking to attract more of the young professionals. The types of people who have been opting for neighborhoods like the short north. "We're finding we don't have a lot of the housing they want"

There are challenges. In Upper Arlington there is a stretch of five story condos along Tremont Road, only a quarter of them have sold. In Dublin a senior housing project on route 161 was halted mid construction because of the credit crunch. As Terry Foegler knows from his days leading the redevelopment of The Campus Partners High Street development near OSU. It's not easy to transform established neighborhoods. Current landowners may not want change or sell their property. And there are the current neighbors who want to preserve historic buildings and may not want high density development in their back yard. Upper Arlington's Chad Gibson says they require developers to make concessions.

But if this new walkable urbanism succeeds, supporters say it could halt or stop sprawl and lead to improved mass transit systems. And Foegler says an end to the system that encourages strip malls with short life cycles of only 15-20 years. Dublin hopes to have a draft plan for its city core by the spring.