Suburban Multifamily Housing has been the largest growing housing market in this country since 1970 and currently accounts for almost one in four units of housing in suburbia (U.S. Census Bureau 1973 through 2005). These housing developments are typically two to three stories in height, can reach densities of 30 to 40 units/acre, and are ubiquitous throughout the country. For primarily transportation-related reasons, this dense housing type is usually located along arterials and adjacent to commercial and retail development, creating a potential model of smart growth in suburbia (Moudon and Hess 2000). While this potential exists, the actual design and development of these areas are often disconnected and uninviting with barriers between uses that minimize linkages and create auto-dominated development (Larco 2007).
The potential exists to create more integrated, sustainable, and multi-modal development in suburbia, by capitalizing on existing suburban multifamily development densities and locations. In many cases, the problem of reducing auto-oriented development around suburban multifamily housing is not a problem with land use or density, but site design and development. This project aims at understanding of how regulation and site design practices may be modified to transform existing and new suburban multi-family housing areas into places that offer a range of travel modes and potentially reduce the exclusive use of automobiles. This proposal investigates the integration of land use and transportation and also focuses on the role of site design as a critical aspect in the creation of livable, less congested and multi-modal suburban communities.
Using a case study approach, this research will include transportation and demographic surveys of suburban multifamily residents, audits/analysis of existing site designs, and interviews with planners, developers, and designers of multifamily housing developments. Two case study developments will be chosen in Arizona, Oregon, Wisconsin, Florida, and Massachusetts. These case studies will address the following research questions:
- What multimodal connections exist or have the potential to exist between multifamily suburban housing and adjacent uses?
- How is the site design of suburban multifamily housing developments promoting or impeding connections and movement between these developments and adjacent uses?
- What local and/or national limitations, from a regulatory and incentive standpoint, are currently shaping the form of this development?
In order to expose students to the challenges of creating integrated and sustainable suburban multifamily development, this project will also include an educational component in which a class of students will travel to study and document existing models of suburban multifamily development in Eugene, Oregon and Phoenix, Arizona. Both of these cities have seen growth of this housing type in the last decade and will serve as test cases of how different site design approaches have affected transportation behavior. Students will work with local officials, developers and architects to understand code and development related issues, and will then propose alternatives to existing models of development.
This research will lead to one or two peer reviewed journal articles. Given a general lack of scholarly work in the area of suburban multifamily housing coupled with its rising prominence, we anticipate that the articles produced will be well received. Potential journals we will consider include Transportation and Planning, the Journal of the American Planning Association, the Journal of Urban Design, Urban Affairs Quarterly, and the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research.
In order to promote the awareness of suburban multifamily housing and its design, we will also focus on presenting this research at national professional and academic conferences that deal with transportation, planning, and housing issues. Conferences might include the American Planning Association, Transportation Research Board, and the National Multi Housing Council Conference among others.