Durable Human (2 book series)

Making Suburbia Durable

With a little imagination, there’s hope for the burned out strip malls and acres of asphalt formerly known as “suburbia.” They can be turned into active, usable, livable places.

That’s the word from Ellen Dunham-Jones, an award-winning architect, Georgia Tech professor and author of “Retrofitting Suburbia”. I caught up with Ellen at the International Making Cities Livable conference in Portland, Oregon, a town I’ve written fondly about because it helps people to be weird.

According to Ellen, “Underperforming properties present tremendous opportunities.” In some cases, Big Box buildings can be re-purposed. In others, a stream underneath a parking lot could be returned to its former splendor.

Here, she summarizes her TED talk in three minutes:

It hasn’t been that long since I wrote “Down and Out in Suburbia on Carfree Day.” I live near Tysons, a redeveloping area in northern Virginia outside Washington, D.C.  But when a new Metrorail line arrived, my life changed. I’m no longer confined to a car. I can walk to a new bus line and ride my bike to the rail.

The Walmart pictured above is located at the station nearest my home. The store is tucked into the first floor of a 1960s parking building that is still used partially for that purpose.

I haven’t moved, but sometimes I wonder: do I still live in suburbia?

To get more inspiration for being active, effective and “built to last”, read the easy, breezy  Durable Human  Manifesto – now also a 25-minute Audiobook with the sounds of music, nature, robots and giggly kids.

Learn more about this author on Google+ and sign up here for other Durable Human posts, news, and freebies.Retrofitting Suburbia by Ellen Dunham-Jones

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I also live near Tysons. IMO as long as it is dominated by cars and not by pedestrians, bicycles, and mass transit, it hasn’t really changed. When it’s possible to safely bicycle into Tysons from 5 miles away in any direction, then I might reconsider. The silver line has made little difference in my life, since it’s too far to walk and I can’t bike to it without needing a shower (largely because there is no way to safely navigate Route 7). Maybe someday…


Already signed up for BTWD … this will be my fifth consecutive. I bike to work in Tysons and in Herndon regularly, but I can only do this because work has a shower (since I have to take a long, hilly back route to avoid Route 7), and it’s not safe enough that (for example) I would let me kids do it.


Nope – I rode the 16 miles to the Ballston pit stop in that monsoon last year! Coincidentally, I’m wearing that shirt today; it’s my favorite because I feel like I really earned it. 🙂

FWIW, I am very much looking forward to moving somewhere more durable after the kids are grown (just a few more years).


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