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A Sprawl Fighting Fixit Guide

Galina Tachieva, author of The Sprawl Repair Manual, rethinks the suburbs-from empty big box retailers to bubble era McMansions.


In Arcade Fire’s latest video, The Suburbs, the dystopic view of suburbia takes over as a militia moves in to transform a gated community in a police state. SWAT teams forcibly remove parents and their 2.2 kids from their homes while stunned adolescents, returning from an idyllic afternoon of bicycling around cul de sacs, and shooting BB guns from overpasses, watch in horror as their neighborhood is taken over.
Galina Tachieva, author of The Sprawl Repair Manual, would agree with the Canadian indie rockers that the suburbs are in dire straits. But her vision is less cinematic, more pragmatic. Tachieva’s timely guide proposes specific design solutions to retrofit existing conditions—not simple, not inexpensive, but imperative.
We can’t start from scratch, we’ve got to work with what we’ve got—unsustainable as that often is. So Tachieva offers guidance and wisdom gleaned from her years as principal of Duany-Plater-Zyberk, one of the country’s more innovative architectural and planning firms. Her aggressive and forward thinking strategies aim to transform America’s multitude of fragmented, isolated, and car-dependent developments into complete communities.
Among the manual’s proposed design interventions include tranforming massive malls—many of which are experiencing unprecedented vacancies—into denser, more sustainable communities designed around a Main Street, increasing green space and walkability, improving economic vitality. The guide also aims to encourage human interaction rather than vehicular dependency, and revamping all those McMansions on large lots by either gutting them from the inside and reconfigured into multi-family housing or senior living centers and infilling underutilized yards to create denser housing which encourages less driving, more walking, and more support of local businesses.
With the housing market showing little sign of ever returning to its former inflated self, and aging boomers and college graduates alike expressing a desire for smaller homes, fewer cars, and more access to local shopping, amenities, and green space, Tachieva’s book couldn’t have come out at a better time. Developers, builders, and mortgage lenders intent on old ways of thinking about creating community would do well to follow her lead.

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