Here comes the neighborhood

Christopher Leinberger
Christopher Leinberger

“Back to the future” is how land use strategist and development consultant Christopher B. Leinberger describes the shift from “sub-urbanism” to “urbanism.”

(For us laypeople, that means there is a renewed interest in urban areas where you can walk everywhere, rather than suburban settings that require cars to get around. In the DMC world, we call that “livable city.”)

Leinberger spoke at the APA Upper Midwest Planners Conference in Rochester this week. He noted that Rochester, particularly with the Destination Medical Center initiative under way, is poised to successfully embrace emerging trends like urbanism to optimize economic development.

“The Back to the Future movies contrast an idyllic time of the town square, which anchors mixed use, walkable space with the modernization of the town square, which is now a parking lot,” he told the group of about 300 planners. “The second movie shows a future that shifts back to the mixed use, walkable space. We’re seeing that same trend in urban centers across the country as they plan their futures.”

Leinberger said the underlying market reason for the shift is demands from millenials, who are drawn to urban living, as well as baby boomers who are retiring and down sizing.

“Baby boomers are moving to small towns with close access to health care – towns like Rochester,” he said.

Leinberger shared examples of towns like Chattanooga, Tenn., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Lancaster, Penn., which have revitalized urban areas to offer a choice between drivable suburban and walkable urban centers.  The result has driven economic activity and improved residential and retail property values.

Christopher Leinberger is President of Locus; Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, and is The Charles Bendit Distinguished Scholar and Research Professor at George Washington University School of Business.

Leinberger writes about walkable neighborhood development in this article, published in The Atlantic.

Leinberger also presented on urbanism at the Kansas City Public Library Series on “What Makes a Great City.”

What are your thoughts on suburban vs. urban living? What ideas do you have to make Rochester’s urban areas more livable? What are the advantages you see in suburban living? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.