Of Froggy Dreams and Feral Houses

File today’s Streetsblog Network post under "where fantasy meets reality."

First, via The Dirt, the blog of the American Society of Landscape Architects, we have a post about the winners of the Reburbia
contest, "a design competition dedicated to re-envisioning the
suburbs." Sponsored by Dwell magazine and Inhabitat, the contest
garnered some pretty interesting entries, including the winner, "Frog’s
Dream" by Calvin Chiu:

It
proposes to transform…vacant McMansions, at the periphery of cities,
into eco-water treatment machines, commercially known as Living
Machines, in which a micro-ecosystem of plants, algae, bacteria, fish
and clams are present to purify the water. A micro-wetland ecosystem
will be formed around these mansions to sustain larger wetland animals
and plants. The project also involves transforming the highway system
into a multi-functional infrastructure that transports cars, trains and
bikes, as well as forming a network to facilitate water transport
between a city and its surrounding suburban wetlands.

35_374742138358d45c18d8.jpgA feral house in Detroit. Photo copyright James D. Griffoien.

Hard to imagine this actually coming to pass, isn’t it? Except that when you look at James D. Griffoien‘s fabulous pictures of "feral houses," you can see that in a way it already has — although without the water-filtering clams.

Anne Trubek has a nice post at Good
on the phenomenon. Poke around Griffoien’s site for more great
pictures, and be sure to visit his excellent blog on life in a changing
Detroit, Sweet Juniper.

Runners-up
in the Reburbia contest include a proposal to rezone residential areas
to make them more friendly to small businesses, and a plan to convert
big-box stores and their parking lots to farms and greenhouses.

Perhaps the most realistic was the "Urban Sprawl Repair Kit"
from Galina Tahchieva, which won the People’s Choice award. It takes
familiar suburban prototypes, such as the drive-through restaurant, and
makes good use of their excessive parking and setbacks — creating more
walkable and pleasant public spaces.

Speaking of repurposing: The Detroit Free Press
reports that Ford Motor Company may be selling one of its defunct auto
plants to manufacturers of solar panels and grid storage batteries. If
the deal goes through, it would create a "renewable energy park" and
some 4,300 jobs:

It’s perhaps fitting that the Ford Wixom plant — which built gas
guzzlers such as the Lincoln Town Car for 50 years and once employed
5,000 — stands to become a centerpiece of Michigan’s effort to create
green jobs in solar, wind, electric propulsion and other
non-fossil-fuel energy sectors.

More from the network: an action alert on bike-safety legislation from Austin on Two Wheels, Boston Biker has a cyclist’s guide to dealing with pedestrians, and How We Drive posts on a study making the rounds about who really causes most bike-car crashes.

  • ZA

    Interesting collection of ideas, from the fanciful to the practical. It seems to me there are any number of ways to get to the greatest opportunity suburbs present: a region’s greater share of ecological resources (food, water, air, biodiversity conservation, recreation, etc.).

    The Repair Kit proposal offers a number of important in-fill approaches to concentrate desirable activities…and that could pathfind the next series of regenerative changes. However, those intentional changes need to respect property and community rights, and restore agricultural and wild spaces to build back that ecological base.

    In-fill is an important part of realizing the suburban promise of balance between city and country, but it can’t be the only part.

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