Suburban Revisions

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Durden, Alyssa Shank
Dagenhart, Richard
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The word revise means to reconsider or modify as with text. If we think of the suburban landscape as a text, the culture of each era left documentation of their values, policies and way of life in the form of transportation networks and other infrastructure, such as Main Streets, squares and public buildings. While evidence of most of the everyday life of individuals of every era gets erased by the following era, infrastructure investments of each era are adaptively reused and remain to tell the story. This thesis documents the adaptive reuse of these suburban frameworks and develops a proposition for the appropriate next layer to accommodate a new culture of inhabitants. Focusing on second generation suburbs, using Gwinnett County as a case study, this analysis identifies three problems of the current suburban situation: the problem of abandoned strips, a demographic shift, and the need for place. As new strip highways develop, old strips decline leaving abandoned shopping centers and declining property values. New development continues to move north and out of the county, and middle class residents, for which existing auto-oriented suburbs were created, move as well. A new, poorer, and more ethnically diverse population inherits the auto-oriented landscape left behind. This phenomenon is particularly concentrated along the southern portion of the Buford Highway corridor. Those with more money move closer to new development, while those with less money have less choice and are found near declining strips with fewer services, poorer quality housing and lower quality of life. Finally, county officials have expressed a desire for defining "the epicenter of Gwinnett." I believe that there is no one "center" of Gwinnett, but a series of places defined by memory, design or events. I propose to improve the situation of these three problems with a light rail line that connects existing places and creates new walkable, livable places to improve quality of life. This connective piece will serve as a social condenser in lieu of a center, provide links between polar populations, and reactivate declining strips while creating a sustainable infrastructural spine for future growth in the region.
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