Inner Ring | Suburbs

What is the future of the suburb?

Suburbs are changing. Suburbanites are looking for new kinds of work and leisure. Diverse populations priced out of the urban core are bringing new vibrancy to the Inner Ring. Aging populations require new infrastructure, and young families aspire to different ways of life. Regional centers with traditional downtowns are being revived. But for many suburbanites, “town” is a mile-long stretch of big box retail, fast food outposts and extended patches of parking lots. The RPA deems these places “Corridor Downtowns.” Currently without any urban character, they could be something completely different.

Team members
Amale Andraos
Dan Wood
Jonah Coe-Scharff
Efe (Ronald Ramirez)
Bryan Hardin
Zahid N. Ajam
Chije Kang

A representative corridor downtown: Nanuet, NY

Main Street, Nanuet, 1910s

A typical suburban shopping center along NYS Route 59

A century ago, when Nanuet was a small hamlet, development was concentrated along Main Street. Since the 1950s, however, its real “main street” has been the strip malls along New York State Highway 59.

It’s a landscape built for cars, not for people.

Forgotten green space

People once wanted to move to Nanuet for its rural character. Today, disconnected green space remains inaccessible and community institutions are scattered. Yet Nanuet has also been a hotspot for higher density suburban development. Fewer than half of households live in detached single-family houses.

A different future is possible.

As Climate Change urges density and sustainable development and new technologies transform how we live, shop, work, move, and interact, we have an opportunity to reinvent suburban life. A place like Nanuet could be a receptive testing ground for radical new patterns and typologies for suburban development.

We propose to automate mobility and reduce the personal car. Reintroduce natural ecosystems to suburban life. Let the strip malls disappear and create a walkable streetscape in their place. Integrate living and working. Embrace density and diversity. Invent new community institutions.

The suburb of the future will be a place where we can live, work, and play alongside nature.

1. The car goes away

The private car made the suburb what it is today. The public car will transform it. A shared fleet of on-demand self-driving cars liberates highway lanes and parking lots for other uses.

2. Nature takes over

Wetlands crisscross the suburbs. Climate change makes flooding a danger—but also an opportunity. Greening the flood zone knits together existing undeveloped land into swaths of permanent green space.

3. Strip becomes street

The big box store is dead. That kind of shopping has moved online. The future of retail is the street, with its bodegas and cafés. Remake the commercial strip into a ribbon of walkable urban density and new kinds of social interactions.

4. Integrate work and life

Changing patterns of work and leisure create the opportunity to reimagine suburban life. Live-work and co-working spaces expand. Telecommuting brings jobs from the urban core to the suburbs. Training campuses prepare the workforce of the future.

5. Densify and diversify

Densification liberates land and water. Diverse housing types serve different kinds of households and different ways of life. Diversity of restored ecosystems and landscapes are introduced. Roof gardens and small yards leave land for public parks and protected green space.

6. Create new institutions

Where will we come together, face to face, in the future? How will we spend the increased leisure time that automation will give us? New hybrid civic institutions become the new centers of social and cultural life.

Getting there from here.

Self-driving cars will gradually replace owner-operated cars in the next half-century. As parking lots empty and as big box stores close their doors, new typologies can be introduced.

Nanuet Full Site Drawing: Existing Conditions

Existing Conditions

The commercial strip serves Nanuet as its de-facto downtown but is without urban character.

Nanuet Full Site Drawing: Phase 1

Phase 1

The flood plain is greened.

Nanuet Full Site Drawing: Phase 2

Phase 2

The train station is relocated to Rt. 59 and expanded into the Post Station. Commuter housing is developed around the station. The Work-Campus completes its first phase of construction.

Nanuet Full Site Drawing: Phase 3

Phase 3

Rt. 59 is rebuilt for pedestrians and automated cars. The Workers’ Club paves the way for later residential development. Construction is completed at the Work-Campus.

Nanuet Full Site Drawing: Phase 4

Phase 4

Diverse housing typologies, new forests, and playing fields fill now-defunct parking lots. Corridors of green space link the Workers’ Club to the existing school campus and public parks.

Nanuet Full Site Drawing: Proposal


The corridor downtown reinvented.

Across the region

Nanuet isn’t alone. Similar stretches of big box retail, fast food outposts, and parking lots exist across the region—even within more traditional downtowns.

Similar strategies could be used to reinvent these places for the future:

  • Remake streets and parking for self-driving cars.
  • Set aside flood-prone parking lot land as permanent green space.
  • Replace big box stores with walkable concentrations of urban density.
  • Introduce new mixed-use typologies for living, working, and education.
  • Integrate diverse housing types into the natural landscape.
  • Create new community institutions.

Former Downtown: In Norwalk, CT, green corridors and transit connections could give a new life to an ex-downtown that has become a patchwork of strip malls and parking lots.

Norwalk Downtown Proposal

Urban industrial district: In Paterson, NJ, a riverbank ex-industrial district surrounded by urban housing could become a campus for education, professional training, light industry, and research.

Paterson Bunker Hill Proposal

Reintroducing nature to the suburban landscape

The Post-Station

The Workers' Club

The Street

Townhouse Weave

Wave and Terrace Housing

Wiggle Crescents and Live-Work

Life and leisure

Live/Work: Waiting for Dinner

Terraces: Enjoying the View

Townhouse Weave: Playing with the Neighbors

Wave: Canoeing on the Lake

Wiggle: Crescent Gardening in the Park

Work/Live: Socializing on the Street