Living on the Edge: Dwelling Options for First Ring Suburban Growth
Following World War II, across the board, veterans and their families took advantage of the provisions of the GI Bill and moved to newly constructed, “modern” suburbs. These developments were often built out overnight and contained a few repeated floor plans throughout entire neighborhoods of mass-produced housing. Suburban populations were demographically singular, home to exclusively the white middle class. As a result of this mass migration away from urban cores, the postwar suburban lifestyle pervaded common consciousness and became synonymous with the “American Dream.” However, over a half-century later, economic, demographic and cultural circumstances today require a critical look at suburbia’s place in the future. Today, suburbia is no longer home to exclusively white middle class nuclear families. Rather, many suburban pioneers remain in their homes and the population is concentrated with single elderly people. In addition, minority and immigrant populations are on the rise. Lastly, poverty rates in suburbs are currently higher than their urban counterparts. However, despite this demographic diversity, housing options remain uniform. Coupled with the economic realities of the mortgage and foreclosure crises, postwar suburban housing types are not only disconnected from demographic trends, but also unaffordable. While suburbs cannot adequately serve current needs, they do account for over half of the nations housing stock. In light of long waiting lists for affordable housing, we are forced to address how what we already have can be modified rather than destroyed. First-ring suburbs along transit lines have been targeted by policy research as promising regions for redevelopment. As a result of their existing infrastructure and close proximity to metropolitan centers, first ring suburbs have the potential to prosper once again. This study explores the implications of policy both in terms of current conditions as well as the potentials of legislation to drive future redevelopment efforts. Park Forest, Illinois is located outside Chicago in Cook County along existing Metra train lines. Often cited as the first “GI suburb,” the town was a model for post-war developers. Today, it suffers from high foreclosure rates and a degree of sprawl. The proposed architectural thesis utilizes a prototypical suburban block to test multiple options for diversifying housing stock. These interventions implicitly critique current practices and intend to spark a new paradigm in future development.