More Walkable & Livable ‘Edge Cities’


The case for walkability seems to be easy to make — more walkable neighborhoods lead to less time spent in cars and that’s rarely something that is cause for complaints. The Wall Street Journal covers the story of how ‘edge cities’ — which, confusingly, they deem as part of suburbia — are turning their outdated strip malls and abandoned office parks into more walkable communities, with green space or mixed use developments.

For WSJ, Richard Florida writes:

Walkable suburbs are some of America’s best places to live, and they provide their sprawling, spread-out siblings with a model for renewal. Relatively dense commercial districts, with shops, restaurants and movie theaters, as well as a wide variety of housing types, have always been a feature of the older suburbs that grew up along the streetcar lines of big metro areas.

Some of the edge cities mentioned by Florida include Hoboken, NJ and Brookline, MA, two places that I am very familiar with (and that I would never consider to be suburbs). What is notable about both of these is their tremendous push to disincentivize driving into the neighborhoods. I almost always avoid driving into Hoboken, as the public transportation is so excellent and parking (at least low-cost parking) is scarce.

While we presumably do not have any edge cities here in the Lehigh Valley (not in the sense described in the WSJ story), I think that many of these projects could pop up in Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton — and the residents of the Valley would wholly embrace a more walkable environment.

To learn about RenewLV’s Sustainable Transportation Initiative, visit our webpage.

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on October 25, 2010, in Public Infrastructure, Transportation, Trends, Urbanism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Here’s a (the?) definition of the term “edge city” provided by Joel Garreau in his 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier —

    “A full-blown Edge City is marked by:
    – Five million square feet of leasable office space or more.
    – Six hundred thousand square feet of retail space or more.
    – A population that increases at 9 a.m. on workdays–marking the location as primarily a work center, not a residential suburb.
    – A local perception as a single end destination for mixed use–jobs, shopping, and entertainment.
    – A history in which, thirty years ago, the site was by no means urban; it was overwhelmingly residential or rural in character.”

    It’s been a while since I read Garreau’s book, but he did identify Hoboken as an “edge city” and Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton as an “emerging edge city” within the greater New York City region.

    Brookline is not singled out as an edge city within the Boston area, but “Kendall Square-MIT Area” is mentioned expressly. Kendall Square is just across the Charles River from downtown Boston. Brookline is about 4 miles south of Kendall Square and is only a few miles from downtown Boston. Both are served by the T.

    As Florida and Garreau both note, Tysons Corner, Va. is a quintessential edge city.

    Garreau’s discussion of the areas outside historical downtowns in major metropolitan areas that developed “gravitational pulls” independent of the historical downtown was certainly relevant at its writing in 1991, but that relevance has arguably been reduced by the current recession. Moreover, that Garreau’s definition brings Hoboken, Brookline, and Tysons Corner under a single label strongly suggests that the definition is overbroad.

  2. Kevin, thank you so much for this. It helps clarify things a little for me, though I agree that Garreau’s definition overextends itself. I also wouldn’t see how A/B/E could be grouped as an emerging edge city given that definition, as it was still predominately urban 30 years ago still (especially Bethlehem). Though I may be getting my history wrong…

    Thanks again!

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