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Boomburb downtowns: the next generation of urban centers

Boomburb downtowns: the next generation of urban centers

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Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and UrbanSustainability
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t782882883
Boomburb downtowns: the next generation of urban centers
R. E. Lang
; Arthur C. Nelson
; Rebecca R. Sohmer
Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, Alexandria, VA, USA
To cite this Article
Lang, R. E., Nelson, Arthur C. and Sohmer, Rebecca R.(2008) 'Boomburb downtowns: the nextgeneration of urban centers', Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, 1: 1,77 — 90
To link to this Article: DOI:
Full terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
RESEARCH PAPERBoomburb downtowns: the next generation of urban centers
R.E. Lang*, Arthur C. Nelson and Rebecca R. Sohmer
Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, Alexandria, VA, USA
A new trend is emerging in rapidly growing suburbs, or ‘‘boomburbs.’’ Whileboomburbs are primarily still suburban in look and feel, some are beginning to developdowntowns and other quasi-urban centers. As the nation’s preeminent urbanizingsuburbs, boomburbs have enormous potential. Based on site visits and a review of existing plans provided, this article develops a boomburb downtown typology using acriterion of a center’s scale (large or small), setting (infill or greenfield), and proximity torail. The move toward more compact development in newly emerging centers of fastgrowing suburbs is a hopeful trend that should be encouraged and augmented.Urbanizing suburbs are one important key to remaking the American metropolis basedon smart growth principles.
suburban growth; downtowns; transit-oriented development
Introduction: what is a Boomburb?
The image of large, fast-growing suburbs or boomburbs, as these places have beennamed – is that of a centerless mosaic of large, master-planned subdivisions spotted withbig box retail. While this image remains rooted in current reality, another trend isemerging. Boomburbs are growing up, and as they do most are creating downtowns andother quasi-urban centers. Boomburbs are key elements of a new, more urban metropolis.As the nation’s preeminent urbanizing suburbs, they have enormous potential. By 2030,some of these places will be remarkably more city-like – blending conventional suburbanelements with more intense and mixed-use development that will signal a new urban form.Most boomburbs will continue to boom in the coming decades (Lang 2006). The USAwill add its next 100 million residents to reach a total of 400 million by 2037 (Nelson andLang 2007). That is a projected rate of growth exceeding even China and all other nationsexcept India and Pakistan. The boomburbs will grab a disproportionate share of thisgrowth. However, that does not mean that their pattern of future growth will reflect asprawling past. Rather, the share of higher density and multifamily housing shoulddramatically increase by even the next decade (Nelson 2004). The boomburbs will bebigger by 2037, with many passing the 300,000 and some even the 500,000 populationmark. Much of this growth will be vertical – as in densely built neighborhoods – ratherthan horizontal – as in conventional greenfield subdivisions.Onereasonthat boomburbsstill remainmostly suburban inlook andfeel isthat that fewanticipated becoming big cities, or have yet to absorb this identity fully, and thus haveaccidentally arrived at this status. Part of the confusion may be that the forces of metropolitan growth are primarily suburbanin nature. In the past, theport, the factory, andthe rail terminal fueled growth. Today booms occur in places with multiple exchanges on
*Corresponding author. Email: rlang@vt.edu
Journal of Urbanism
Vol. 1, No. 1, March 2008, 77–90
ISSN 1754-9175 print/ISSN 1754-9183 online
2008 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/17549170801903694http://www.informaworld.com
 D o w nl o ad ed  A t : 21 :17 23  F eb r u a r y 2010
new freeways, where new subdivisions, shopping strips, and office parks spring up. This isthe development zone that Katz (2001) refers to as the ‘‘the exit-ramp economy.’’ Or asJacobs (2004) would say, the boomburbs are developing as a series of ‘‘micro-destinations’’(e.g., scattered office parks) as opposed to ‘‘macro-destinations’’ (i.e., downtowns).
What are boomburbs? 
When late 19th- and early 20th-century satellite cities reached a large scale, they developedas dense urban cores. But as boomburbs grow into big ‘‘cities,’’ most remain essentiallysuburban in character. Just as satellite cities reflected the dominant urban pattern of theirtime, boomburbs may be the ultimate symbol of the sprawling postwar metropolitan form.Simply put, boomburbs are large, fast-growing suburbs. Boomburbs are not traditionalcities nor are they bedroom communities for these cities. They are instead a new type of city, a subset of and a new variation of American suburbanization (Fishman 1990,Garreau 1991, Abbott 1995, Taylor and Lang 2004). More technically, boomburbs aredefined as cities of at least 50,000 people that are not the core of their region, and havingmaintained double-digit rates of population growth for each Census since 1970 (Lang andLeFurgy 2007). In total, 60 boomburbs exceeded 100,000 people by 2006, while 80contained between 50,000 and 100,000 residents.While boomburbs may be found throughout the nation, they occur mostly in theSouthwest in a belt of metropolitan areas stretching from Texas to the Pacific, with almosthalf in California alone. Even a relatively small western metropolis such as Las Vegascontains two boomburbs. The Las Vegas region also contains three Census DesignatedPlaces (or unincorporated places) that exceed 100,000 residents and would qualify asboomburbs were they incorporated (Lang and Dhavale 2003).Two key ingredients are needed to produce boomburbs – fast sustained developmentand big incorporated places. The West has both. The South, in general, is booming but hasmostly smaller incorporated places – and even many unincorporated places – that capturethis growth. The Northeast and Midwest have plenty of larger incorporated places, butmaintain a much slower growth rate than the South or West. Even most large and rapidlygrowing Sunbelt metropolitan areas east of the Mississippi, such as Atlanta and Charlotte,have few boomburbs. Thus, a region can boom and still wind up without many boomburbs.Boomburbs in regions such as Phoenix, Dallas, and Las Vegas are similar to theirnewer and less traditional Southwestern US central cities. Cities such as Glendale, nearPhoenix, and Garland, near Dallas, have comparable density and urban form to theirrespective core cities except for missing a large downtown. Boomburbs in thesemetropolitan areas are an extension of the auto-dependent city building that hasdominated the spatial structure of many Sunbelt metropolitan areas.The Census Bureau is also loosening its concept of what constitutes a ‘‘city’’ (Frey
2004) in the metropolitan context and it recognizes that boomburbs are often principalplayers in their respective regions. Boomburbs even help name metropolitan areas – as in,for example, the ‘‘Phoenix, Mesa (boomburb), Scottsdale (boomburb) MetropolitanStatistical Area.’’ The reality that Mesa has over 400,000 residents and Scottsdale over200,000 people, along with several major employment centers, warrants recognition in thenaming of the Phoenix region.Boomburbs constitute a new city type that the US Census Bureau struggles tounderstand. In its 2003 redefinition of metropolitan America, the Census Bureaureformulated its municipal classification from the old ‘‘central city’’ concept to the new‘‘principal city’’ one (Frey
et al.
2004). In an analysis of the Census’s new categories, Lang,Blakely and Gough (2006) determined that redefining many suburban cities (mostlyboomburbs) added almost 13 million people to the principal city share of metropolitan78
R.E. Lang 
et al
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