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Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability
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Boomburb downtowns: the next generation of urban centers
R. E. Lang a; Arthur C. Nelson a; Rebecca R. Sohmer a a 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 next

generation of urban centers', Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, 1: 1, 77 — 90 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/17549170801903694 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17549170801903694

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Journal of Urbanism Vol. 1, No. 1, March 2008, 77–90

RESEARCH PAPER Boomburb 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.’’ While boomburbs are primarily still suburban in look and feel, some are beginning to develop downtowns and other quasi-urban centers. As the nation’s preeminent urbanizing suburbs, boomburbs have enormous potential. Based on site visits and a review of existing plans provided, this article develops a boomburb downtown typology using a criterion of a center’s scale (large or small), setting (infill or greenfield), and proximity to rail. The move toward more compact development in newly emerging centers of fast growing suburbs is a hopeful trend that should be encouraged and augmented. Urbanizing suburbs are one important key to remaking the American metropolis based on smart growth principles. Keywords: suburban growth; downtowns; transit-oriented development

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Introduction: what is a Boomburb? The image of large, fast-growing suburbs – or boomburbs, as these places have been named – is that of a centerless mosaic of large, master-planned subdivisions spotted with big box retail. While this image remains rooted in current reality, another trend is emerging. Boomburbs are growing up, and as they do most are creating downtowns and other 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 suburban elements 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 USA will add its next 100 million residents to reach a total of 400 million by 2037 (Nelson and Lang 2007). That is a projected rate of growth exceeding even China and all other nations except India and Pakistan. The boomburbs will grab a disproportionate share of this growth. However, that does not mean that their pattern of future growth will reflect a sprawling past. Rather, the share of higher density and multifamily housing should dramatically increase by even the next decade (Nelson 2004). The boomburbs will be bigger by 2037, with many passing the 300,000 and some even the 500,000 population mark. Much of this growth will be vertical – as in densely built neighborhoods – rather than horizontal – as in conventional greenfield subdivisions. One reason that boomburbs still remain mostly suburban in look and feel is that that few anticipated becoming big cities, or have yet to absorb this identity fully, and thus have accidentally arrived at this status. Part of the confusion may be that the forces of metropolitan growth are primarily suburban in nature. In the past, the port, the factory, and the rail terminal fueled growth. Today booms occur in places with multiple exchanges on
*Corresponding author. Email: rlang@vt.edu
ISSN 1754-9175 print/ISSN 1754-9183 online # 2008 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17549170801903694 http://www.informaworld.com

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new freeways, where new subdivisions, shopping strips, and office parks spring up. This is the development zone that Katz (2001) refers to as the ‘‘the exit-ramp economy.’’ Or as Jacobs (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 developed as dense urban cores. But as boomburbs grow into big ‘‘cities,’’ most remain essentially suburban in character. Just as satellite cities reflected the dominant urban pattern of their time, boomburbs may be the ultimate symbol of the sprawling postwar metropolitan form. Simply put, boomburbs are large, fast-growing suburbs. Boomburbs are not traditional cities 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 are defined as cities of at least 50,000 people that are not the core of their region, and having maintained double-digit rates of population growth for each Census since 1970 (Lang and LeFurgy 2007). In total, 60 boomburbs exceeded 100,000 people by 2006, while 80 contained between 50,000 and 100,000 residents. While boomburbs may be found throughout the nation, they occur mostly in the Southwest in a belt of metropolitan areas stretching from Texas to the Pacific, with almost half in California alone. Even a relatively small western metropolis such as Las Vegas contains two boomburbs. The Las Vegas region also contains three Census Designated Places (or unincorporated places) that exceed 100,000 residents and would qualify as boomburbs were they incorporated (Lang and Dhavale 2003). Two key ingredients are needed to produce boomburbs – fast sustained development and big incorporated places. The West has both. The South, in general, is booming but has mostly smaller incorporated places – and even many unincorporated places – that capture this growth. The Northeast and Midwest have plenty of larger incorporated places, but maintain a much slower growth rate than the South or West. Even most large and rapidly growing 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 their newer and less traditional Southwestern US central cities. Cities such as Glendale, near Phoenix, and Garland, near Dallas, have comparable density and urban form to their respective core cities – except for missing a large downtown. Boomburbs in these metropolitan areas are an extension of the auto-dependent city building that has dominated the spatial structure of many Sunbelt metropolitan areas. The Census Bureau is also loosening its concept of what constitutes a ‘‘city’’ (Frey et al. 2004) in the metropolitan context and it recognizes that boomburbs are often principal players in their respective regions. Boomburbs even help name metropolitan areas – as in, for example, the ‘‘Phoenix, Mesa (boomburb), Scottsdale (boomburb) Metropolitan Statistical Area.’’ The reality that Mesa has over 400,000 residents and Scottsdale over 200,000 people, along with several major employment centers, warrants recognition in the naming of the Phoenix region. Boomburbs constitute a new city type that the US Census Bureau struggles to understand. In its 2003 redefinition of metropolitan America, the Census Bureau reformulated 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 (mostly boomburbs) added almost 13 million people to the principal city share of metropolitan

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area population over the figure under the old central city classification. Were it not for the new principal city category, central cities would be losing a significant share of metropolitan growth in this decade. But given that the list of principal cities now contains so many boomburbs, ‘‘cities’’ are currently holding their own. Another commonality boomburbs have is that they do not have a strong presence in America’s mental map of ‘‘urban’’ places. Even though by 2006, 17 of the 100 largest cities were boomburbs, these places have little identity outside of their region. Part of this may be to do their rapid growth – the country has not had time to adjust to these sudden giants. In fact, 17 of the 25 fastest growing places with more than 100,000 residents from 2000 to 2006 were boomburbs – including six of the top ten. But part of their relative obscurity may also be that they often have no clear core, no symbolic heart that people in and out of the region associate clearly with the city. As of 2006, five boomburbs had more than 300,000 residents – a size that places them among the top 60 US cities. Table 1 shows these places along with some comparably sized and better known big cities. Note that Mesa, Arizona – the biggest boomburb – is more populous than Kansas City or Cleveland. Arlington, Texas, just passed Minneapolis last year in population and is now well ahead of St Louis. Even Aurora, Colorado, with 303,582 residents, is just trailing Pittsburgh. Not far behind Aurora are five boomburbs that as of 2007 had over 250,000 residents: Riverside, California; Plano, Texas; Glendale, Arizona; Chandler, Arizona; and Henderson, Nevada. All five places are growing so fast that they should easily pass the 300,000 population point by 2020. Whereas traditional big cities such as Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and St Louis have large downtowns, complete with skylines, the biggest boomburbs lack both. The ten most populous boomburbs have miniscule downtowns relative to their size. Arlington, Texas, which is more populated than St Louis, has a downtown that looks small for a city of 10,000. A city such as nearby Plano, Texas, may have over 8 million square feet of office space and several Fortune 500 headquarters but these buildings are scattered amid edge and even edgeless cities (Lang 2003). Yet Plano – like so many other boomburbs – is changing. The city now has light rail and has just built a modest-sized but high-density, mixed-use downtown. Even areas far from the light rail are seeing a shift to more traditional, compact, mixed-use development. For example, the Legacy office complex – one of the quintessential sprawling, single-use, campus-style suburban office parks – has now added a walkable town center complete with offices, housing, a hotel, and dining and retail as infill development.

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Table 1. Selected big cities versus big boomburbs, 2006. City/boomburb Mesa, Arizona Kansas City, Missouri Cleveland, Ohio Arlington, Texas Minneapolis, Minnesota St. Louis, Missouri Santa Ana, California Anaheim, California Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Aurora, Colorado Note: Boomburbs are shown in bold type. Population in 2006 447,541 447,306 444,313 376,197 372,833 347,181 340,024 334,425 312,819 303,582

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Boomburb-rich regions, such as Denver, Phoenix, Dallas, and Salt Lake City, are experiencing a burst in light rail development. In their study on boomburbs, Lang and LeFurgy (2007) found a great enthusiasm among mayors for these projects. Interestingly, the boomburb mayors did not expect major improvement in mobility due to these projects and instead focused on their value in triggering redevelopment of their downtowns and promoting the formation of new centers. The model of an urbanized suburb for planners and developers in boomburbs to consider is Arlington, Virginia (actually a small county). Arlington used the Washington Metro transit line to help transform its once-declining commercial corridor. While Arlington rezoned and promoted transit-oriented development (TOD) at Metro stations, it also prevented a spillover of high-density uses into neighborhoods with detached housing. The balance of preserving the suburban character of subdivisions while concentrating denser development in a zone around transit stops has broad appeal in the boomburbs. This is especially true of places that have nearly exhausted their greenfield development opportunities and are looking for new ways to grow. Perhaps most importantly the boomburbs may see a transformation that spreads far beyond TOD. Rail serves as a jolt that shocks suburbs into an alternate, more compact development pattern. The TOD pattern intended for rail can inspire what could be called a transit-ready development (TRD) far away from any station. The planning, design, and finance expertise needed for TOD is not limited by rail. Once the market for TOD is proven, TRD projects are possible. In addition, the idea of ‘‘dense development’’ in the suburbs shifts from abstract talk, that invites ‘‘not in my back yard’’ (NIMBY) opposition, to local examples of vibrant, fun places. The increasing demand for denser housing based on shifting demographics and taste (Nelson 2004, Nelson and Lang 2007) will only further fuel this growth. In the end, a wave of TRD projects will make the addition of existing light-rail projects even more feasible because there will finally be a ‘‘there, there’’ in many urbanizing suburbs. The boomburb downtown Not all boomburb downtowns are the same. Table 2 shows a boomburb downtown classification scheme based on three criteria: scale, setting, and proximity to rail. Examples of each category are found throughout the boomburbs. A case analysis of each type of downtown follows. The analysis is based on site visits to the boomburbs and a review of existing plans provided by developers, civic leaders, and planning departments. Part of this work derives from fieldwork done by Lang and LeFurgy (2007) for the book on boomburbs, although each of these places has been recently revisited by the authors.
Table 2. Boomburb downtown grid. Boomburb downtown types Infill setting With rail Small Large Without rail Small Large Urban village Urban center Main street Suburban center Greenfield setting TOD village TOD high-rise Lifestyle center New town center

Note: Transit-oriented development (TOD). Source: Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

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The three criteria shown in Table 2 produce eight distinct downtown types. Note that some big boomburbs can have several downtown types and that the term ‘‘downtown’’ is used here to convey a more general pattern of urban centers. At the moment it appears that no boomburb seems likely to build a traditional downtown on anything like the scale and intensity of a Minneapolis or even a Providence, Rhode Island (a city that has fewer people than dozens of boomburbs). It turns out that boomburb downtowns are typically centers of consumption and less likely to become centers of production. The vibrant ones are really more lifestyle-focused places than business-driven ones. The boomburb downtowns seem to work best as small-to-mid-sized, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods that offer alternative environments to the typical suburban subdivision. While boomburb downtowns are diverse in size, land uses, and mobility, what the eight center types do have in common is that they point to denser, mixed-use, and multimodal boomburbs. Note that half of the boomburb downtowns identified here do not yet have rail transit, but are TRDs – pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development that is amenable to any future transit plans. And there are other attractions associated with investing in downtown development. Some boomburb mayors find that the ultimate value of downtown may be public relations, in that an entertaining and attractive downtown can help brand the city. For example, Boyd Dunn, Mayor of Chandler, Arizona, believes that historic preservation and urban revitalization in downtown is especially important to boomburbs in the Phoenix region, so that places such as Chandler can keep their identity. Otherwise, he observes, boomburbs blend right into one another and become one large, spread-out city (Lang and LeFurgy 2007).

Boomburbs at build-out: what it means for developing downtowns Boomburbs are growing up. These accidental cities may actually be on a path that will mirror the growth trajectory of older, more established places. Traditional American cities grew from central, densely populated urban cores and gradually grew outward. Boomburbs, in sharp contrast, started off as large, spread-out, low-density places that are now beginning to develop higher-density centers after the fact. As boomburbs continue to grow, they are beginning to push up against the limits of development – they are nearly at ‘‘build-out’’. Build-out refers to the point at which development has reached a city’s borders, or has exhausted large-scale greenfield options. Boomburbs will soon face a decision: do they stop booming once they reach their current limits or do they develop a new growth model that more intensively uses existing land? More than half the boomburbs in the study will be at their build-out point by 2020, and many already have less than 10% of their space left to develop. Most boomburbs expect to grow denser as they reach build-out. Greyfield development Moreover, currently most boomburb centers – if they exist at all – are undersized. There is a lot of untapped capacity for downtown development. Much of the potential involves remaking the original suburban commercial development that featured low ‘‘floor-to-area ratios’’ (FARs) and giant parking lots. In fact, investors are recognizing these trends and are financing more intensive, often mixed-use, redevelopment of a variety of ‘‘greyfield’’1 sites (PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2001). The boomburbs are full of greyfield sites that are now being reborn as urban villages, new neighborhoods, and town centers. One of the largest of these projects is the Belmar center in Lakewood, Colorado, a boomburb west of

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Denver. The Belmar project ‘‘is a mixed-use renovation and redevelopment of the failing Villa Italia mall. … Composed of 23 city blocks (104 acres)’’ (Miller 2005, p. 24). Lakewood needs to develop its greyfields because the city is practically at build-out. By contrast, Mayor Burkholder noted ‘‘Aurora [a boomburb east of Denver] can grow to the Kansas border.’’2 But this does not trouble the Mayor. He is quite comfortable with Lakewood’s status as a rapidly maturing ‘‘first-ring suburb.’’ Mayor Burkholder is sold on the main principles of smart growth, in particular the idea of building denser mixed-use projects at light rail stations. And he now has plenty to work with given Denver’s plans to build a 119-mile light rail system known as FasTracks. The West Corridor line on the rapidly expanding Denver FasTracks system will run through Lakewood’s older northern neighborhoods.3 The line will have six stops in Lakewood alone, including one at the Denver Federal Center. The Mayor hopes Denver’s FasTracks triggers an urban makeover of Lakewood similar to what the Washington Metro did for Arlington, Virginia. Most of this development is through a greyfield landscape that includes malls and other commercial development. Not all boomburb greyfield redevelopment need be enormous projects or tied to TOD. There are plenty of underperforming commercial strip developments where there is so much parking that an entire small-scale, walkable infill development could literally be built within the parking lots. Some REITs, such as Maryland-based Federal Realty Investment Trust, have acquired properties such as these and redeveloped surface parking lots as next-generation retail villages with structured parking. Some of these projects incorporate a relatively complete application of New Urbanism, with a diverse mix of uses, public realm, and walkable design, while others are simply more compact retail forms with a walkable urban character, both of which show the demand for more traditional, urban, street-oriented retail formats within suburbs. These types of centers are also evolving and may take on a more urban quality over time. Boomburb downtown case analysis Creating higher-density and mixed-use centers in boomburbs has many benefits, but this does not mean that all boomburb downtowns are or should be the same. Because boomburbs vary, their downtown plans should reflect this diversity. Unlike historical urban centers, the sheer scale and spread-out nature of most big boomburbs can support multiple ‘‘downtowns,’’ creating a polycentric metropolitan scale form. As Table 2 shows, this paper identifies at least eight types of boomburb downtowns based on whether or not the downtown is a greenfield or infill site, is large or small, and lies near or away from light rail. Table 3 highlights a specific example of each type. The case analysis that follows reports on all eight examples and is divided by infill versus greenfield types. Infill boomburb downtowns Downtowns in older boomburbs are the result of infill development in suburbs that originally were streetcar suburbs or had their own early auto-era main street. With the rapid growth in population since 1970, these boomburb downtowns have overlaid the existing urban fabric with new housing, retail, and office space. Most of the recent additions to the built environment have little relationship to what are often essentially vestigial old-style downtowns. While most boomburbs are so recently developed that they lack a true 19th-century main street that predated any modern transportation, many downtowns date to the street car and early auto eras. As historians Liebs (1985) and Longstreth (1992, 1999) have shown, early 20th-century downtowns, while different than earlier versions of main street,

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Table 3. Examples of downtown boomburb types. Boomburb Plano, Texas Tempe, Arizona Orange, California Scottsdale, Arizona Hillsboro, Oregon Irving, Texas Rancho Cucamonga, California Irvine, California Note: Transit-oriented development (TOD). Type Urban village Urban center Main street Suburban center TOD village TOD high-rise Lifestyle center New town center

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nonetheless contained many traditional elements, including pedestrian orientation. Lang, Hornburg and LeFurgy (2006) using this historic analysis, divide commercial strips into three types: auto-excluding (or places built before cars which have little space for managing traffic and parking), auto-accommodating (or places that balanced autos and pedestrians), and auto-dominated (or places built entirely around cars, which includes most commercial environments constructed in the second half of the 20th century). Older boomburb cores were typically built to be auto accommodating. These include what Liebs (1985) refers to as ‘‘taxpayer strips,’’ or ‘‘tax flats’’ (Rowe 1991), which were early 20th-century commercial areas along street car lines that were so named because they were thought to be temporary structures that would at some point be replaced as denser development swept in. The buildings were intended to generate enough revenue to pay land taxes until the denser – and more lucrative – development arrived. Yet, the day of more intense land use never arrived in most places and left taxpayer strips as enduring features of the landscape. For boomburbs, that is a good thing because taxpayer strips retain most of the key design features of earlier main streets, especially side walks and buildings that remain connected to the street. Also, many of these places are now being relinked to transit due to the boom in light rail. More recently, Bohl (2002) has surveyed ‘‘emerging formats’’ for new town centers, main streets, and urban villages common in boomburbs, revealing trends and innovations that cut across residential, retail, and office real estate sectors involving compact, walkable, mixed-use ‘‘place making.’’ There are four kinds of boomburb downtowns in infill settings: urban centers and urban villages, which have rail transit; and suburban centers and main streets, which do not have rail transit. Urban centers Urban centers are larger boomburb downtowns in infill settings that already have or will soon receive transit. These places are characterized by mixed-use development that includes high-rise residential, high-rise office, as well as major retail. Urban centers may house headquarters firms and generally have a high profile in their region. What distinguishes urban centers from other suburban employment centers is that they are at least quasi-pedestrian friendly and transit oriented. Often, urban centers will have more than one transit stop. They are the most city like environments that one can find in the boomburbs, but still fall below the scale and intensity of a major downtown. An excellent example of an urban center is Tempe, Arizona. Tempe switched from smallscale to more dense, compact, large-scale development, and hence has really grown its downtown area (it even had to protect the appearance of the city’s Main Street along its

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central avenue by use of height restrictions.). Downtown Tempe will soon have three stops along the new Phoenix Metro System, including a transfer station, which solidifies the downtown’s importance and presence. In part because of the large-scale, mixed-use, transitoriented nature of the development, Tempe’s downtown is home to US Airways headquarters as well as branches of several national companies. Urban villages Urban villages are urban centers on a smaller scale. They are the result of infill development occurring in a traditional, older main street (really mostly taxpayer strips). Like urban centers, urban villages have a mix of residential and retail, are mostly pedestrian oriented, and are built around a transit stop. Unlike urban centers, office space usually remains outside of the area in suburban-style office parks, but is less likely to feature high-rises. Plano’s (Texas) downtown is a good example of an urban village. The city is exploring ways to create ‘‘place.’’ Plano’s future centers will combine city and suburban features to produce a new market niche that helps distinguish the city from both Dallas, to the south, and fast-growing exurbs to the north. The first step in this new growth model is the TOD at Plano’s downtown DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) station. Downtown Plano’s redevelopment includes multifamily housing and new traditionally designed retail that lie within feet of the station. Suburban centers Suburban centers are on the same scale as urban centers, but do not have rail transit. They often contain upscale shopping and high-rise residential and office buildings. The core of Bellevue, Washington, may be the biggest example in the USA. Some are pedestrian friendly, while others have been remade into denser versions of suburban office parks and remain difficult to navigate by foot. Scottsdale’s (Arizona) downtown is an emergent suburban center downtown that now features multiple high-rise residential buildings, along with major upscale shopping, but has no rail planned. Parts of the downtown are pedestrian oriented and include an ‘‘artist walk’’ for touring the areas many art galleries. While downtown Scottsdale is thriving, it is hampered somewhat by the lack of a rail project, which would reinforce its urban elements and add more walkable spaces. Main streets Main streets are similar to urban villages, but like suburban centers they lack transit. They are small scale and mixed use. Most main streets are walkable, but, as noted above, many began as taxpayer strips – often built in the transition years between trolleys and autos. That means streets may have been widened to accommodate cars and in the process some of the pedestrian friendliness was lost, but for the most part main streets did not succumb to the invasion of shopping malls, big box retail, and eight lanes of traffic common in suburban retail settings. The small downtown of Orange, California, is a typical boomburb main street. Its classic ‘‘old town’’ look has been featured in films that depict small Eastern cities. For instance, it was the stand in as Erie, Pennsylvania, in the film That Thing You Do! (1996), which was set in the mid-1960s. Orange has focused on infill housing and small-scale commercial revitalization, but is not planning on any major retail development. Its downtown serves as a nice market counterpoint to the massive strip development in the

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rest of Orange County, which is famous for big retail projects as the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Greenfield boomburb downtowns The other main type of boomburb downtowns are those built in greenfield settings. While they often (but not always) emulate traditional main streets and downtowns, these are brand new centers, built from the ground up in just the past few decades. There are four kinds of boomburb downtowns in infill settings: TOD high-rise, TOD village, new town center, and lifestyle center. The first two are large and small downtowns in greenfield areas with light rail, while the last two are large and small downtowns in greenfield areas built without transit. TOD high-rise TOD high-rise downtowns are large-scale, greenfield centers that mix major retail, high-rise housing and office, and are located on a rail transit line. There are not many examples of this in the USA because most of the models for large-scale urban development based on rail have been rebuilt downtowns, as in the notable case of Arlington mentioned above. Also, most light rail systems are running through only the built up parts of metropolitan areas and so there is little opportunity to build TOD high-rise developments in greenfields. But as the current light rail systems are extended into the regional fringe, more TOD high-rise projects should appear. There is a growing trend to ‘‘build more smart growth at the fringe’’ (Urban Land Institute (ULI) 2004). Irving’s (Texas) Las Colinas development is an interesting case of a high-rise greenfield development that predates rail, but will soon be served by a DART line that runs between Downtown Dallas and the massive Dallas–Fort Worth Airport (DFW).4 The project is mixed use and partly pedestrian oriented, but contains some elements of 1980s office parks. The development of Las Colinas was triggered by the construction of DFW in the 1970s and fits in the new town tradition that includes places such as Irvine, California, and Reston, Virginia (both also proximate to airports). According to USA Today:
Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport has unleashed massive development around it. Las Colinas is the biggest. A 12,000-acre community that’s larger than most downtowns and is geared to businesses and residents needing quick airport access, Las Colinas has 27 million square feet of office space, 8.5 million square feet of light industrial, 1.3 million square feet of retail, hotels, restaurants, and 13,300 single- and multi-family homes. Its commercial space and population of 25,000 rival downtown Dallas. (El Nasser 2003, p.A3)

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Social scientists are just starting to recognize the social and economic importance of major hub airports. Kasarda (2000) recently dubbed this airport-driven urban growth ‘‘Aerotropolis’’ and he specifically refers to Las Colinas as ‘‘an airport city.’’ DFW so changed the face of Irving that the new official city history is titled Irving Texas, From Rails to Wings, 1903–2003 (Stanton, 2003). TOD village TOD villages are also greenfield sites that are on transit lines, but are on a smaller scale than TOD high-rise downtowns. There are more examples of these than the larger TOD high-rise projects. Like similar scaled infill urban villages, they do not include much office space, but do feature a pedestrian-friendly mix of retail and residential development. Several more TOD projects are in the plans for the Salt Lake City Utah Transit Authority and Denver FasTracks light rail systems in boomburbs such as West Valley City, Utah, and Aurora, Colorado.

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Hillsboro’s (Oregon) Orenco Station is a new transit-oriented development built on a greenfield site on Portland’s new light rail line. Orenco Station has 1,800 homes and some retail and is linked to employment centers and other communities through a variety of transportation means including bike trails and pedestrian paths. Homes range from condominiums to cottages and row homes that provide a mix of housing options and prices. New town center New town centers are large-scale, mixed-use, high-rise developments in greenfield settings that lack rail transit. These places share the same new town lineage as TOD high-rise projects. Like Las Colinas, it is easy to imagine that at some point in the not too distant future most new town centers will be linked to transit systems in that they include some the largest non-central business district commercial centers in the USA. Most of these places are only partly pedestrian oriented, with much of the walkable space limited to shopping districts. There is also high-rise housing. The more recent new town centers, such as that at Reston, Virginia, are much more traditionally urban than the ones begun in the 1970s. Reston could serve as a model for the redevelopment of these earlier generation new town centers into more pedestrian-friendly and vibrant urban spaces (Bohl 2006). Irvine, California, contains the largest suburban office cluster in the USA (Lang 2003), and may be the largest ‘‘downtown’’ anywhere that lacks a rail connection. The city also contains the most office space and the greatest concentration of high-rises of any boomburb. The biggest concentration of development is on Jamboree Road south of John Wayne/Orange County Airport. The area is not very pedestrian friendly, but does contain a dense mix of office, retail, and residential uses. Irvine does present an urban design challenge in that, while city-like intensity exists, it still lacks an urban feel. This is not unlike the quasi-urban look of some other notable edge cities, such as Tysons Corner, Virginia, with skylines that vaguely resemble a more tradition major downtown, but streetscapes more reminiscent of those found in suburban office parks. Theses new town centers will need massive infill development and a shift in urban form to become more urban. Given their scale and high-end businesses, such investment is likely to occur. Lifestyle centers Lifestyle centers are smaller-scale versions of new town centers that are predominantly retail. The term also applies to a new category of retail development that moves beyond the enclosed shopping mall (ULI 2006). Some lifestyle centers are stand-alone retail and function as essentially as a better-done, outdoor version of the old suburban mall. But there is a growing movement in the boomburbs to link these centers to multifamily housing, particularly where land values are relatively high and support more intensive real estate development. When the two are combined, it makes for a stark contrast to the type of retail and housing mixtures that one typically finds in the Sunbelt where retail and nearby homes may be separated by a wall that prevents pedestrian access. Like new town centers, lifestyle centers are typically not on rail transit. Victoria Gardens is an ambitious lifestyle center in Rancho Cucamonga, California, that has some high-density housing mixed in with retail all laid out in an urban grid. The project is designed to resemble a downtown that has evolved over time. It features department stores, shops, restaurants, a movie theater, a performing arts center, a library, and 55,000 square feet of office space. Intended to serve as a new downtown for Rancho Cucamonga, it includes a mix of 500 residential units. This housing is all attached units and the land plan is designed so that there are multiple points of entry into the shopping area.

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Journal of Urbanism Boomburb downtowns in Phoenix’s East Valley: an example of urban realms

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Boomburb downtowns can play a larger role in the evolving polycentric metropolis. This is especially true as boomburb downtowns emerge as the key centers of their respective urban realms (Lang and Knox 2008). The idea of urban realms is well established in geography, starting with Vance (1964, 1977). Vance argued that major American metropolitan areas had grown so decentralized, due to accelerating dispersal of population and economy activity, that they had become a series of semi-autonomous sub-regions, or ‘‘urban realms’’. To Vance, urban realms are natural functions of the growth of cities; the city has changed structurally as a collection of realms that has grown ‘‘one stage beyond that of a metropolis’’. The core–periphery relationship weakened, as realms became more equal. The basic organization of the region grows more cooperative as the shared urban and cultural identity of the urban realms creates what Vance calls a ‘‘sympolis’’ rather than a metropolis. The regional geography of transportation, as originally recognized by Hoyt (1939), also plays a role in separating urban realms. This process began with trolley cars but is now centered on interstate highways, in particular metropolitan beltways. Beltways can either define the boundary of an area, as reflected by the expression of being located ‘‘inside the Washington beltway,’’ or unify a realm, as in the case of the ‘‘LBJ Corridor’’ in North Dallas. Realms have their own sub-regional identities, such as those in the Los Angeles region like South Coast (or Orange County) or the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties). The realms around Los Angeles are so distinct that South Coast and the Inland Empire have their own sub-regional newspapers and airports. On a smaller, but emerging scale, a place such as the East Valley of Phoenix (with such boomburbs as Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, and Gilbert) already has its own newspaper and will soon have a separate national airport from Phoenix. Finally, urban realms also show up in business names, such as South Coast Plaza, Inland Empire National Bank, or the East Valley Tribune. Phoenix is book-ended by two maturing suburban realms – the East and West Valleys. The East Valley is by far the more mature one and includes Mesa. Along with Mesa, three other East Valley boomburbs top 100,000 residents – Tempe, Chandler, and Gilbert. The East Valley has an increasing share of jobs, but still lags behind the central realm of Phoenix in terms of employment centers. The East Valley does have what could be considered the ‘‘Valley of the Sun’s’’ single most vibrant urban space in the form of downtown Tempe. Both Tempe and Mesa will be linked to the Central Valley via Phoenix’s new light rail system. In total, the East Valley contains nearly 1 million people, which would qualify just this subsection of greater Phoenix as one of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the USA. For example, it already exceeds Austin, Texas, in population. The sub-region could reach the 2 million mark by 2040. The Phoenix urban realms are shaped by the grid ‘‘loop’’ freeway system that is still under construction. The 101 Loop helps bound the Central Valley, while the soon-to-becompleted 202 Loop rings the East Valley. Development in the West Valley will be heavily influenced by the future 303 Loop. This is consistent with the urban theory developed by Hoyt and others highlighting the key role that transportation plays in driving metropolitan form. The bottom line is that the scale and the semi-autonomy of the East Valley produce a market niche for substantial downtown development. Both greenfield and infill downtowns will grow and emerge. The downtown of Tempe will continue to take on a more urban character complete with a skyline of office buildings and high-rise residential towers. The now tiny downtown of Mesa, where construction of a major arts facility was recently completed, will be included in the next round of light rail expansion. At that point, the downtown should take off and begin to better reflect Mesa’s current standing as the 38th most populous city in the USA.

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But the East Valley’s biggest downtown is likely to be a greenfield development that was until recently the General Motors Proving Ground. The Williams Gateway area of Mesa is now almost a complete blank slate containing a new freeway, a decommissioned airfield and a small branch of Arizona State University (ULI 2007). The old General Motors proving grounds, the biggest parcel in Williams Gateway was just purchased by Scottsdale-based DMB Realty, know for upscale master-planned communities. But rather than build another residential project, DMB plans to develop a massive, high-density, mixed-use project on the site. Williams Gateway Airport, with three 10,000-foot-long runways, can serve the East Valley of Phoenix the way Ontario Airport serves Los Angeles’s Inland Empire. The boom in passengers at Williams, in fact, could trigger office development in the way John Wayne Airport in Orange County has helped anchor the big edge city at Jamboree Road in Irvine, California. Most importantly, this project can be master-planned and developed as an urban center right from the start, a likely outcome given that DMB (the biggest player) has a good background with New Urbanism such as Verrado, Buckeye, Arizona. The potential exists for perhaps the first greenfield town center to be developed on the scale of Tysons Corner and Irvine that is truly urban in form and function.
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Conclusion The rise of the boomburbs challenges planners, developers, and policy-makers to rethink what is urban. The US Census Bureau has already done so with its new principal city category that recognizes half the boomburbs as cities. But this designation is so obscure and technical that it eludes many urban researchers. A public reframing of cities is required that captures the new reality that the newest and fastest-growing cities are yesterday’s suburbs. Yet, as historians have shown, that has always been the case. Brooklyn, NY, was in many ways the nation’s leading 19th-century suburb, and now it practically defines the term urbanity. So too, the boomburbs will mature – some gracefully, and others not so gracefully. There is a great deal of activity underway in boomburb downtown development, resulting in a diversity of types emerging in boomburbs. The move toward more compact form in newly emerging centers of fast growing suburbs is a hopeful trend that should be encouraged and augmented. Urbanizing suburbs are one important key to remaking the American metropolis based on smart growth principles.

Notes
1. The term ‘‘greyfield’’ derives from the fact that these places are not polluted with industrial waste as a ‘‘brownfield’’ nor are they undeveloped land as a ‘‘greenfield.’’ 2. Robert Lang interviewed Mayor Burkholder at City Hall in Lakewood, Colorado, in July 2004. 3. The West Corridor is a 12.1-mile light rail transit project that will operate along the former Associated Railroad right-of-way (near 12th and 13th Avenues) from Downtown Denver to the Lakewood Industrial Park, and continue west to the Jefferson County Government Center in Golden. 4. At the moment the only transit system in the complex is a local ‘‘people mover,’’ which has less utility.

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