Session Descriptions

Click here to see a copy of the 2017 keynote presentations.



The Pathology of the Suburbs

David Green, AIA, LEED AP Perkins + Will
As we ponder the future suburb, we should understand its history and the laws that regulated its development. Certain suburbs have accommodated change, remaining operational with minimal ongoing investment (energy and capital) but others are obsolete.  Through a directed analysis, it seems apparent that the form and sustainability of the various suburban types are directly related to the presence of a projected and connected system of rights-of-way.

TOD in Suburbia

Mitali Ganguly, AICP, LEED-ND | Calthorpe Associates

In recent years, transit use has steadily increased across the country, and current market and demographic trends signal a growing desire for living in walkable, mixed use communities. This is good news for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in urban areas. At the same time, the character of American suburbs has witnessed a demographic change. Since 2010, suburban regions have absorbed more of the national increase in metropolitan poverty as well as a larger share of immigrants and baby boomers aging in place. Over the next 30-40 years, the US population is expected to grow by 95 million, and the majority of that growth is projected to occur in suburban locations outside the central city.

To support the changing nature of the American suburb, it’s important to make transit genuinely accessible, and TOD a viable form of development in suburban regions. Many innovative ideas have been tried – what has worked? This session discusses examples across the country and lessons learned that could be channeled to create a better suburban TOD.

The Future of the Suburban City: Lessons from Sustaining Phoenix

Grady Gammage, Jr.ASU Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability

The Suburban City started as a phenomenon of Post War America—an era of abundant space, cheap petroleum and a growing economy. The urban fabric of that time, based on single family homes, wide streets and freeways, private autos and shopping centers has since spread across the globe.  Much of urban planning thought today treats the Suburban City as a kind of giant demographic misstep which needs to be massively retooled. The criticism is especially harsh when levelled at the new cities of the American West.

Phoenix, Arizona is an exemplar of such places—marooned in the middle of a vast desert, impossibly dry and dangerously hot, full of poisonous insects and thorny plants.  Surely it is the poster child for an unsustainable place? Andrew Ross’ book Bird on Fire advanced such a proposition in 2011. Grady Gammage, Jr. takes a different view. In The Future of the Suburban City he examines Phoenix and places like it and finds such places to be resilient, adaptable and able to cope with a broad variety of resource and economic challenges.

A Critical Look at Retrofitting Suburbia

Ian Law, RLA, ASLA | Place Alliance
Mary Moore Wallinger, RLA, ASLA | LAndArt Studio

Retrofitting Suburbia has started a national trend, and many of our communities are initiating planning and rezoning efforts to apply these principles, but without taking into account the nature and scale of the application. This session explores realistic solutions for improving smaller-scale suburbs while demonstrating common mistakes to avoid.


Moderator: Chuck Flink

Case Study Session A:

Raleigh Southern Gateway Study: A Vision for Transforming a close-in Suburban Corridor
Larry Zucchino, FASLA | Principal, JDavis Architects + Don Bryson | Principal Engineer, VHB Engineering

The Southern Gateway Study in Raleigh focuses on two automobile-oriented corridors that have historically served commuter traffic more effectively than the needs of the surrounding communities. Although this close-in corridor provides an iconic view of Raleigh’s skyline, the land uses are dated and underperforming as a vital urban district.

The study investigated a series of strategic steps the City could take to help this area share in the robust growth the rest of Raleigh has enjoyed. Planning for revitalization provides a context for crafting appropriate transportation and transit enhancements that support the repositioning of land uses while ensuring long-term, multimodal access and mobility for local and regional travel. The presentation summarizes urban design strategies that leverage public infrastructure investment with key privately developed mixed-use districts.

Gwinnet Way
Eric Bishop | Senior Associate, Perkins+Will

The presentation will capture in brief the culmination of over ten years of planning efforts into a vision setting forward Gwinnett County’s transit future. The project’s focus was to distill a vast array of studies, plans, and community desires into a single graphically rich vision to capture the imagination of the citizens of Gwinnett. The vision distills and amplifies the desires and personality of the community, generating an identity through a branded public realm.

Case Study Session B:

When a Train Comes to Town: Plans to redevelop a convalescing shopping center into a TOD enclave
Tobe Holmes | Director of Planning and Development, University City Partners

The Shoppes at University Place will soon be adjacent to not only UNC-Charlotte and the city’s second largest employment center – but also a new transit station and an 800-space parking garage with ground floor retail on the station platform. Described by the professionals who have studied it as “the hole in the doughnut,” a design effort was waged toward the redevelopment of this 150-acre center into downtown University City. The resulting plan focuses on creating a more complete road system, building reorientation and broadening the mix of uses while maintaining a flexibility necessary to respect ever changing market dynamics.

Autonomous Vehicles: Tomorrow’s Technologies Today
Jeff Barghout | CEO, Robocist

Safety, congestion and the associated expense are considered significant issues with today’s road-transportation system. According to the U.S. DOT, in 2014, 32,675 people died in motor vehicle crashes with an estimated annual economic cost of $242 billion and an additional $594 billion in associated costs from the loss of life and pain / decreased quality of life due to injuries. In the same year, due to congestion, Americans spent an extra 6.9 billion hours traveling and purchased an extra 3.1 billion gallons of fuel – costing $160 billion and releasing approximately 60 billion pounds of CO2 emissions into the environment.

Autonomous and connected vehicle technologies offer the hope of improved safety and efficiency. Evolving at an explosive pace, these technologies are already commercially available with varying degrees of capability.  This program will provide an overview of the technology, its implications and real-world examples of implementation.


Moderator: Robby Layton

Case Study Session A:

Wetrock Farm and an Edible Roof – Farm to Table [Sub]Urban Agriculture at Differing Scales
Michael Batts, PLA, ASLA | Manager of Landscape Architecture, STEWART + Scott Simmons, PLA | Landscape Architect, STEWART

The quality of agricultural food production and its proximity to the consumer have long been issues in the discussion of how society deals with population health, economic health, social equity and environmental stewardship.

In Durham, NC, the Wetrock project creates community centered around the idea of [sub]urban agriculture and includes a local farm to provide direct access to organic, safe and nutritious produce. Wetrock Farm locates the farm in a low-density sustainable neighborhood in Northern Durham.

Currently in the planning stages, the Low Impact Development community will consist of 140 home sites varying in size from a tenth of an acre to 1 acre. The existing site’s farmland will remain as open space for the neighborhood. 8.5-acres will be a professionally managed organic farm that will provide residents with food grown in their own neighborhood. There are also plans for a 5-acre vineyard. The farm will be the main amenity of the community. This model of development has been described as an ‘agri-hood’. Once residents have received their share of food, the remaining fruits and vegetables will be sold at the on-site farm stand, as well as to local restaurants and farmers’ markets.  In addition, the Organic Farm can become a resource for local educational institutions to perform research and host education programs. Other neighborhood amenities will include community garden plots, picnic shelters, recreation areas and an extensive trail system.

Stormwater Amenities – Leveraging the Value of Stormwater
Hunter Freeman | Stormwater Architect, WithersRavenel

As design standards for stormwater management devices have evolved in North Carolina, typical development strategies tended to focus solely on function rather than form. However, as land costs increased in the region, the land area occupied by unattractive engineered stormwater treatment systems became increasingly costly to the overall bottom line. One way to increase the return on land use is to turn stormwater treatment systems into public amenities.

This presentation will focus on three case studies where compliance with stormwater regulations was achieved in concert with creating attractive public spaces with multiple sustainable benefits. The scope of the presentation will touch on green streets, parks, and private development and the connection between stormwater management, water conservation, placemaking, and community planning.

Case Study Session B:

Designing Communities and Public Parks to Improve Health
Teresa Penbrooke, CPRE | CEO, GreenPlay

The evidence is now clear that having access to public parks, recreation, and trails in suburban, urban, and rural communities helps improve health through access to nature, increased physical activity, better social/psychological engagement, and enhanced economic benefits. The global question is shifting from not IF they help, but HOW best to design and manage these public assets, given continued limited resources and funding. This session will provide an overview of a national Delphi Study of how 17 public agencies are prioritizing and addressing modifiable health factors, the tools, community design elements, and processes they are using, and outcomes being achieved. Case studies will be included to highlight methods that are working.

The STAR Guide: Design Guidance for Walking and Biking in Small Town and Suburban Contexts
John Cock | Vice President of Planning. Alta Planning + Design

Explore the new FHWA-endorsed guide for Small Town and Rural (STAR) Multimodal Networks, the multi-modal street design guide focused on the smaller scale places left out of more urban guides such as the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide and ITE Walkable Urban Thoroughfares report. Learn from this idea book for smaller communities, including suburban areas, with visualizations and guidance for contemporary walking and biking facilities. Based in FHWA and AASHTO guidance, the guide applies a flexible design approach to creating more comfortable places for walking and biking in small town and suburban contexts. This session will feature detailed design guidance for rural-oriented facility types, and examples from peer communities. The guide development is funded in part by the Federal Highway Administration and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.  Alta is leading the technical work for the design guidelines in partnership with the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the Small Urban and Rural Livability Center at Western Transportation Institute (WTI).

Moderator: Mary-Ann Baldwin

Case Study Session A:

Conflicts in context: a suburban retrofit through form based coding
Tony Sease | Principal, Civitech, Inc.  

In 2014 the Town of Chapel Hill adopted a form-based code to retrofit a suburban district with the aim of increasing economic development through an expanded tax base while creating a vibrant, walkable ‘second downtown.’ The code was crafted based on a small area plan adopted in the preceding few years through an extensive public process. Since the code’s adoption, several projects have been launched eliciting substantial public outcry in part due to differing expectations relative to apparent and actual outcomes.

This case study presentation describes current processes underway to make ‘refinements’ to the code while exploring representative conflicts in these types of suburban transformations – disciplinary conflicts between design and planning; contextual conflicts between a suburban past/present and an urban present/future; agentive conflicts between public and private interests where so much of the focus must be on shaping the public realm; and conflicts in expectations accentuated through the incremental transformations of an already developed, low-density district to something fundamentally different in character, form, and function.

The Nexton Commercial Corridor: Creating an Urban Core within a Suburban Context
Norman Brody | Director of Commerical Development, WestRock Land & Development

At Nexton, WestRock has brought together the best local and national talent to create a new model for town building. One that weaves together, housing options, offices, hospitality and commercial space to form a tight-knit community connected by parks and trails and by cutting edge technology. Where the community itself plays an active support role for businesses, residents and visitors. Improving productivity. Simplifying and enriching everyday life. And where everything about the place is designed to help people feel more connected. In 2015, Nexton was recognized by the Charleston Home Builders Association as “Best New Community of the Year” and in September, 2016, Nexton was honored as Best Community in the Post & Courier’s Charleston’s Choice Awards. The presentation will outline the planning and commitment by the development team that resulted in the community recognition it has received.

Case Study Session B:

Serving the Food Desert
Rick Bousquet, AIA | Principal, Liollio Architecture

A food desert was created in suburban North Charleston SC due to a decline in a  number of economic and social factors. This presentation will explain how this area of North Charleston was once a bustling suburban part of the city and describe its decline and how a “food desert” was created. From this history, we will explain how a solution is created to replace a large vacant parcel of land with a planned development that will help supplement the necessary population required to support a community grocery store. The presentation will describe the team effort required to design this environment. It will also discuss key elements of the development, such as mass transit ties, and security and safety needs, to make the grocery store a success for the community.

Food is a Flexible Toolkit: Piloting Urban Agriculture at North Hills
Erin White | Principal, Community Food Lab

This talk will present the opportunities and challenges of creating new urban agriculture projects in existing suburban commercial environments. It will focus on an ongoing Community Food Lab pilot project to bring urban agriculture into the North Hills mixed use retail development and will also share key principles of using farms and gardens as flexible, multiple-benefit interventions in existing suburban mixed use developments.

Urban agriculture includes a wide range of project types that have different capacities to add local economic activity, community vitality, positive health outcomes, and sense of place to any environment. Because of urban agriculture’s typically flexible planning needs and direct positive impact on adjacent activity, it is particularly well suited for strategic interventions into existing suburban commercial development to address any number of developer or community challenges. This pilot project explores exactly these opportunities through the design and implementation of a system of urban agriculture projects.

Moderator: Paul Lipchak

Case Study Session A:

Repositioning: Discovering Opportunities in Forgotten Places
Michael Wagner | Architect, Gensler + Chad Parker | Principal and Managing Director, Gensler

As architects and designers, we’re not always given a clean slate. Most projects come with constraints, imposed by building codes, zoning conditions, environmental considerations, budgets. But the challenges become exponentially more complex when the starting point is an existing building. This is also where authentic, entirely unique opportunities can emerge, if approached with a level of curiosity and creativity. 

Repositioning is a more natural evolution in urban conditions, where building stock often bears the elegance of older construction methods. But the challenges are more extreme in a suburban context, where the quality of construction is not always aligned with the goals of reuse, and the scale and intensity of use are not always in the service of good, active spaces.

Three recent Gensler projects confront all of these issues in dramatically different ways. With 801 N. West Street, the challenge was how to convert an old, dilapidated prefabricated warehouse into an inspiring new office space. At Gateway, the client asked how to take a dated suburban strip mall and vast parking field and transform it into a thriving neighborhood center of activity with a diversity of uses without drastically modifying any of the architecture. And at Frontier, the client posed a similar challenge but with a very different audience: Convert a 1970’s-era suburban corporate campus into a destination for tech entrepreneurs, and imbue it with a sense of excitement and discovery. With each project, the design solutions balanced the universal list of constraints found on every project with a creative vision rooted in tapping into both the human experience and extracting what’s special about each of these spaces.

Reinventing Suburban Multifamily
Mack Paul | Partner, Morningstar Law Group + Shoff Allison | Principal, Hawthorne Residential & Retail Partners

Most of the recent multifamily redevelopment projects outside the urban core have involving complete replacement of existing building stock with larger, more expensive housing. The result has displaced thousands of low income residents to ex-urban markets.  Hawthorne Residential based in Charlotte is redeveloping an 80 acre inner-suburban site with 1970s era, Class D apartments. Hawthorne’s development program includes renovating the 600 existing units, including adding connections for washer and dryer and other improvements, significantly changing the site infrastructure with street interconnectivity, sidewalks and streetscape and construction of a public park in partnership with the City of Raleigh, including a new connection to the City greenway.  

Case Study Session B:

Context, Culture, and Community – Placemaking and Design in Civic Buildings

Jennifer Charzewski, AIA | Principal, Liollio Architecture

The Broad River Road Corridor on the north side of Columbia, SC and the West Ashley Savannah Highway Corridor in Charleston, SC share a similar uncomfortable familiarity to anyone who has driven a suburban highway – visually cluttered with signage, aging infrastructure, fast food, service stations, car dealerships, and strip malls. In Columbia, the St. Andrews Library is hidden in plain sight – too easily missed by traffic zooming past. Identified by users as an opportunity to be a catalyst for change and a beacon in the neighborhood, the design approach inverts both the existing condition (parking in front) and the traditional approach to outdoor space at libraries (quiet, sequestered, reading garden). Project resources are funneled into site design, urban response, and providing a community garden that surrounds the library to the street edge. Open to all rather than reserved for few, the green oasis of the project is meant to both enhance the visibility of the library in the sea of hardscape and spark the “greening” of the Corridor.

In Charleston, the new Fire Station #11 is one of the first civic projects overlapping with a targeted effort defined as West Ashley Revitalization. This presentation will walk through the community engagement processes, contextual analysis, design thinking, and challenges encountered in both of these civic projects which are unfolding as early steps in suburban revitalization and placemaking.

Instructional Outdoor Learning Environments on School Sites
Carla Delcambre | Teaching Assistant Professor, NC State University College of Design  
This session focuses on the educational benefits of instructional Outdoor Learning Environments (OLEs) on suburban public school sites in Wake County. Environmental curriculum based resources exist through the Department of Public Instruction, but most suburban Title 1 schools lack the resources and the knowledge to implement such environments on their school sites. The U.S. Department of Education provides Title 1 schools financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards. Topics covered in this session include community engagement, design and implementation, educational benefits, and applied learning strategies.  The educational purpose of this session is to expose attendees to suburban Title 1 schools in Wake County Public School System that are implementing OLEs to teach STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics outside the classroom. The findings of this study highlight the effectiveness of implementing OLEs to better understand how teaching can happen outdoors through a lens of applied learning. Evidence shows children have a better attitude and knowledge of the subject matter if exposed to OLEs at school.