3. Urban Forms In Edge City
“The town consists mostly of three building types – office parks which constitute the work place, shopping centers which make up the market place, and large residential Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) which provide the dwelling place.” (Kelbaugh, p. 28)
As noted above, Edge Cities perform all of the functions traditionally associated with urban areas. Again, we may refer to the seven qualities specified by Joel Garreau in Edge City. However, among those seven are three “big draws”: work, home, and civic life.
Jobs are the most important magnets to draw people to Edge Cities. Since the “computer revolution” of the early nineteen eighties, the “back office” absorbed most of the new, large corporate jobs, what architect, Peter Calthorpe called “the new sweat-shop of the post-industrial economy.” (Kelbaugh, p. 9) Meanwhile, a new breed of small, high technology companies was born. These have located themselves almost exclusively in Edge City, as developers were quick to cater to their needs with low-rent, multi-tenant office complexes. A tremendous number of service jobs were created in everything from food service to maintenance to support this corporate growth. The emergence of the million-square-foot mall, too, has brought literally thousands of new jobs to each Edge City. Every day, people commute from the old city center to edge city, and vice versa.
It is important to not confuse the World War II era suburb with what is now being called Edge City. While it is true that there are still a good many people living in suburbs dictated by the Federal Housing Administration’s 1938 Minimum Property Standards code, there is a popular alternative. The idea of the Planned Unit Development allows for more dense construction within non densely zoned areas. Condominiums and townhouses have become extremely viable alternatives to the “white-bread” suburb.
Edge City housing still relies on single-family homes for those families with children, but the more desired quarters for the middle-class family is a genuine small-town home. With the spread of Edge City around many small towns, there has been a boom of building homes and subdivisions that are not in the strict FHA-MPS tradition. Architects, contrary to their own opinions, are not the only ones who dislike “ticky tacky” suburbs: middle-class families want real houses in real towns. Increasingly, too, they are getting these homes.
Many workers, though, neither need nor desire a single family home. Married couples composed just 27 percent of the new households formed in the 80s. (Kelbaugh, vii) An astonishing 51 percent of households were single or elderly people, and these people traditionally do not desire a separate house. Rather, they want easy maintenance, a “communal” atmosphere, and low rent. In short, they want Planned Unit Developments. Here, developers are free to share walls between units, plan for community areas, and even charter organizations to arrange for the care of the grounds. These can be built at lower cost than a “neighborhood” of single-family homes, and can be easily rented. These townhouse or condominium developments are the archetypal Edge City houses. The suburbs still have a place, but it is a shrinking one.
3.3 Social Life
Edge Cities offer their citizens much more than home and work. There are many opportunities for rich civic life, perhaps even more than in the old cities. Since housing and schooling is often situated in “real” small towns, the new suburbanites have the opportunities to enjoy “all the comforts of home” as it were. The emergence of the shopping mall as a civic center opens up new opportunities as well.
It is important here to remember the distinction between an Edge City and a “real” one. That is, Edge Cities are cities of the mind, existing mainly in the mental maps of those who live there. “Real” cities and towns will continue to exist wherever they have been, and are integrated into the fabric of the new larger cities. As Ebenezer Howard saw, towns offer much in the way of civic life and amenities, and these will surely not be forgotten. Those who do have children will still enroll them in local schools and still vie for positions on school boards, town governments, and social groups. The only difference is in the choices these people have with regard to work and consumer activities. No longer will residents of a certain town be restricted to working and shopping in that town. Instead, family-oriented Edge City dwellers choose a town for their home in which they want to live as long as it is within 45 minutes of their place of work.
The main change is the shift in retail focus from the old downtown storefront to that in the regional shopping mall. This shift can be troublesome, though. Without the tax base of retail (and commercial) activity, towns will have to raise taxes on those who actually reside in their borders. Also, malls are typically oriented toward chain stores. It is difficult for a local storeowner to find a place in a large mall, though some have made the move. A more realistic step is the creation of “shopping centers”, strips of stores that share a common wall and lie along major roads outside the town center. Like malls, shopping centers can provide “ample free parking” to attract auto-bound shoppers, yet still keep rents low enough for individual stores.
Malls, though, are the king of Edge City. Regional malls often offer much more than just shopping for their visitors. Some have banks, restaurants, clubs, daycare centers, and even amusement parks to attract customers. Malls always offer plenty of parking, easy access, and ample security, and, being private enterprises, are incredibly responsive to market demands. Through this all, it is important to remember that malls take the place only of the old, outdated Central Business Districts, not the entire center city. One cannot expect a private operator to provide all of the services offered from a town center. Malls do what brings in customers, not necessarily what people need from a city.
The importance of the emergence of Edge City cannot be understated. Like it or not, it is the direction in which the entire world is headed. Barring the loss of private transportation modules, nothing will stop the spread of the city over vast geographic distances. Already, perhaps before it has even been largely noticed, Edge City is the most populous sector of American society. Many other countries have developed Edge Cities, too. Some are even based on public transportation. Modernization leads to reliable mechanized transportation that itself leads to Edge City.