What Should Be Done with America’s “Zombie Subdivision”?

Snap1A multimillion-dollar bridge to nowhere. A lone fire hydrant standing in the stalled-out ruin of what was once the “most underwater” development in America, not far from an abandoned, landlocked boat. An empty street with overgrown sidewalks, built for a neighborhood that was to be called Hearth and Home. Are these deeply ironic images taken from some dystopian film? Nope! These are scenes from the present-day USA, where developers built up the infrastructure for hundreds of neighborhoods that were left unfinished after the housing bubble burst, to linger on as “zombie subdivisions.”

By now, this is familiar picture all over the world, but CityLab has a very informative recent piece (with awesomely depressing photos) on how communities like Stockton California—where the few occupants of one ghost suburb worry about the “drag racers and bikers” that come to “cruise around the empty streets or party in the tall grass”—are struggling to find something to do with these unfinished developments.

Many of these some zombie subdivisions have a few residents living in houses that were actually finished, meaning local governments have to waste money providing services where property taxes are far lower than expected. Many of these non-neighborhoods are likely to lie fallow for a long time, especially if the current generation’s desire for walkable communities continues.

There are some hopeful cases. In Maricopa, Arizona, the city connected a stalled-out developer with a Catholic church looking to build somewhere that already had water and infrastructure services. In a Teton County, Idaho development called Canyon Creek Ranch, the plans were changed from a resort to a community project with far fewer lots, “shrinking the infrastructure price tag by 97 percent and reducing the environmental impacts.” In Ocean Shores, Washington, what was planned as a dozen condo buildings has been auctioned off to a developer with a more “village-like vision,” looking to create a “mixed-use, walkable neighborhood with small single-family detached cottages, retail and bike paths.”

But even when developers want to change course, zoning laws often make it difficult for them. It doesn’t help that many of these areas are far from public transportation, and have occupants opposed to the development of retail spaces or apartments. Not long ago, you gave us some very, erm, colorful ideas for what to do with America’s empty prisons. So how ’bout it, commenters? Anyone have a fix for the zombie subdivision?

Written by Spencer Peterson in Curbed.

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