How to Build Smarter Suburbs

Can we make housing developments fit the land, rather than fight it?

Every minute, two acres of open land in the US are bulldozed to make way for development. That’s more than a million acres each year, the approximate area of Grand Canyon National Park. Someday, our only reminder of open spaces may be in bucolic-sounding street names.

Unless, that is, the methods of Randall Arendt, a landscape planner based in Rhode Island, catch on. Arendt designs housing developments that fit the land, rather than the other way around. He begins by taking note of a property’s unique features: old-growth trees, streams, scenic vistas. Then he places homes on smaller-than-average, clustered lots in order to maintain those features, sometimes preserving three-quarters of a site for a community commons. One of Arendt’s current projects, a 200-home development in upstate New York, aims to preserve 1,700 acres of contiguous green space on 2,000 total acres; a traditional developer would save none. Clustered houses save on infrastructure expenses, and property values benefit from views and perks like bike trails and wildlife corridors.