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With limits on sprawl, urban redevelopment key to healthy future here

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Former Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut III said that with areas in San Diego and elsewhere increasingly built out, redevelopment is the key to our future.

"We are living in the re-century, where restorative development is as important as new development," Hudnut said during an Urban Land Institute meeting at the Manchester Grand Hyatt this week.

Hudnut said that a total of $214 billion was spent on residential remodeling and additional work nationally last year. He said that accounted for about 40 percent of the construction market, and expects it will push toward the 50 percent mark as the decade wears on.

Hudnut warned that for a city to succeed, it must protect what he refers to as its "first tier suburbs."

Hudnut visited some 80 cities around the country for his book, "Halfway to Everywhere: A Portrait of America's First Tier Suburbs."

According to Hudnut, first tier suburbs are areas that get forgotten when budgets are drafted. As in the case of Cleveland suburb Euclid, Ohio, -- of the $40 million that was supposed to come from the Ohio Department of Transportation for infrastructure, only $125,000 made it into Euclid. Not only that, Hudnut says in his book that the $125,000 was the only money Euclid had received in three state capital budgets that totaled $44.6 billion.

"They were lost on the radar screen," Hudnut said.

Hudnut, who suggested that the same thing can happen within city boundaries if neighborhoods are forgotten, said while Euclid isn't Cleveland, the decline of one community can damage a neighbor as well as itself. These forgotten communities have commonalities.

"They're all centrally located, many are on public transportation routes, but that doesn't guarantee their success," Hudnut said.

This is not to say that public transportation doesn't help. Hudnut, who took note of San Diego's light rail system, said Denver and Dallas have benefited from bringing light rail out to their suburbs.

Hudnut said even if light rail riderships are small at the outset, they are an integral part of what makes a complete city that ultimately connects smart villages together.

Increasingly, mixed-use projects, often with retail on the bottom and condominiums up top, are becoming the norm. Many of these in downtown San Diego are being built walking distance to the trolley.

"Urban mixed-use is regaining favor in the eyes of developers and lenders," Hudnut said.

Convinced that redevelopment is the key to keeping the city going, Hudnut said that it may be necessary to raise taxes to keep a plan afloat. He concedes this may be unpopular -- he lost a statewide race over this stance -- but said it is the truth.

"It requires political backbone," he said. "We (in Indianapolis) were fortunate to have a strong city with a strong-mayor system of government. This is important. What if I weren't able to fire my police chief?" Hudnut continued.

Hudnut's book acknowledges that first tier suburbs cannot be healthy without strong downtowns.

"Downtowns are going to become (if they aren't already) the social districts," Hudnut said. "You can't be a suburb of nothing."

Real estate consultant Gary London agrees with Hudnut in that redevelopment and infill are critical to San Diego's future.

"San Diego is changing. It spent most of its history growing out, now it is growing up," London said. "The debate is not over growing or not growing, but how we accommodate growth. Sixty percent or more of the growth (1 million more projected by the San Diego Association of Governments) within 30 years is due to natural increase."

London also said that redevelopment, and perhaps higher densities, needs to be brought to some of San Diego's older neighborhoods.

"We are redeveloping downtown, but how do we take older areas of our city to redevelop to accommodate growth?" London said.

D. Larry Clemens, Lennar Communities' vice president of community development, said if we assume that 1 million more people will be here by 2030, something on the order of 300,000 units will be needed. Lennar is co-developing a number of downtown San Diego condominium projects with Intergulf, a Canadian firm.

Clemens hopes that most of these needed units will be built closer in cities such as Temecula and Murrieta, but acknowledges that as long as there is a major affordability gap, the danger is there.

Clemens said as recently as the early 1990s, only 7,000 people were commuting here from Riverside County. That figure had climbed to 29,000 by 2002 and the numbers have continued to rise.

Meanwhile, infill development and redevelopment continues unabated. Even infill development opportunities have limits.

"A quarter of the infill land (in the city of San Diego) is already developed," Clemens said.

Clemens said the properties for this infill residential and mixed-use development may come from a variety of sources. These may include old retail sites, old government properties, or even old school sites that have been replaced with newer facilities elsewhere.

"We (developers) are agents of change. As land is constrained, the smart cities will be working with us on smart growth applications," Clemens said of projects that have residential, commercial and transit together.

That is the ideal, but Clemens knows that where people live, and where people work are often by necessity, not in proximity. That means people may go further and further away to find affordable housing. Today, even the far-flung bedroom communities of Temecula and Murrieta have become too expensive for many. Now, says Clemens, the Imperial County is the next affordable frontier.

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