Professor Dunham-Jones Receives National Book Award for 'Case Studies in Retrofitting Suburbia'

Great Places Award graphic; June Williamson and Ellen Dunham-Jones
Graphic: EDRA | Photo: Ellen Dunham-Jones


The 2021 Great Places Award for books has Georgia Tech written all over it. Georgia Tech MSUD director Ellen Dunham-Jones received the award for "Case Studies in Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Strategies for Urgent Challenges". Dunham-Jones' co-writer, City College of New York architecture chair June Williamson, is a former visiting assistant professor at Georgia Tech.

Presented by the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA), in partnership with Project for Public Spaces, the Great Places Awards uniquely recognize work that combines expertise in design, research, and practice, and contributes to the creation of dynamic, humane places that capture the public imagination. These projects reflect an interdisciplinary approach that is enduring, human-centered, sustainable, and concerned with the experiential relationship between people and their environment (built and natural) over time.

In selecting Case Studies in Retrofitting Suburbia, the book award jury cited the impressive range of problem identification and geographic distribution within the extensive list of relevant case studies. They said, “this research is a solid follower of the authors’ first book, "Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs", and offers indispensable approaches for an interdisciplinary design audience.”

The book’s diverse case studies connect strategic physical changes to demographic and socioeconomic changes throughout the suburbs of northern America. Established suburbs largely built for young white families are more likely to be populated today by older white faces and younger faces of color. The middle class—long understood as the engine of suburban growth—has shrunk. Rich suburbs have gotten richer and poor suburbs have gotten poorer such that today’s suburbs are more diverse than ever, but also highly segregated.

The shopping centers, office parks, garden apartment complexes, and highway strip corridors of the past are aging and changing, too. Many of these failed and failing properties are being redeveloped into more “urban” places. Some are being regreened, providing ecological repair with green infrastructure, reconstructed wetlands, or parks. Others are being reinhabited with new, more community-serving uses and social infrastructure.

Dunham-Jones' research has led to numerous speaking invitations, including: Portsmouth Smart Growth, CNU 29, the International Making Cities Livable, Rails-to-Trails Future Council, Cape Cod Commission, Environments for Aging, AARP CA, Innovative Housing Summit, Realty Resources, Lambda Alpha International, ULI NWA/OKC, OR/WA APA, and Pensacola CivicCon. She is the host of Redesigning Cities, a podcast series dedicated to presentations and conversations between leading urbanists that address 21st Century urban challenges.

The award was presented at the 23rd Annual Great Places Awards celebration held online during EDRA52 on May 23, 2021.

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