before anything, what is urban infill?

Maybe you’ve heard the term before, maybe you haven’t. But in order to think clearly on a subject, we must define what urban infill is before we can explain its benefits.

Urban infill can be defined as the process of converting unused or underutilized parcels of land in urban areas back to residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, or mixed-use spaces for new construction. It’s a looking inward as a community, searching out already urban spaces to increase urban growth, rather than a looking outward, looking for more surrounding land to convert into an urban environment. The urban planners Edward McMahon and Robert Lewis coined the term urban infill in 1969 while writing about city density. Their definition of urban infill was different than how it is currently used, but they were still early to understand that urban sprawl would be bad for cities.

the damages of urban sprawl

The term “urban sprawl”  was coined by Jane Jacobs after she witnessed the destruction of her once beautiful neighborhood to make room for highways and shopping malls. Sprawl can lead to a number of problems for cities.

  • First, it often leads to the destruction of natural habitats and ecosystems as well as deforestation–all in an effort to build even more urban space.
  • It has consequences for the environment, such as water and air pollution.
  • It increases our dependency on cars. It limits the use of walking, biking, and public transportation to reach locations that get increasingly further apart. 
  • Increased dependency on cars leads to more traffic congestion as well as crash fatalities. 

Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.

shifting the paradigm

In order to avoid our own destruction, we must change how we look at urban spaces. Embracing urban infill a good first step in this process. Advantages include:

  • Increases the tax base, providing more resources to improve essential community services such as schools and police/fire protection.
  • It reduces sprawl by allowing development that occurs within existing communities rather than expanding outward into undeveloped land.
  • It encourages a sense of community by creating an urban core with accessible amenities (e.g., restaurants) all in close proximity to housing options.

Whoever you are–a member of local government; a homeowner or renter living in an established neighborhood; a community developers interested in more affordable housing options for low-income residents; or a real estate professional who wants to sell or rent properties at a faster rate than new construction–urban infill has touched your life and affects you in ways that have only recently become apparent.

In this space we’ll explore more ways of applying urban infill to our current predicament in the hopes of making it even more apparent. More soon.