The Burlington File, which serves as the case study for the book Suburban Transformations, defines new ways of transforming edge city-like conditions and their suburban contexts into more sustainable and livable communities over time. The central premise of this book is that the identity of a rich and memorable place emerges over time, resulting from the interaction of natural and man-made forces, where often traces of past interventions are still evident. While the lives of many suburbs are still young and emerging, the tendency of our culture to “erase” the natural landscape and all vestiges of past constructions does not allow communities to develop unique identities.
The town of Burlington, located on the perimeter of greater Boston along Route 128, is recognized as a major node for retail, businesses, and institutions. While its population officially registers 23,000, more than 120,000 people work in, live in, or visit the Burlington Mall area each day. Its development pattern is typical of most edge cities, anchored by a major mall, cluttered with office parks, sprinkled with seemingly randomly positioned strip malls and carpeted by immense parking lots.
This case study uses the “open design matrix,” a process described in the book, which is open to time and the multitude of forces and stakeholders in the community. Through an extensive mapping process, the historic and contemporary forces that operate on the site can be better understood. This analysis, when combined with a reading of the community’s mandate, can be synthesized to generate new scenarios for a community’s transformation. These computer-generated transformations are depicted as “film clips” and illustrate a step-by-step transformation, allowing for testing of multiple options before actually committing resources. Dynamic and flexible, these processes allow communities to adjust and re-calibrate their designs over time, as circumstances change.