Infill development - redeveloping underused land in existing urban areas - can revitalize communities, improve transportation, and protect the environment. In communities across the country, infill development projects are creating healthier, vibrant neighborhoods.
Kendall Yards: Spokane, Washington
Kendall Yards in Spokane transformed an 80-acre railyard into a sustainable, walkable community.
Formerly known as West Spokane Yard, the property was once home to a busy steam engine maintenance facility, miles of track, a roundhouse, fuel storage, refueling facilities, etc. West Spokane Yard remained a bustling hub until the 1950s, when the shift from steam to diesel locomotives transformed the industry. Constrained by neighborhoods on one side and the river on the other, West Spokane Yard could not accommodate the growth it would take to embrace newer diesel technologies. Union Pacific abandoned West Spokane Yard in 1955.
The site was identified as a "brownfield," an unused property with high environmental contamination due to the dangerous coal ash buried on the site and fuel leaking into the soil.
The process of revitalizing the old railyard took some time to build up steam. The property was purchased in 1990 and then changed hands in 2004 when developer Marshall Chesrown rebranded the site as "Kendall Yards".
Chesrown worked with the EPA Brownfields program and Ecology's Voluntary Cleanup Program to clean up the site so the developer could transform it into land for parks and housing. They completed the cleanup in 2006, and the first housing units hit the market in 2012.
Old Town: Wichita, Kansas
Old Town Wichita revitalized warehouses and a light industrial district into a successful mixed-use neighborhood.
Old Town’s warehouses were originally used for retail and storage along the old train lines but were abandoned when the freight industry shifted from rail to interstate trucking. Vacancy rates once reached 70% and historic buildings were boarded up.
Old Town, a 20-block neighborhood in Downtown Wichita, is now a thriving mixed-use neighborhood full of brick-lined streets, loft residences, public plazas, and dining and entertainment establishments.
Revitalizing Old Town Wichita wasn’t quick or easy.
Community leaders began discussions to bring back the area back in the 1970s. In 1991, groundwater contamination was found. 5 years later, after cleanup was complete and improvements were made, developers built the first mixed-use residential project in Old Town. More condos and apartments followed, and a historic building was redeveloped into a hotel.
Today, the revitalization of Old Town has continued its success. In 2008, the American Planning Association named Old Town one of the 10 Great Neighborhoods of that year. It is now home to more than 130 businesses and property values have grown more than six-fold since 1992. A proposal to bring Amtrak passenger service between Wichita and Oklahoma City is under consideration, which would bring Wichita’s history full circle with the train once again part of the city’s identity.
McClellan Business Park: Sacramento, California
For over 60 years, McClellan Air Force Base was one of Sacramento’s largest employers. In 1995, the air base and logistics center was closed, resulting in the loss of 11,600 jobs and over $1.5 billion annually.
Today, McClellan has been revitalized into McClellan Business Park, a growing business enclave that is home to hundreds of private companies and state, local, and federal agencies. A private airport, conference center, hotel, and Aerospace Museum join the 200+ private and public corporate employers on the 16 million square foot development.
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Lowry: Denver, Colorado
Denver’s Lowry Air Force Base was established in 1937 and trained more than 55,000 men annually for WWII combat. Lowry continued to serve the Air Force until it was closed in 1994.
The 1,900-acre site was planned as a mixed-use, master planned development consisting of tree-lined boulevards, residential streets, offices, and commercial space known simply as “Lowry”.
Lowry was completed in 2009 and is now one of Denver’s premier neighborhoods - and a national model of sustainable development. More than 25,000 people live, work, and go to school there. The community includes homes, schools and colleges, nonprofit organizations, and more than 100 employers.
The Belmont Dairy: Portland, Oregon
On two city blocks in Portland, OR, lies the former location of a dairy built in 1929. In 1995, the property was purchased and a plan was made to create the first large-scale infill development project in Portland’s business district.
The site was not without challenges. It included 15 underground storage tanks containing gasoline and heating oil that had leaked and more than 60-miles of asbestos-wrapped pipes that needed remediation.
The Belmont Dairy project features high-density apartments built above ground-floor commercial storefronts; both offices and retail stores have no setback from the wide, tree-lined sidewalks, creating a pleasant pedestrian experience. Easy bus and bike access to downtown give residents maximum mobility, and customers can either walk or drive to an anchor grocery store.
Market-rate live/work lofts were built above the renovated commercial space in the existing industrial building, while affordable units are incorporated in new construction.
The completed infill project is a 141,000-square-foot, transit-oriented mixed-use building on two city blocks in southeast Portland. Today, the development features 85 apartments built atop street-level retail stores, including a restaurant, a hair salon, and a 20,000-square-foot grocery.
The project was constructed as a "green" development and incorporates recycled materials, water-saving shower heads, extra insulation, and skylights. In addition, more than 90% of the construction debris on the Belmont Dairy site was recycled.
The Railyards: Sacramento, California
The nation’s largest infill development project is underway in Sacramento, CA at a 244-acre site that was once the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.
The site continues to house a major transportation hub, the Sacramento Valley Station, and will soon be a dynamic mixed-use, transit-oriented development.
The Sacramento shop yards once employed thousands of employees in the central shops. Today, eight shop buildings remain. These historic buildings will be preserved and repurposed by the same architectural team responsible for San Francisco’s Ferry Building. The Central Shops will be transformed into a 500,000 square foot retail district with eateries, entertainment, art galleries, retail shops, a central plaza, and an expansion to the State Railroad Museum.
Kaiser Permanente is bringing a state-of-the-art, 1.2 million square foot medical center campus to the Railyards.
The AJ, the first mixed-use residential project at The Railyards, is under construction and now taking sign-ups for its interest list. The six-story mixed-use project includes 303 residential units, including 61 affordable apartments, on top of 3,800 of first-floor retail space.
Urban Infill Development is Smart Growth
Infill development is a smart growth strategy that cities can deploy for healthier, more vibrant, and economically successful communities. Infill can stop urban sprawl, decrease reliance on vehicle transportation, reduce the environmental impact of development, and strengthen local economies.
Editor's Note: This post was published in 2018 and has been updated in 2023 to include other exciting urban infill developments.