By Carolyn Weber. Southern California's post war boom created housing, jobs, and, of course, strip malls. Although they were convenient, these quick stops were never aesthetically pleasing and are situated on valuable land. The Planning Center of Costa Mesa, Calif., has a plan to turn around the area's aging commercial strips by converting them to "suburban villages." Originally submitted to a regional governments livable communities design competition in Orange County, the idea involves converting sites on arterial highways with blighted strip malls and big-box sites into mixed-use communities to include offices, shops, single-family homes, apartments, and open space.

The Center predicts that the conversions will create opportunities for local jurisdictions to enliven their tax bases and respond to the pressing need for affordable housing in Southern California. "We are all trying to figure out how to accommodate the next wave of development here," says the Planning Center's director of community development services Melani Smith.

The group has already identified about 700 sites in Orange County that are under-performing and ripe for this kind of re-development. Smith says that the response to the concept from cities and developers has been staggering: "It presents opportunities to find land in communities that seem to be built out."

A concept rendering of The Planning Center's "suburban village" model illustrates the pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use communities it hopes to design. The residential components of the "suburban villages" will be very site specific with different density and configurations for each situation.