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‘City’ living in the ‘burbs? Try an aging office park

By Katherine Shaver

The Washington Post

From the rooftop terrace of their new townhouse, Keisuke and Idalia Yabe take in their suburban Maryland neighborhood: a staid, 1970s-era office park of glass office buildings and concrete parking garages.

The Yabes say they have found the advantages of urban living in a shorter commute and the ability to walk to shopping centers and a park. They also have what feels like the best of suburbia — mature trees, plentiful parking, Bethesda’s sought-after schools and a more affordable mortgage.

From the Washington and New York suburbs to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, traditional corporate campuses that have struggled since the Great Recession are trying to transform from sterile worksites into vibrant mini-towns. In addition to housing, they’re adding restaurants, grocery stores, playgrounds and outdoor concert spaces — anything to draw people in and make them want to stay.

Although it might sound strange at first, the Yabes say, living in an office park feels convenient and even a bit hip.

“The location is ideal,” said Keisuke Yabe, 45, after returning from an evening walk with their 7-month-old daughter, Mela, just as the sun ducked behind a 14-story office building.

“For me, if anything, it’s ‘Oh, this is pretty cool,'” said Idalia Yabe, 38. “I think the office setting makes it seem like we’re in a city a bit more and not as much in the suburbs.”

For many suburban business centers, attracting residents such as the Yabes is a matter of survival.

Once an elite address for companies fleeing downtowns, suburban office parks have grown increasingly obsolete as businesses have scaled back on office space or returned to transit-rich cities to attract young professionals. Those reachable only by car or bus have been hit particularly hard. In Rock Spring Park, where the Yabes live, the office vacancy rate has hovered around 22 percent, compared with 15 percent across the rest of Montgomery…

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