Articles, Events, Thoughts and Resources on Sprawl Repair
Cataloged by Galina Tachieva


The Case for Putting Amazon’s HQ2 in the Suburbs

The land-use plan for the new Tysons (Fairfax County)

Amazon could turn a vast swath of suburbia into a walkable, transit-connected, mixed-use, and architecturally interesting satellite city. Such a project would prove transformational for whatever region it’s in. But it would also become a template—and an impetus—for many more such projects around the country. As the mother of all suburban retrofits, HQ2 could help rewrite land-use patterns that are environmentally wasteful and experientially banal. It could model a new kind of suburbia—one that younger Americans will actively want to live in, rather than just settle for.

Instead of exacerbating an affordable-housing crisis in a pricey urban center, Amazon could help build a model of an inclusive urban suburb.

One argument against a suburban HQ2 site is that it would fuel sprawl. But infill isn’t sprawl, and a locality could prevent the creep of subdivisions around HQ2 if it abided by smart land-use rules.

 

The urban renaissance is making only a small dent in it. So polycentric urbanism ought to be the goal in the 21st century.

Sprawl Repair – The next frontier in residential innovation

From the Sprawl Repair Manual: Left: Conventional single-use residential development. Right: The proposed sprawl repair provides maximum flexibility, a mix of uses, and a full range of human environments from rural to urban.

The Policy Watch section of the National Association of Home Builders’ quarterly magazine featured our new article on Sprawl Repair – The next frontier in residential innovation.

Changing demographics, retail trends and lifestyle choices are establishing a new frontier for Home builders interested in helping to transform our suburbs, with actions targeted toward establishing urban centers.

Home builders play a key role in delivering desirable, livable products and can remain competitive by leveraging existing infrastructure, location, and market needs to create value out of stranded real estate assets. By including housing within auto-centric commercial development, sprawl repair promotes economic diversity and vitality.

Form-based zoning is a necessary tool that the home building industry should know well and take advantage of. It enables options and flexibility to transform single-use parcels into more diverse and resilient urban nodes that accommodate different people, incomes, and ages, and serves the suburban population at large.

A suburban town revitalizes incrementally

Parsons Alley activates abandoned properties, creates a popular and lively new public place, and attracts businesses that appeal to young professionals.

“As downtowns and urban neighborhoods thrive across America, leaders and citizens outside city centers have begun to ask, “How do we reinvent the suburbs?” Moreover, how can this be done in an incremental way that doesn’t require a large transformative project? Major projects are hard to come by and are risky propositions.

Parsons Alley, the public-private redevelopment of a 3-acre infill site, offers answers in a small suburban city 10 miles northeast of Atlanta.

“Parsons Alley is serving as a true a catalyst for redevelopment and has already has sparked over a hundred million dollars of private residential projects within the downtown core,” notes James Riker, economic development director for the City.”

Can We Create A New Kind Of Downtown In Abandoned Suburban Offices?

Bell Labs Photo by Peter Dant Photography

Developer Ralph Zucker, of Somerset Development, is turning an iconic single-purpose masterwork by Eero Saarinen into a new kind of Downtown – a “metroburb” – in suburban Holmdel, NJ, one of the country’s wealthiest McMansion enclaves. The abandoned, historic Bell Labs created a huge problem for the town, but also huge opportunities. The project is a prime example of what can be accomplished through suburban sprawl retrofit, though the community is still resistant to full integration of diversified housing options.

“The town of Holmdel searched for buyers, but tenants in need of 2 million square feet of space were now rare; across New Jersey and the rest of America, sprawling suburban corporate complexes were being abandoned at an alarming rate for remote work or more urban headquarters.

When he first brought the plan for the metroburb to a Holmdel town hall, the response Zucker heard was, “Hell no.” People told him this was antithetical to the reason they moved to Holmdel, a sheltered, quiet place to raise their families. They didn’t want anything urban. What changed their minds, Zucker says, was an event he hosted at Bell Labs soon after touring the building in 2009: an open house wherein he projected shops and offices onto the walls of the old laboratory spaces, and hosted a pop-up gelato stand and a bar. The simulation of the space’s potential was so compelling, he says, that one woman smacked her head on a wall, thinking a projected hotel lobby was, in fact, the real thing. Still, though, it took until 2013 for Zucker to receive final approval from Holmdel for the purchase and to have the building rezoned as mixed-use; construction began not long after, and in the intervening years, Holmdel has largely embraced the development.”

Sears had a miserable, miserable Christmas

Sears Reuters-Mike Blake

“CEO Eddie Lampert said that its lenders and vendors must have a better outlook about the company’s future… and that negative outlook is putting Sears at a competitive disadvantage.

Lampert again insisted that the company is on course to turn a profit in 2018. But he also ominously warned that the company’s board will “consider all other options to maximize the value of Sears Holdings’ assets” if the company can’t refinance its debt.

Sears (SHLD) closed hundreds of stores last year, leaving it with just over 1,100. Last week it announced plans to close another 103 Kmart and Sears stores by April.”

Consider retrofitting the stores and malls through Sprawl Repair to save jobs, create livable communities and boost the investment returns.

Jobs everywhere! Except at stores

The retail meltdown is having the worst impact on the young, elderly, women and minorities hardest. According to the December Jobs Report:

“General merchandise stores, the segment that includes department stores, were hit the hardest, losing 90,300 jobs.

These job losses tend to hit the young, elderly, women and minorities the hardest. About 60% of department store employees are female, compared to 47% of workers overall. Minorities, the elderly and teenagers are also far more likely to find jobs in department and discount stores than they are elsewhere. Teenagers hold 8% of department store jobs, compared to 3% of jobs overall.

In 2017, 7,000 store closings were announced, a record that was more than triple 2016’s number. And the trend will undoubtedly continue in 2018. Sears Holdings (SHLD), owner of both Sears and Kmart, said Thursday it plans to close more than 100 additional stores.”

It is more important than ever to diversify our economy and opportunities through sprawl retrofits and mall repair that supports all of our citizens.

Here’s what could happen to America’s hundreds of dead malls

A Sears store inside the Woodbridge Center Mall in Woodbridge, New Jersey. Business Insider/Sarah Jacobs

It appears that the mall as we know it may be dead. Long live the retrofitted mall! New uses, new infill, new life for the king of the American consumerism. Read more about retrofit options that can boost an entire community from Leanna Garfield of the Business insider:

“More than 6,400 store locations have announced closures this year. In a recent report, analysts from Credit Suisse predicted that 20% to 25% of malls — about 220 to 275 shopping centers — would shutter over the next five years, largely because of store closures.

Malls of the future have an opportunity to fulfill other community needs besides commerce, June Williamson, an architecture professor at the City College of New

“The development climate of malls were driven less by demand and more by opportunity,” Williamson said. “As new centers get built, anchor stores are lured away, and a cannibalization process begins. … Only so many consumers are going to malls, and they will flock to newer ones. If developers build a new mall, they are inevitably undercutting another property. So older properties have to get repositioned every decade, or they will die.”

Closed department stores will most likely become other businesses that could benefit from the large square footage, such as fitness centers, churches, offices, public libraries, and even medical clinics, Williamson says.

Since most food courts have a lot of natural light, they could be used as gathering spaces for community groups or daycare centers if they closed down, Williamson says. Some food courts, however, are redeveloping into clusters of higher-priced restaurants.

Mall atriums are wide open spaces that can allow for events like concerts or fashion shows, or serve as car showrooms — all of which generate revenue, Williamson says.

Many dead retail spaces, Williamson says, will most likely morph into businesses that have community functions, such as apartments, public libraries, indoor farms, and refrigerated spaces for processing food for local restaurants or grocery stores.

Malls may increasingly turn their surface parking lots into space that emphasizes walking rather than driving.

Williamson describes ethnic malls as shopping centers that target a specific ethnic demographic in a community. She says this type of customized mall can thrive more than a traditional mall because it better meets local shoppers’ needs.

To subsidize regular retail shops, destination malls, also called super regional malls or lifestyle centers, use experiential attractions like movie theaters, bars, casinos, restaurants, rock climbing walls, laser tag, and even roller coasters.”

Learn more about Mall Retrofits in the Sprawl Repair Manual.

The Great Retail Retrofit

The abandoned Randall Park Mall in North Randall, Ohio Joshua Gunter/AP

Richard Florida describes how the “retail apocalypse” presents an opportunity to re-think and re-energize our communities in the wake of ongoing bankruptcies of chain stores, high-end retailers, suburban malls and metropolitan flagships. With hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, and more to come, Sprawl Repair presents a series of strategies for retrofitting communities at any scale.

“WeWork’s takeover of Lord & Taylor could be a good portent for urban economies. Work, not shopping, is the key to urban productivity and growth. … higher urban rents… are a function of higher urban productivity.

As talented people and high-paying jobs move back to cities, there is demand for more office space. But smaller companies and gig-economy workers need flexible coworking spaces that companies such as WeWork provide, and they need affordable living spaces as well. Both of these can be built in the shell of former retail spaces.

Educational and healthcare facilities, two land use types that are growing as retail shrinks, are a logical fit for these large, boxy spaces.

Mall retrofits can also help with resilience and sustainability efforts. Dunham-Jones and Williamson estimate that 10 such projects have been transformed into green infrastructure or parks.

Some of the most ambitious mall redevelopments are becoming mixed-use neighborhoods.

The Villa Italia Mall in Lakewood, Colorado, outside Denver, was almost completely demolished to make way for a new street grid lined with offices, arts facilities, parks, and residences, as well as new stores. The project is already generating four times the tax revenues that the old mall did.

Dunham-Jones and Williamson estimate that there as many as 650 mall retrofits in some phase of development across the country. From megachurches to indoor paintball parks, former malls and retail spaces are being converted to all manner of uses that better reflect the way we live.”

Westfield: Lowy family sells shopping centre empire to French property giant for $32 billion

The giant retail mall operator, Westfield, is being purchased by French property giant Unibail-Rodamco, to remain resilient in the face of the changing retail market. High-end markets remain their target. Agility and diversity will be key for retailers and their employees who continue to bear the burden of the changing retail climate. Communities that promote mixed-use mall repairs may have a chance to combat the sliding economy.

“The acquisition of Westfield is a natural extension of Unibail-Rodamco’s strategy of concentration, differentiation and innovation. It adds a number of new attractive retail markets in London and the wealthiest catchment areas in the United States.”

The Lowy family will retain control of Westfield’s retail technology platform, OneMarket, which will be spun off into a new company on the ASX, with Steven Lowy remaining as chairman.

Westfield Corporation runs 45 shopping centres and airport retail precincts in the US, UK and Italy, including the retail space in the new World Trade Centre in New York.

Retailers across the United States are in what appears to be terminal decline as shoppers abandon traditional bricks and mortar while the digital revolution lays waste to traditional shopping.

That, in turn, has begun to harm shopping malls as retailers have struggled to pay rents with many closing down their outlets.

Thousands of mall-based stores have shut their doors across the US this year, including stalwarts such as JC Penney, Macy’s, Sears and K-Mart reducing their physical footprint.

That, in turn, has begun to affect employment. Until as recently as two years ago, shopping malls were providing America with 200,000 extra jobs a year, but that trend has now suddenly reversed.

According to the latest Bureau of Labour Statistics, the retail industry has lost an average of 9,000 jobs a month this year. This time last year, malls provided jobs growth of around 17,000 a month.

Generation Z May Not Want To Own Cars. Can Automakers Woo Them In Other Ways?

Citi Bike users pedal through the streets of Manhattan. Some members of Generation Z, the younger generation following the millennials, are less inclined to own cars and lean more toward bike-sharing and ride-sharing services.
John Moore/Getty Images

Generation Z, the born between 1995 and 2012, and raised entirely within the digital age, are likely to mix things up even more than the Millennials. Gen Z-ers in more urban settings are even forgoing a traditional rite of passage: getting a driver’s license and then the car. Natalie Bettendorf, a Gen Z-er just coming of age, describes why she has no intention of getting a car. The Big Three U.S. automakers have taken notice, and ride-sharing applications are busy tracking the way we move. While rural areas of the country can’t easily be served by ride-sharing, Gen Z may be even more influential in pushing transit-oriented development and averting sprawl than Millennials.

“Ford started its own bike-sharing service recently. It wants to sell to people like me who have no interest in buying a car.

The Big Three U.S. automakers — Ford, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors — say they are no longer just automakers. Every major car company is trying to make a move, whether it’s car-sharing, ride-hailing or self-driving.

GM has a new car-sharing app called Maven that it’s betting billions on. “We needed to create a new brand because this is really about access and not necessarily ownership,” says Peter Kosak, executive director of urban mobility for Maven.

Millennials are starting to buy cars in big numbers, The Associated Press reported last year. They just had a late start — mostly because of the Great Recession. Could the same thing happen for Gen Z?”

Dollar General is opening 900 new stores next year

Contrary to the current Retail Meltdown from excessive retail outlets and online competition, the dollar store model – simplified offerings to meet basic needs, no-frills buildings or service, and continued investment in markets that show good returns – appears to be attractive to low- and high-income shoppers, as well as to investors. They fill a need, especially in more rural markets.

Dollar General is bucking the retail trend.

By the end of the year, more than three in four Americans will live within 5 miles of a Dollar General, the company noted on the call.

Shares of Dollar General (DG) have climbed 25% this year. Dollar Tree (DLTR), its top discount competitor, has risen 38%.

Dollar General has succeeded thanks to its lean business model, said GlobalData Retail analyst Neil Saunders. Its smaller stores sell cheap day-to-day essentials, especially in rural areas where it doesn’t make sense for Walmart or other large retailers to open up shop.

“The company [is] the closest and most convenient general merchant for millions,” said Saunders.

Sales were up 4.3% last quarter at stores that were open a year ago, a sign of retail health. Revenue last quarter ballooned to $5.9 billion — an 11% uptick from last year — in part from hurricane-related spending in Texas and Florida.

More middle income and affluent shoppers are helping lift Dollar General’s overall sales. The expansion, especially in metro areas, will allow it to continue reaching these shoppers, said Saunders.

But lower-income Americans remain the store’s primary customers. The stores attracted shoppers during the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, and consumers haven’t stopped coming back since, even as the economy has picked up steam.

The Quiet Revolution Happening in the Suburbs

Suburbs first gained popularity for being everything a big city wasn’t. Now they want to be just like downtown. Photo by David Kidd

It is becoming more apparent that the suburban pattern of development created imbalances and burdens on society, the economy and the environment. In a very worthwhile article, Alan Greenblatt describes the revolution that is taking place and gaining steam. The most valuable and successful communities will be those that are developed around diverse town centers and transit. SmartGrowth and Sprawl Repair will be the key. 

“All over the country, suburbs are rushing to develop new mixed-use corridors, complete with dense, walkable shopping areas, often attached to a town hall or performing arts complex, as in Shirlington [VA], and usually surrounded by mid-rise apartment or condo buildings.

Mixed-use developments like these are becoming kind of a cliché in American metropolitan areas — but that doesn’t make them any less revolutionary.

“People who don’t have kids in their houses eat out a lot more than people who have kids,” says Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the urban design program at Georgia Tech University and a leading authority on suburban evolution. “Suddenly,” she says, “you see the suburbs have way more restaurants than they used to, even bars and nightlife, which used to be anathema.”

“The downtown housing has gotten absurdly expensive in those cities that have revitalized,” says Dunham-Jones. This explains to a large extent the denser development taking shape in communities such as Shirlington and Rockville [MD].

An increasing number of developers want to appeal to people who prefer to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive for everything they want. “The suburbs that have gotten that are going to be the winners in the future,” says Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute. “The way people work, shop and move around is changing. Those that have figured that out are going to prosper, and others are going to decline.”

“The privacy that the aging boomers really valued while raising their kids, now they’re beginning to question that,” Dunham-Jones says. “Do I really want to mow that big lawn? If they’re retired, suddenly that privacy can seem lonely.” Or, to put it another way, the ability to conduct much of one’s life on a cellphone may be generating a desire for in-person contact, perhaps the only thing the phone cannot deliver.

You’ll pay at least 25 percent more per square foot for housing in Reston, Va., which is built around a town center, than in nearby Sterling, a postwar cul-de-sac suburb that’s the same driving distance from Washington.

The most in-demand suburban developments are being built around transit, and this is true even where the share of commuters using transit is still low.”

Why Are Millennials Leaving New Jersey?

 

People arrive at Hoboken Terminal to commute to New York City. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Paul Genovesi, CNU-A, is an Urban Designer at DPZ CoDesign in Miami, FL. As a Millennial, formerly of New Jersey, he offers additional commentary on Alastair Boone’s piece:

“Why Are Millennials Leaving New Jersey?

  • New Jersey ranked 47th out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., for its percentage of Millennials in 2012.
  • Of the state’s 565 municipalities, only 183 scored well on two or all three smart-growth metrics, and according to the study, only 111 of those places are popular with Millennials.
  • New Jersey’s Millennials are struggling to find affordable housing in their home state. For one, 47 percent of them live with their parents. In fact, New Jersey has the highest rate in the country of 18-to-34-year-olds living with their parents.
  • 54 percent of the housing in New Jersey is made up of single-family detached homes”

Losing millennials is just the tipping point for New Jersey. As these young, talented professionals flock to Hoboken to work in New York, or flee to adjacent Philadelphia and leave the state altogether, their empty-nester parents are also abandoning the Garden State to escape the high property taxes. Even their prospective employers are following them on the train out of NJ. According to Plan Smart NJ, the state currently has a 60+ year stock of vacant office space, and it’s increasing by the day as companies follow the millennials to areas like Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

Repairing suburban office parks and shopping areas to make them once again viable for millennial employers/retailers should be a priority. These areas should be near existing major transit stations, as they are primed to better provide an exchange of residents, jobs, and lifestyle activities with the major metropolitan areas like New York, Hoboken/Jersey City, and Philadelphia.

However, none of this will be possible without a major bureaucratic makeover in the state. Exclusionary zoning laws prohibit the building of walkable urbanism and housing types other than single family. High property taxes make homeownership difficult and force rents to be higher than the market dictates. Arguably, the extremely limited/restrictive liquor license laws may be the biggest hurdle that prohibits millennial-popular places from forming in New Jersey. Several of the new urban/infill projects in the state are successful, but lack a pulse after 8pm, just like the sleepy suburb the millennial fled in the first place.

 

Longtime Retail Pariah Now A Mall-Industry Darling

For years, gym tenants were unwanted by mall landlords as they were believed to provide little value, attracting visitors who were unlikely to spend money at any of the shops in the vicinity.

As the Retail Meltdown continues to rage, mall operators are rethinking their tenant mix to capitalize on increasing trends toward fitness and gym memberships to bring foot traffic to languishing stores. Lara O’Keefe describes the new attraction:

“Now, gyms are a valued addition to the tenant mix. Americans’ focus on health and fitness has grown to such an extent that athletic apparel has become an acceptable form of attire, increasing people’s willingness to shop after working out, the Wall Street Journal reports.

While many retailers have shuttered their doors due to e-commerce competition and declining foot traffic, fitness centers are on the other end of the spectrum as gym memberships skyrocket across the country.

This dynamic has made gyms attractive to landlords, especially as they look to reinvent themselves as entertainment destinations that offer a variety of activities aimed to draw shoppers.”

The Triumph of the Latin American Mall

Suddenly it’s 1990: Oakland Mall in Guatemala City, where the mall culture is in full bloom. (Nolan Gray/CityLab)

As American malls are failing, Latin American malls seem to be thriving. Social and economic factors appear to be the key. The good news for American retailers is that those who retrofit based on the resurgent Main Street model will be best positioned to capitalize on changing trends.

“…fear of violent crime and a relative lack of high-quality urban environments are also factors in the Latin American mall boom … malls provide a safe place to shop, and mall managers invest heavily in security. Combine this with the lack of reliable mail and home delivery service that hampers the e-commerce sector and there isn’t much competition for Latin America’s rising middle-class shoppers.

In most U.S. cities, on the other hand, violent crime has fallen dramatically over the last 25 years, and walkable urban neighborhoods that boast restaurants, bars, salons, and “experiential retail” are thriving. In this sense, the decline of the North American mall reflects a positive trend: The Main Streets that malls once menaced are coming back. Such amenity-laden neighborhoods are also in a better position than suburban malls to fend off the threat of online shopping.

In the U.S. and Canada, malls are still overwhelmingly anchored by major retailers like Sears, JC Penney, and Macy’s. And as the fortunes of these department stores have declined, they’ve dragged the malls they’re attached to with them. In Latin America, on the other hand, a whole variety of businesses act as anchors. Grocery stores are common in Latin American malls and are often situated at the end of long corridors lined with smaller shops, creating a steady flow of foot traffic.

When we feel nostalgia for malls, maybe what we’re really feeling is nostalgia a time when incomes were rising and the quality of life of average people was improving.”

Red Friday

Red Friday parking. Photo by Charles Marohn, used with permission

Steve Mouzon comments on the conspicuously-empty parking lots at malls and shopping centers during last week’s annual Black Friday event, looking for signs of the “Fall of Sprawl.”

While the final accounting is not yet in, he predicts, “most retailers will still be firmly in the red, many with little hope of turning a profit at all this year, making this the first Red Friday in America. The crash might come more quickly than anyone ever thought.”

“Fortunately, New Urbanists led by Galina Tachieva, Ellen Dunham-Jones, and June Williamson have responded to the alarm bells rung by Charles and Joe by crafting a suite of solutions now known as Sprawl Retrofit that can help transform forward-looking sprawling suburbs with courage and political will into vibrant and sustainable places with high Walk Appeal and a diverse collection of local businesses to serve them.”

Why shopping is about to become all about the experience

Katie Beck writes about the increasing online competition for retailers in Europe and North America, and its effect on the bottom lines of brick-and-mortar shops. Mall repair and sprawl repair techniques can enrich the overall community experience, while creating jobs and housing, and boosting the bottom line.

“In years to come, the Black Friday spectacle of throngs of shoppers scrambling past each other to ransack shelves of flat screen TVs might look very different.

Shopping may be about to undergo a dramatic transformation. Within the next decade it could change into an activity driven entirely by experiences and interactive technology rather than the act of buying. Think pop-up shops on steroids; places where you try things on or test products in person but don’t actually make any purchases.

But this increasingly digital shopping experience means brands have fewer opportunities to meet their customers face-to-face and are getting desperate to connect. It is leading them to seek out new ways of reaching consumers.

Exactly what will fill these spaces remains to be seen, but with digital retail technology likely to continue disrupting the shopping experience, it is safe to assume that Black Friday could become more of an experience than a bargain hunt.”

Retailers Experiment With a New Philosophy: Smaller Is Better

The entrance to Nordstrom Local on Melrose Place in Los Angeles. Nordstrom, known for its upscale department stores, is trying a showroom-style store concept to attract shoppers.CreditElizabeth Lippman for The New York Times

As American malls continue to drown in a sea of asphalt and suburban sprawl, traditional retailers are seeking options that will help them weather online retail competition. Almost side-by-side, Nordstrom is trying out a 3,000 SF showroom concept to compare with their 122,000 SF Nordstrom department store, in an upscale stretch of Melrose Place in Los Angeles.

“Brick-and-mortar retail chains, known for sprawling stores that stock a bit of everything, are trying to lift sagging sales using a different strategy: cozier spaces that sell very little of anything.

Instead of slashing prices and accelerating delivery times, praying for fickle customers to stay loyal, many retailers are aiming higher, to become a desirable place to shop.

Retailers are experimenting with small showrooms with few or no products, but often with impeccable customer service, as they try to compete with e-commerce companies.

“People don’t have to go to stores anymore; they have to want to go,” said Lee Peterson, an executive vice president at WD Partners, a strategy, design and architecture firm.”

Mall Repair and Sprawl Repair are aimed at creating lean, flexible retail outlets that can weather the turbulent retail market.

 

 

To fight global climate change, fight global sprawl

The drive-through lifestyle, exported by America and adopted worldwide, is the “operating system for growth” that is a root cause of rising carbon emissions.

Michael Mehaffy explains how the ‘drive-through’ lifestyle, started in America and exported throughout the world, involves a lot of other patterns of consumption that feed off each other, exacerbating problems of sprawl and global degradation.

The point is, this is a global inter-locking system, working as a kind of “operating system for growth.” We call it “sprawl” for shorthand—but as most of us recognize, it’s not just low-density development, but an entire inter-locking, now international system of physical and economic development. It includes all the economic practices, lending rules, engineering standards, zoning codes, and all the other “operating system” elements, at local, national and international scales.

The other important thing to note about this system, as most of us know but tend to forget, is that it didn’t just happen: it was planned. The system of sprawl, the current “operating system for growth,” was not the natural outcome of American consumer tastes or inevitable market evolution, as some mythology still holds. It was created consciously by businesspeople, politicians, architects and planners, for what seemed like good reasons at the time.  It was and is a choice, one that is now being made on a global scale, as the McDonalds examples show. And it was and is immensely profitable. Of course, the problem is that it is fundamentally unsustainable, and it incurs other catastrophic costs—like climate change.

We have the option of a truly more urban model—with more transportation choices, more diversity and mix of uses, more walkable streets and public spaces, and more vitality and “critical mass.”  Those things are all very good for climate change.

25 great ideas of the New Urbanism

Mashpee Commons in Mashpee, Massachusetts, the nation’s first retrofit of a shopping center into town center. Photo by June Williamson

Robert Steuteville of Build a Better Burb highlights 25 great ideas of the New Urbanism, in honor of the 25th annual Congress for the New Urbanism held this year in Seattle. 

Check out Suburban Retrofit as one of the 25 great ideas: 

Retrofit is the suburban fountain of youth. It can literally save the suburbs.”

“Conventional suburbs, conceived in the mid-20th Century, are outdated. The oldest suburbs, the mixed-use walkable kind, are the most current—they meet market demand. Companies don’t want to locate in isolated places. Many shopping malls and shopping centers are dying, and suburban retrofit is the answer. We invested trillions of dollars in the suburbs, and some believe this investment has no future. I believe that significant value that can be salvaged with retrofit. This is a sunk cost opportunity, not dilemma. At CNU, we call this Build a Better Burb.”

Lord & Taylor, WeWork and the Death of Leisure

Lord & Taylor’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue will become the headquarters of WeWork. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

In another example of retrofit to manage the new retail reality, Ginia Bellafante wrote that WeWork is paying $850 million for Lord & Taylor’s 676,000SF Italianate building in Midtown NY, which it has occupied since 1914.

“…it stood not merely as a monument to turn-of-the-century commerce but also as the grand testament to what the sociologist Thorstein Veblen called the rising culture of “conspicuous leisure.” Leisure, Veblen wrote, “does not connote indolence or quiescence.’’ What it conveys is the “nonproductive consumption of time… any time spent away from the activity of labor.”

“Lord & Taylor will rent a quarter of the building, maintaining a smaller version of itself. WeWork will take over the rest for its headquarters and the leasing of shared office space — and tutorials perhaps for what is supposed to count now as a good time.”

WeWork looks to, “build an entire social life around the WeWork experience.”

Four ways to reform a commuter campus

Commuter campus before repair. Graphic by DPZ
Commuter campus after repair. The proposed repair reconstructs the fabric in the tradition of the classical American university campus. Rendering by DPZ/Sprawl Repair Manual.

Robert Steuteville of Build a Better Burb starts a new series of articles based on the Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva, Managing Partner at DPZ CoDesign. Building placement, block structure/connectivity, parking and open space are examined:

“Thousands of college campuses in the suburbs—whether they be full universities or community colleges—are poorly designed with buildings, parking lots, and open space scattered throughout their sites. Many of these campuses were designed in the late 20th Century with low-density, automobile-oriented land-use plans. The good news is that these campuses have plenty of room for redevelopment into academic villages, as shown in these two images.”

How a mall-turned-public park saved downtown Columbus

Columbus Commons hosts more than 200 events a year, including a Harvest Fair on September 30, 2017. Marielle Segarra, Marketplace

When mall repair is not economically or structurally feasible, sometimes re-greening a dead mall site in the form of a park or urban agriculture is the best option. The City Center mall in Columbus, Ohio has been reincarnated as a downtown park called Columbus Commons, and it’s driving the resurgence of activity and property value.

“Capitol South, a nonprofit development corporation created by the city, took over the property and started looking at redevelopment plans. The group considered turning the mall into an office building or a medical-research center. “Each one of the plans that we looked at either financially didn’t pencil out, or from a constructability point of view, it simply couldn’t be done,” said Guy Worley, CEO of Capitol South.

Instead, Capitol South decided to knock down the mall and build a park. The group was inspired by similar projects, like Bryant Park in New York City.

A big lesson, said Worley, is that on its own, creating a green space isn’t enough. You needed to bring people there. So Columbus Commons has an outdoor stage and a café, and it hosts more than 200 events a year — many of them free — like yoga classes and concerts.

Obesity Thrives in the Suburbs

Houses in the still relatively dense London suburb of Willesden. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

It is not rocket science that walkability reduces obesity – it is a health argument for Sprawl Repair. Feargus O’Sullivan writes: 

“A U.K. study finds a clear connection between density and obesity—and even rural areas fare better than suburban ones.

The study, carried out by specialists at the universities of Oxford and Hong Kong, found that obesity rates were markedly lower in areas where homes were more tightly clustered.

This might not come as a shock, given the long touted health benefits of walkable neighborhoods.”

“…they make one thing clear: Residents’ health is highly likely to improve when sprawling suburbs are made more dense. …it also breaks ground by matching obesity levels with specific rates of housing density.”

 “… the lack of walkability for British people living in sparsely populated areas was compensated for by a relatively active lifestyle, … Even people who live in very sparsely populated areas still had considerably higher levels of obesity than people who live in densely built cities.”

“In other words, being at the heart of things, being able to get around easily, and having more opportunities to build wider social networks might actually boost wellbeing in itself by making life easier, as well as encouraging people to leave their homes more.”

Sprawl repair that clusters homes and inserts mixed uses creates walkable, healthier communities. Heres how it can be done.

Developers are offering vacant malls to Amazon in HQ bidding war

Communities and owners of dying malls are teaming on the bid to attract Amazon’s new headquarters.  It’s a smart idea that would be even smarter if some housing was thrown into the mix to create a complete community in the process.

“As Amazon’s deadline for bids on where to build its second headquarters approaches, developers are offering up derelict malls as potential sites.

Pittsburgh’s Parkway Center Mall is exhibit A for the nationwide trend with the owner, Kossman Development, changing up their new plans to rebuild the former mall to suit the needs of Amazon.

The old mall’s 35-acre site would become a 5.4 million-square-foot office space surrounded by bike paths and green spaces with 680,000 square feet of retail spread throughout the would-be office campus. The developer’s president Curtis Kossman submitted the revised plans to the Pittsburgh committee handling the Amazon bid last week.”

Read the original story by The Chicago Tribune’s E.K. Hudson

Now that Amazon’s a thing, malls have to get creative to survive

A Gold’s gym at a mall in West Covina, California. Source: Mashable

The malls that will survive into the future will be the ones that offer more than just retail. It will be crucial for mall operators to provide a variety of experiences and places that foster socialization. These malls, or lifestyle centers, can be achieved by reintegrating living, working, learning, playing – not only within the mall structures – but also through activation of the underutilized parking. Patrick Kulp of Mashable writes:

“Desperate to plug empty retail holes, mall owners are turning to less traditional businesses like gyms, grocery stores, and high-end restaurants to keep foot traffic flowing.

Some have even transformed parts of the buildings into office parks, medical facilities, or homes.

The new trend raises the question: What even is a mall anymore?

According to CBL & Associates, modern malls need to be “vibrant town centers,” replete with lifestyle and entertainment options beyond simple retail. The property group announced a rebrand of its own 113 spaces to this effect on Thursday.

The idea is to preserve the function that malls once served as a suburban social institution for a generation that may not even know what a “mall rat” is.”

Read more about reenergizing malls through Sprawl Repair. 

Urban Americans Want to Age in Their Neighborhoods

As our population ages, it is more important than ever to adapt our communities to make them more livable and supportive for those who wish to remain independent in their own homes. A Supportive Living Module is a sprawl repair technique that can be inserted into a traditional cul-de-sac to facilitate aging in place within one’s home community.

Mimi Kirk’s story highlights the need for complete, supportive communities:

“Welltower, a company that owns health-care real estate, from retirement communities to outpatient medical office buildings, recently surveyed 3,000 people to find out more about this desire among urbanites to age in place. Respondents were of various ages—Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials—and lived in 10 cities across the country, from Seattle to Houston to Boston. One Canadian city—Toronto—was also included.

The survey showed that 7 out of 10 urbanites still want to live in their city after the age of 80. For Boomers, the share was higher, at 8 out of 10. The result was fairly uniform across the cities. The survey also revealed that all generations are thinking of their 80-plus lives as active ones.”

“Across the country, people are getting older, living longer, and staying in their communities.”

When Lincoln Square was iconic

In 1964, when nine square blocks of historic homes and businesses were demolished for the construction of the shopping center and accompanying parking lot, Urbana was optimistic about the shopping center, hoping that it would revitalize its downtown area.

The Champaign-Urbana community is facing many challenges while seeking an elusive solution for the “dead” Lincoln Square Mall in Downtown Urbana. Designed in 1964 by Victor Gruen, and now designated historic and protected from demolition, few options are available. The solution lies in adaptive reuse that should aim for a variety of uses designed to spur innovation, excitement and foot traffic.

“In 2004, a plan to reintegrate Lincoln Square back into the downtown and redevelop the building with apartments, open space, and offices fell through. That same year it and the adjoining hotel were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preventing its demolition and forcing Urbana to work around it when trying to revitalize its downtown. Thirteen years later, its future is still up in the air as Carle and Health Alliance recently announce that they are leaving the complex. Various plans to introduce apartments and modern retail space to the area have been proposed, but none have come close to fruition.”

Sears Was the Amazon of Its Time—Until It Made Preventable Mistakes

A customer enters the closing down Sears store is shown in downtown Vancouver.

Derek Thompson’s article for CITYLAB describes the rise and fall of Sears, and a cautionary tale for Amazon.  As the retail climate continues to shift, Sears’ properties, along with real estate holdings liberated by Macy’s and others during  the retail meltdown, offer prime opportunities for sprawl repair that can lead to complete and walkable communities.

 

“There are four broad lessons that Amazon can glean from the story of Sears’s decline.

 

  • First, retail is in a state of perpetual metamorphosis.
  • Second, even large technological advantages for retailers are fleeting.
  • Third, there is no strategic replacement for being obsessed with people and their behavior.
  • Finally, adding more businesses is not the same as building a better business.

But it’s important for Amazon to stay aggressive about experimenting with new platforms, in case one of today’s underdeveloped technologies—like ordering through AI assistants, delivery-by-drone, or virtual and augmented reality—turns out to be the next big thing that transforms retail, all over again.”

Like retail, it is important to be agile and creative in designing new communities and repairing suburban sprawl to meet the changing needs of Millennials and Baby Boomers.

 

Singapore needs to reinvent retail scene

The retail meltdown due to online competition and an overabundance of physical stores is now being experience world-wide. Retailers intent on survival will need to be lean, flexible and creative to stay competitive. But it will require more than just department store chains to participate in finding solutions for failing malls.

“STB assistant chief executive Lynette Pang once said: “In today’s fast-changing tourism and consumer landscape, we cannot stay still.” It is therefore crucial for landlords, retailers and relevant government agencies to think “out of the box” to allow new brands and exciting concepts to flourish and take shape.

Increasingly, the experiential factor is key in making a difference to Singapore’s retail scene. Shopping malls can reinvent themselves with unique experiential retail spaces that set them apart from the mainstream. For example, the opening of Jewel Changi Airport in early 2019 will distinguish itself as home to Singapore’s largest indoor garden and the world’s largest indoor waterfall, featuring a light and sound show every night to enable visitors to shop, dine and play in one place. The new Funan DigitaLife Mall, set to open by end-2019, will be the first commercial building in Singapore to allow cycling through the building, and have rooftop farms that offer visitors a rest from the urban crowd.

With such unique and activity-based retail zones, landlords are better able to make their retail spaces break out of the homogeneity among retail malls.