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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

 

Grocery Stores Move In On Suburban Locations

The interior of Natick Mall, MA, the upcoming location of a new Wegmans store

Laura Hillen writes that grocery retailers are finding new homes as mall anchors in suburbia.

Due to declining foot traffic, many retailers are now preparing to close a large number of their stores. These closures are leaving empty mall spaces in their wake.

Food retail is one thing helping struggling malls survive,” June Williamson, an architecture professor at the City College of New York, and Co-Author of Retrofitting Suburbia.

Williamson also stated that losing an anchor store and its lease payment can make it difficult for a mall’s survival. However, malls are starting to focus on answering consumer needs apart from just clothing. As the consumer shopping experience continues to change, malls could prove a successful financial hub by offering food-related business.

Retrofits of existing malls can capitalize on proximity to infrastructure, housing, parking and public transportation. Grocers and other non-traditional mall uses, such as offices and health care, can benefit the entire region without the need to build from the ground up.

New Jersey Has a Millennials Problem

According to a report by CBRE, New Jersey’s struggling office market is facing another big challenge: the exodus of millennials. This is in addition to numerous hurdles over the past decade, resulting from the recession and vacant corporate campuses left behind after company consolidations. The latest is an “alarming” outflow of young workers from the state.

A number of landlords have been investing heavily to renovate older buildings, adding lobbies with Wi-Fi, baristas and wine bars, lounge seating and cafeterias offering a variety of food options. Others are subsidizing beefed-up transportation to and from train stations and hip downtowns using vans or ride-sharing apps.

Many millennials are coming from a few years of living on college campuses with recreational areas, academic buildings and collaborative spaces. Savvy corporate complexes, like the Warren Corporate Center in Warren, N.J., are being redeveloped with amenities designed to attract millennials, such as a stand-alone amenity building in the center of the 820,000 square-foot complex, featuring an indoor basketball court, conference-room facilities, a food court with a coffee bar, fitness center and a green roof with event space.

Sprawl repair techniques can revitalize suburban campuses and communities to make it more attractive for the millennials, and all residents of the Garden State.

Brick and Mortar Reborn – The Future of Retail in the Era of Urbanization

The trend toward urbanization is inspiring retailers to focus on the holistic customer
experience.

An August 2016 White Paper by Synchrony Financial in collaboration with Quartz creative services discusses Urbanization and the Consumer, as well as strategies for competing with growing E-commerce.

“EXPERIENCE-DRIVEN RETAIL: THE RISE OF FLAGSHIPS, CURATED SATELLITES, POP-UPS, AND CONCEPT SHOPS

Urban consumers strongly favor the in-store shopping experience—with an emphasis on the experience. Eighteen percent of urban millennials expect to shop more in stores in the coming year than they did the last. When they do, they expect more than just a transaction. They want a unique experience that differentiates their spending and are willing to pay, on average, 31.6% more for it.

From flagship stores to short-lived, curated experiences, the future of retail involves meeting shoppers on their own terms—in the physical spaces they prefer.

The spread of city culture and denser living means customers are willing to pay more for brands that sell experiences—that sell a lifestyle—as well as provide on-demand convenience.”

These same strategies can be aimed at all ages and populations, and should be applied to Mall Retrofits in suburban settings where the decline of aging malls continues to drive down surrounding property values.

Southern California’s dead malls could be places to live

Carousel Mall Photo by Will Lester-SCNG-Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
The Carousel Mall, built in 1972, has very few tenants as seen Tuesday June 6, 2017 in San Bernardino.

Larry Wilson of the Pasadena Star News suggests converting malls to multifamily housing with commercial uses as a way to provide affordable housing and inject new life into failing malls.

“Merchants and shopping-center developers are wondering what to do with these huge pieces of real estate that seemingly have outlived their usefulness.

For once, there is an unusually easy answer: If you can’t shop in ’em, live in ’em.

“… the factor that most aggravates Southern California’s housing crisis is the lack of supply for the demand. Developers aren’t building nearly enough new multi-family to meet the need because of a combination of lack of open land and zoning codes and NIMBYism that make it hard to expand on existing sites.

Just as ground-floor retail, grocery stores, restaurants and bars still thrive in eastern cities more accustomed to density, there will still be room for some commercial in these repurposed places — especially when more people live right next door.

And, yes, that answer includes providing subsidized former-mall housing for those now living in cardboard-tent cities in our riverbeds and on our sidewalks.”

Shipping containers, oval swings and food trucks? How old Eastland Mall site could be reimagined

Jenna Martin of the Charlotte Business Journal wrote, “Think small to drive big, lasting results. That’s the current thought behind early efforts to breathe new life into the abandoned Eastland Mall property. That could range from small market-like businesses operating out of shipping containers and open, outdoor dining to a spot for food trucks or a place to hang out.”

As a sub-consultant to Jacobs Engineering’s Atlanta office, DPZ CoDesign is collaborating on the redesign of site of the former Eastland Mall, a 69-acre parcel owned by the City of Charlotte. They met with many of the key stakeholder groups in the East Charlotte area where this mall was once a major regional retail and social hub. This was also a week of re-assessing several prior design exercises.

On May 18th, 2017, the community celebrated the site’s past and explored the future during the exciting Eastland “days gone by” and Eastland “days to come” event. Neighbors gathered amid food trucks, a pop up park, cycle track, interactive murals and activities, to reminiscence and imagine new possibilities for the site as part of the evolving Eastland story.

DPZ provided a popular exhibit based on the successional evolution of an existing flea/farmer’s market. A typical public open space can be surrounded and defined by food trucks and temporary market stalls, initially, transitioning to fun and funky shipping container groupings, and ultimately to vibrant shops and restaurants in the potential climax condition for a revitalized town center.

Read more here: https://www-bizjournals-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2017/05/19/old-eastland-mall-site-draws-crowd-thursday-as.amp.html

Retrofitting Sprawl: Addressing Seventy Years of Failed Urban Form

Chapter 12: Occupy sprawl, One Cul-de-Sac at a Time

Sprawl should be repaired but it will happen incrementally, slowly, at a micro scale, one element at a time. There is a need to challenge outdated regulations, bringing more flexibility, adaptability, and enterprise to subdivisions and cul-de-sacs. Galina Tachieva p. 241