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.

 

 

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“Conventional suburbs, conceived in the mid-20th Century, are outdated.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.”

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.”

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.”

Nordstrom Tries On a New Look: Stores Without Merchandise

Retail of the future may be more about experience than consumption.  According to Suzanne Kapner of The Wall Street Journal, some stores will not even carry clothing:

Millennials Are Driving the Suburban Resurgence

Bloomberg View columnists Justin Fox, Conor Sen and Noah Smith discuss evidence that suburbs are experiencing a resurgence, in spite of talk of reinventing our cities. Poor economics and limited options may be the cause. 

“More young adults are moving to the land of white picket fences. Is it by choice, or necessity?”

Fox writes:

“The fact that millennials weren’t buying homes or cars a few years ago was more the product of economic hard times than an expression of changing tastes.

The supply of walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods in the U.S. is limited, and it’s really hard for political reasons to add density to them or build more of them.

I can’t help but see this suburban resurgence as at least partly a policy failure wrought by not-in-my-backyard activists, messed-up zoning rules, freeway-besotted transportation officials and the like.”

Smith writes:

“I definitely think we see some new cities getting in on the “tech city” game… with strong pushes to attract more knowledge-based industries, using their universities as anchors…”

And something interesting about these smaller cities is that it’s not clear whether they’re urban or suburban. We think of “suburbs” as extensions of big metros, but a lot of these smaller, thriving places have a distinctly suburban feel — ranch houses, strip malls, etc., maybe with a few blocks of walkable restaurant/clothing shop areas. But they depend on the clustering of smart people for their productivity, and their populations keep growing. Is that kind of place a city, or a suburb?”

It will be important to grow these areas responsibly through initiatives like Sprawl Repair and Build a Better Burb.

How to Build Better Burbs to Ease the Housing Crunch

‘Missing middle’ forms of gentle density refer to the less-common housing types between the single-family house and the high-rise. Image by Opticos Design, Inc.

Christopher Cheung asks, 

“…does choosing the suburbs have to mean saying goodbye to the conveniences and lifestyle of the city?

Urbanists are saying no. “Sprawl repair” and “retrofitting suburbia” have become popular terms in the past two decades. Many municipalities that have embraced suburbia in the past are taking action to transform their sprawls into healthier, more convenient and more diverse communities.”

“The suburbs can change and get better without transforming every square foot of its built form,” said Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former chief planner, now a global consultant on city building.

At the very least, “you need to make the suburbs walkable,” said Toderian. “At minimum, you need sidewalks and street trees.”

Toderian also recommends mixed-use suburban centres that have higher density and are pedestrian, bike and transit-friendly. This evolution doesn’t mean doing away with cars; it means offering more choices so driving isn’t your only option if you need to get to work or grab a carton of milk.

“The conversation needs to be about true costs and consequences, as well as opportunities to do density well with great design,” he said. “Because if not, politicians could just suggest to their constituency that they’re protecting their city from density and change. That’s a dangerous, false narrative.”

Learn more about the Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva.

Jarvis: Mostly vacant Windsor plazas seen as an opportunity for ‘sprawl repair’

According to Anne Jarvis of the Windsor Star in Windsor, Ontario,

“Strip malls like Dorwin and Dougall plazas litter North America. They were built for cars, not people. They’re not inviting, and that’s why they’re dying. One of the biggest challenges for cities is how to fix them. It’s called “sprawl repair,” and it’s about retrofitting half-empty malls, strip malls and office parks.”

“I see opportunity for places like Dorwin,” said Shane Mitchell, a project manager at Glos Associates architectural and engineering consultants in Windsor.

“It’s about converting these monstrosities into neighbourhood hubs with a mix of uses. Monolithic buildings are carved into smaller buildings. Small streets and public squares are added. Parking is reduced. It’s creating a traditional city centre and main street. All of a sudden you … end up with an interesting place,” said Mitchell.

The first thing municipalities, including Windsor, have to do is change regulations that require buildings to be too far from the street and have too much parking. Cities can also stop offering tax rebates for some vacant properties, as Windsor is considering. But they also need to offer incentives for developers to do these types of developments, like Windsor already provides for other types of development.

According to Dorian Moore, a partner in Archive Design Studio in Detroit, “they have to encourage developers to “see the value in doing that kind of development. Show them what can be done,” he said, citing Mashpee Commons in Massachusetts, a 1960s strip mall with a huge parking lot converted into a renowned and award-winning mixed use town centre.

“You have to encourage the type of development you want to see,” said Mitchell.

Learn more about DPZ CoDesign’s Urbanism Code for Mashpee Commons here.

Busting 4 Common Myths About the Suburbs

Rachel Quednau busts four common myths about suburban sprawl, and makes the case for hard choices that can lead to sensible sprawl repair. 

Myth #1: The suburbs exist because that’s the way people want to live.

Busted: The suburbs exist because that’s the style of development that has been regulated into existence and funded by governments across the nation.

Myth #2: Sprawl is the biggest problem with the suburbs.

Busted: The problem is a development pattern that is financially insolvent.

Myth #3: Suburban residents are paying for the cost of their lifestyle.

Busted: Across the country, we see that urban areas subsidize suburban living to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Myth #4: We can turn the suburbs into financially productive places if we just try our hardest.

Busted: No. There’s too much suburban development for this to ever happen.

 

With the painfully limited amount of resources we all have right now, we must make the hard choices about where to focus our efforts. We can take small steps to help older neighborhoods with a solid foundation to be more successful, or we can take herculean steps to push a few suburban neighborhoods in a slightly better direction, in spite of aggressive cultural opposition.

The Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva offers numerous techniques to determine the most promising locations where targeted, incremental investment is likely to be successful.

Historic Sprawl: A Future for Post-War Suburbia

Solitary drive-through retail site is retrofitted with liner buildings to incrementally begin the transition to walkable, livable communities.
Image Credit: Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva of DPZ CoDesign
Deficiency: Sprawl-type Solitary drive-through retail. Remedial Techniques: Step 1: liner building retrofit. Step 2: Dense redevelopment where viable. Image Credit: Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva of DPZ CoDesign

Jonathan Hopkins of Urbanismo makes a compelling case that the NPS’s evaluation criteria for nominating properties to the National Register of Historic Places should be revised to address concerns that preservation funding will become increasingly available for use by sprawling Post-War suburban subdivisions like Levittown, New York as they reach their 50 year eligibility mark.

“It becomes necessary to make clear criteria-based distinctions between sprawl and other development patterns like neighborhoods and small towns in order to prevent the preservation of obesity, social dysfunction, and environmental degradation.”

“By taking a proactive approach sooner rather than later, the prevention of preserving sprawl in its current state can be realized. The preservation movement – in coordination with environmentalists, developers, medical physicians, and others – can encourage law-makers to pass legislation to amend the Secretary of the Interior’s standards to include suburban retrofitting guidelines that outline appropriate initiatives to be funded by tax credits and planning grants at both the State and Federal level. In coordination with land-use, zoning, tax, and development policy reforms that discourage new suburban sprawl developments, historic preservation funding sources can encourage the retrofitting of sprawl into a more sustainable, accessible, affordable, and attractive living arrangement.”

 

 

Why the Death of Malls Is About More Than Shopping

Josh Sanburn offers an historic perspective on American malls, and a glimpse into the future for malls and communities willing to invest in sprawl repair and place-making. Learn more about Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva.

Local jobs are a major casualty of what analysts are calling, with only a hint of hyperbole, the retail apocalypse. By 2022, analysts estimate that 1 out of every 4 malls in the U.S. could be out of business, victims of changing tastes, a widening wealth gap and the embrace of online shopping for everything from socks to swing sets.

Local jobs are a major casualty of what analysts are calling, with only a hint of hyperbole, the retail apocalypse.

In the 61 years since the first enclosed one opened in suburban Minneapolis, the shopping mall has been where a huge swath of middle-class America went for far more than shopping. But for better or worse, the mall has been America’s public square for the last 60 years.

Some of the great mall die-off is what economists refer to as a market correction. “We are over-retailed,” says Ronald Friedman, a partner at Marcum LLP, which researches consumer trends. There is an estimated 26 sq. ft. of retail for every person in the U.S., compared with about 2.5 sq. ft. per capita in Europe. Roughly 60% of Macy’s stores slated to close are within 10 miles of another Macy’s.

Some ailing malls have already moved on to a second life. Austin Community College in Texas purchased Highland Mall in 2012 and converted part of it into a tech-driven learning lab and library. In Nashville, Vanderbilt University Medical Center moved into the second floor of the 100 Oaks Mall a few miles from downtown. The Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., bought their nearby mall and transformed part of it into an auditorium.

It also turns out that not everyone wants to spend their leisure time inside. Many of the new, millennial-focused malls are indoor/outdoor complexes designed as one cog of a suburban town center that includes apartments and office space … a magnet for millennials who are leaving downtowns for the suburbs but still want to live in a dense, walkable community.

There are still about 1,100 malls in the U.S. today, but a quarter of them are at risk of closing over the next five years, according to estimates from Credit Suisse.

 

 

One Thing Silicon Valley Can’t Seem to Fix

The new Apple headquarters under construction in Cupertino, Calif.
JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES

Alison Arieff spent the last year researching the future of the corporate campus through the lens of urbanism.

“The project has explored how the Bay Area’s workplaces might become more socially, economically and sustainably efficient, but also how applying new ways of thinking about the design, form and location of these buildings could help create a sense of place.

Solving this isn’t rocket science; it’s common sense. Don’t design buildings that function only as pristine objects with no relationship to their surroundings. Don’t put workplaces in locations inaccessible to transit. Do consider the broader context.”

Learn more about Sprawl and Sprawl Repair from Galina Tachieva, and check out the Sprawl Repair Manual.

Check out Galina’s Blog on Apple’s new campus: Not This Time – Why the new Apple campus doesn’t work

What to do with dead malls?

Anson Burtch writes about the escalating “retail apocalypse”, and successful options for the failing model of enclosed retail space surrounded by acres of parking.

“From a land-use perspective, dead malls are full of possibility. They occupy large swaths of often valuable land at crossroads or central locations with access to public transit and highways. When they were originally built, the land was frequently at the growing edges of suburbia but has since grown considerably in value by virtue of surrounding development and transportation improvements. This makes even dead malls valuable “land banking” assets for their owners.  In addition, the considerable volume of unencumbered raw space that is found in a typical anchor store makes them quite flexible for adaptive reuse. The desire and attention to revitalizing these areas has become a top priority and focus for local governments.”

“Luckily there are many options for revitalizing these properties. Remodeling as mixed-use developments has proven successful in many instances, and even more so when tied into transit systems. Other times finding unique tenants such as local governments, hospital systems, or libraries makes profitable and efficient use of the space. With a little creativity and a lot of willpower, communities can turn a potential unproductive eyesore into opportunity.”

Find tools for mall retrofits and more, in the Sprawl Repair Manual.

Malls are doomed: 25% will be gone in 5 years

Single purpose mall surrounded by a sea of asphalt

 

Chris Isidore of CNN Money writes, “Store closings and even dead malls are nothing new, but things might be about to get a whole lot worse.

Between 20% and 25% of American malls will close within five years, according to a new report out this week from Credit Suisse. That kind of plunge would be unprecedented in the nation’s history.

In 1970 there were only 300 enclosed malls in the U.S., and now there are 1,211 of them. In fact, despite the recent turbulence in the retail industry, the number of malls open has actually edged higher every year.

Repaired mall with vibrant 24/7 mixed-uses, increased density to support retail and entertainment, and beautiful, functional stormwater and local agricultural systems

 

If the analysts at Credit Suisse are right, that trend line about to turn — sharply — in the other direction.

According to Galina Tachieva, “Each store closing, and every mall mall that dies,  increases the urgency to return jobs and halt declining real estate values. Sprawl Repair through repurposing of dying malls offers a logical solution to create vibrant live-work communities where infrastructure is already in place.”

Learn more here.

Happy 70th to True American Suburbia – Levittown was once finishing a new house every 16 minutes.

Levittown, N.Y. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Jerry Cianciolo of the Wall Street Journal wrote:

“At one point in the 1940s, a house was completed every 16 minutes in Levittown, N.Y., the first mass-produced suburb in America.

Until William Levitt broke ground on what was formerly a potato patch on Long Island, inefficient small operators dominated the housing sector. Levitt—who had been introduced to the efficiencies of mass production during World War II—knew his competitors couldn’t meet the increasing demand for new housing as more soldiers came home. He wanted to be the one who did.

The entrepreneur analyzed the home-construction process and segmented it into 27 steps. He then adopted an inverse of the assembly-line method popularized by Henry Ford —his workers moved as the objects remained stationary.”

According to Galina Tachieva, “Levittown changed the pattern of building communities in the United States because William Levitt created a normative product, the auto-dependent suburban enclave, which he could repeat easily. So we have to come up with normative step-by-step tools to retrofit suburbia in the way it was built. With the Sprawl Repair Manual, we are developing methods that can duplicate the speed and energy that Levitt used, wth the intent to repair sprawling suburbs and form complete living communities.”

 

Great Idea: Building better suburbs through retrofit

Suburbs are becoming more diverse and connected to meet the needs of Americans of all ages in the 21st Century.

As part of the CNU series 25 Great Ideas of the New Urbanism, Public Square editor Robert Steuteville interviewed Galina Tachieva, principal at DPZ Partners and author of Sprawl Repair Manual, and Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the Urban Design Program and Professor in the Georgia Tech School of Architecture and co-author, with June Williamson, of Retrofitting Suburbia. The series is meant to inspire and challenge those working toward complete communities in the next quarter century.

According to Galina Tachieva, “If anybody takes a drive outside of a city and looks carefully [they] will be shocked by the over-engineered, gold-plated, however—in many cases—already crumbling infrastructure that supports sprawl. And it will take a few generations to fix it. However, for us to be successful, we have to look at the roots of sprawl. Levittown changed the pattern of building communities in the United States because William Levitt created a normative product, the auto-dependent suburban enclave, which he could repeat easily. So we have to come up with normative step-by-step tools to retrofit suburbia in the way it was built.”

Council to study building a ‘better burb’

CNU is reviving a tradition of intimate discussions with top experts next month in Miami with the Build a Better Burb Sprawl Retrofit Council.

For a decade, top new urbanist thinkers met in intimate Councils to work on problems, conduct high-level discussions, and immerse themselves in the art and craft of building communities. Five years after the last Council, CNU is reviving the tradition next month in Miami with the Build a Better Burb Sprawl Retrofit Council.

Many of the world’s top thinkers on reshaping and improving the suburbs will attend, rolling up their sleeves along with everybody else. These leaders include Galina Tachieva, author of Sprawl Repair Manual; Ellen Dunham-Jones, coauthor of Retrofitting Suburbia; and Lynn Richards, president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

As a bonus, this Council will meet at Palm Court in the Miami Design District, a remarkable urban revitalization area that employs suburban retrofit ideas—including connecting big box stores to residential and workplace areas.

Galina Tachieva: Occupy Wall Street? Occupy the Unoccupied . . . Occupy Sprawl!

As thousands cram into the winding streets and public spaces of lower Manhattan in a revolt against the “corporate forces of the world,” Galina Tachieva would really prefer protesters take over an abandoned Walmart parking lot instead.
She’d really prefer we occupy sprawl viagra paypal.
One of my personal heroes, Tachieva is a partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, Architects and Town Planners (DPZ), Miami, and author of the Sprawl Repair Manual. She specializes in suburban retrofits—revamping automobile-oriented, sprawling regions into more lively, sustainable, and compact communities.

A talk with Galina Tachieva, author of ‘The Sprawl Repair Manual’

Driving the highways and byways of America’s endless exurbs and suburbs can be pretty depressing. Strip mall after megamall after subdivision after strip mall fans out from every city in the country — with much of that development sitting vacant or in foreclosure. Even the sprawl has sprawl these days.

It’s a problem even if you’re a dedicated suburbanite. Commutes are long and congested, office space sits vacant, and green space gets eaten up to build new malls and developments as the old ones become obsolete.

So, can this mess be fixed?

That’s the question Galina Tachieva tackles in her recent book, The Sprawl Repair Manual. Tachieva is partner and director of town planning at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company in Miami, Fla. — the firm of urbanist eminence Andrés Duany.

A Sprawl Fighting Fixit Guide

In Arcade Fire’s latest video, The Suburbs, the dystopic view of suburbia takes over as a militia moves in to transform a gated community in a police state. SWAT teams forcibly remove parents and their 2.2 kids from their homes while stunned adolescents, returning from an idyllic afternoon of bicycling around cul de sacs, and shooting BB guns from overpasses, watch in horror as their neighborhood is taken over.

Galina Tachieva, author of The Sprawl Repair Manual, would agree with the Canadian indie rockers that the suburbs are in dire straits. But her vision is less cinematic, more pragmatic. Tachieva’s timely guide proposes specific design solutions to retrofit existing conditions—not simple, not inexpensive, but imperative.

How to fix sprawl: The manual

How to fix sprawl has been in the news a lot lately. An article on page 10, for example, examines how planners in California are grappling with how to reform that state’s massive problem of single-use, automobile-oriented development.

Ever since the housing meltdown and foreclosure crisis, which struck hardest in suburbs, the nation has begun to wake up to the notion that our built environment is a mess. There’s mounting evidence that sprawl is not resilient from a resource point of view (it is vulnerable to high oil prices) or environmentally sustainable (it contributes to higher greenhouse gas emissions). The flaws of sprawl are becoming increasingly noticeable in a time when shifts in demographics and consumer preferences are pushing demand away from conventional suburbs.

The Sprawl Repair Manual

Sprawl Repair Manual

The Sprawl Repair Manual presents a comprehensive methodology for transforming sprawl developments into human-scale, sustainable communities. In this richly illustrated book, Galina Tachieva draws on more than two decades of experience to provide a step-by-step process of design, regulatory, and implementation techniques for reurbanizing and rebalancing suburbia.
Her solutions will inspire and equip anyone looking to reimagine suburban development.

The Sprawl Repair Manual is so far the only complete physical planning manual for handling the impending transformation of suburbia into vital human communities. It is not only hugely instructive but formidably inspirational.

—Leon Krier, Master Planner of Prince Charles’ Poundbury Project in Dorset, UK and author of The Architecture of Community