Offering an alternative to wasteful suburban sprawl, the Greenbelt-Towns Program was a Government-led urban planning approach that began in the late 30’s. Although short-lived, lessons can be drawn from the goals, scope and reaction to the suburban demonstration towns that embodied a mix of housing, walkability, and a traditional downtown.
With restaurants and bars now occupying upwards of 25 percent of space, mall owners are struggling to identify new opportunities to stem their decline. There is growing recognition that to compete with vibrant downtowns and online shopping, malls will also need to add hotels, apartments, and entertainment to create attractive mixed-use neighborhoods.
More than 60 percent of all development took place on farmland between 1992 and 2012 (American Farmland Trust). Of this, 11 million acres was land most suitable for intensive food and crop production. Sprawl is a recognized contributor and some Counties are responding with programs to conserve these strategic assets.
Alongside unsustainable sprawl, unsightly strip malls are too often a feature of our suburban landscape. This article draws ideas from DeSoto Marketplace in DeSoto, Texas. The approach here was incremental and adaptive, introducing small cost-effective changes that, over time, transformed the underutilized shopping center into a pocket of walkability and a vibrant local business.
Further case studies can be found in a paper prepared by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Congress for the New Urbanism, Reclaiming the Strip Mall: A Common Suburban Form, Transformed, by Christopher Kuschel.
“Providence, which won a 2018 CNU Charter Award, is an example of how traditional neighborhood development can add to quality of life in a car-oriented suburban landscape.” explains Rob Steuteville, Public Square. The 305 acre Village of Providence intentionally rebalances the previously fragmented, single-use sprawl at the northwest city limits of Huntsville with infill, housing diversity, shared amenities, and useful commercial. By providing the region’s missing ingredients in a walkable environment, it has become a preferred place to live and a popular evening hang-out.
Millennials seek the live-work-play lifestyle, but evidence suggests they are no longer solely focused on compact, diverse urban centers. In an attempt to attract this valuable demographic “suburban villages” are being created in larger developments. Lakewood Ranch is sighted as an example, with its Main Street cluster of condos, shops, restaurants, theaters and employers nearby. The investment appears to be working as millennials are buying homes in large numbers, and their preference shifting towards mature and emerging suburbs.
A new technique called a pattern zone can be used by cities and towns to make good urbanism a natural outcome of their local real estate market. The concept itself isn’t necessarily new as Matthew Petty, a planner and developer in Fayetteville, AR, discusses.
Before zoning codes and land use lawyers, cities were built from pattern books containing construction plans for the building types in common use. However, a municipal pattern book with pre-approved plans is at the center of the latest pattern zone concept. It changes the market activity because it lowers those barriers in ways that are valuable to developers: time and money. Matthew explains “For a missing-middle project, the savings can equal thousands of dollars per unit, once again making middle-scaled buildings as economical as single-family subdivisions and large-scale developments.”
“The last time Americans fled the cities for the suburbs, from the 1950s to the 1980s, they were driven primarily by fear of crime. This time the migration is the consequence of the cities’ success, not their failure. Housing
and rental prices in many of the country’s largest metro areas have soared, inspiring residents to pack up and move out.
As more young people decamp from the cities to the suburbs, … a hybrid might develop, where people who leave cities—especially the most vibrant and expensive ones—will gravitate to places with similar amenities. Or transform them—as is happening in San Marcos. Though it has its fair share of cookie-cutter homes and strip malls, its well-preserved old downtown boasts a brewery and beer garden, a yoga studio and, now, a bootcamp boutique.”
“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.
“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.
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.”
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?”
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.
NPR’s Alina Selyukh describes how German grocers Aldi and Lidl are changing the way Americans shop in both urban and suburban markets. Their compact foot prints and stream-lined service and merchandise fit well in compact, walkable communities, and offer lessons for American retailers in the changing retail climate:
“Both [Aldi and Lidl] stores are known particularly for private-brand, or store-label, products. Jim Hertel, senior vice president at food retail consultancy Inmar Willard Bishop Analytics, says that allows these grocers to offer customers savings of about 35-40 percent compared with other supermarkets. A limited stock goes into these discount stores, which are very compact and value efficiency above frills.
“Typically, in a grocery store you’d often find 25, 26, 27 aisles. In Lidl, what we do here is just six aisles,” says Lidl spokesman Will Harwood. “By the time a customer reaches the end of the first aisle, they’re going to typically be able to do about 80 percent of their shop.”
Hertel says there’s a common misconception that Aldi stores are geared toward low-income shoppers on very limited food budgets. “It’s really a combination,” he says. “Certainly, the extreme value does … appeal to the lower end of the economic scale, but actually the bulk of their sales come from mid- to maybe just above middle-class households.”
A well-known new urban project has begun to reshape the relentless sprawl around it, but communities shouldn’t wait for that to happen.
Robert Steuteville wonders if Santana Row, “represents real progress—or is it merely dressing up a mess of disconnected development?”
To what extent is Santana Row an improvement [over conventional suburban development (CSD)]? And is it causing a positive impact beyond its borders?
Unlike the strip mall it replaced, Santana Row includes more than 800 housing units on the 42-acre site, in a region that is severely short of housing.
“In addition to seeding changes in its immediate context, Santana Row also proved the market for mixed-use, walkable development in the area—and this may have contributed to the revitalization of the city’s downtown several miles away”, according to Ellen Dunham-Jones.
Santana Row’s impact has really taken off now that the community itself has taken the initiative to do more. It has taken San Jose a decade and a half to leverage the impact of Santana Row, and therein is a lesson for municipalities.
Expecting a developer to solve a thoroughfare or context problem that exists at a far larger scale than the development site is unrealistic. The developer has no leverage to change the culture of an institution like the local, state, or federal Department of Transportation. Even if DOTs would be willing to change, politics are involved. By taking the lead in transforming a major thoroughfare, the developer risks additional opposition to their project. There might be good reasons for a developer to attempt that—and I hope they do—but the developer would be crazy to try it without strong support from local leaders.
Alan M. Berger of The New York Times writes:
“Millennials want a different kind of suburban development that is smart, efficient and sustainable.
The suburbanization of America marches on. That movement includes millennials, who, as it turns out, are not a monolithic generation of suburb-hating city dwellers.
Most of that generation represents a powerful global trend. They may like the city, but they love the suburbs even more.
They are continuing to migrate to suburbs. According to the latest Census Bureau statistics, 25- to 29-year-olds are about a quarter more likely to move from the city to the suburbs as vice versa; older millennials are more than twice as likely.
Their future — and that of the planet — lies on the urban peripheries.
Planners need to view cities, suburbs and exurbs not as discrete units but as regions, with one integrated environmental and technological system.”
The most environmentally responsible approach is almost always reusing and reconfiguring what already exists, rather than discarding and creating something new. It is critical to employ sprawl repair techniques to make our communities more socially and environmentally responsive, not just build new to suit the millennials. Read more from Galina Tachieva.
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.
David McNair wrote for The Daily Progress and the Jefferson Area Board for Aging:
While the suburbs evolved as places where people could escape to raise their families in peace and privacy, our communities now may need to reach out to those aging homeowners in suburban locations and provide them with the support and services they will need to age in place.
Peter Thompson, executive director of the Senior Center and chair of the newly created Charlottesville Area Alliance, a collective of regional partners whose objective is to lead the advancement of an age-friendly community, says one of the missions of the alliance is to work with area localities, business and nonprofits to study these needs and develop strategies to address the common and divergent needs our urban, suburban and rural areas — from benches with backs on them to improved pedestrian and public transportation for people who do not or choose not to drive.
Through sprawl repair, it is possible to amenitize the suburbs and support the concept of aging in place. Learn more at Aging in Place on a Cul-de-Sac by Galina Tachieva, which discusses the use of the Supportive Living Module to create opportunities for senior living within a single-family subdivision.
Lee Sobel writes that car-free shopping streets are witnessing a resurgence with the return to traditional neighborhood design.
“Walkable places have become more desirable and people are looking for additional retail options in the places where they already live, work, and play. Car-free shopping streets offer just that.”
Sprawl repair techniques offer flexibility of design, scale and ownership options, allowing a range of stakeholders to partake in the success of car-free shopping streets.
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.
Are millennials the key to preservation?
A new survey by American Express, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Edge Research – Millennials and Historic Preservation: A Deep Dive Into Attitudes and Values – finds that millennials prefer to live, work and play in neighborhoods with historic buildings.
The survey finds millennials tend to value a mix of old and new buildings where they live, dine, shop and travel.
Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation states, “The revitalization of many urban communities is being driven in large part by the influx of young people seeking authentic experiences and places with character that are found in historic neighborhoods.”
By revitalizing cities and increasing the density of inner ring neighborhoods utilizing sprawl repair techniques, a great deal of detrimental sprawl can be averted. Learn more about Sprawl Repair on Galina Tachieva’s website.
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.”
Check out Galina’s Blog on Apple’s new campus: Not This Time – Why the new Apple campus doesn’t work
“Struggling retailer sees opportunities to improve shopping experience by activating empty parking lots.
As the images of empty parking lots during Black Friday have demonstrated, commercial real estate professionals are slowly warming to the idea that we have far too much parking than is needed- diminishing municipal tax bases and taking away the ability to lease space within struggling shopping centers. Big box retailer Macy’s has announced their intention to create new revenue streams by reimagining acres of unused parking lots- a strategy used by tactical urbanists in places like Nashville, Indianapolis and Miami.”
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.
The need to retrofit failing malls is becoming ever more urgent:
“On May 31, the big bank Credit Suisse predicted that 25 percent of malls would be gone in the next five years. Earlier forecasts had also been dire, and results prove them to have been accurate. Malls used to be anchored by big department stores — Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s, and the like.
All are now in deep doo-doo and closing stores, upsetting the malls that relied upon them as consumer draws and sources of revenue. The smaller mall stores, which pay higher rent per square foot than the anchors, are having trouble, further biting into mall revenue and traffic.”
Jun 20, 2017: Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board spoke to Joshua Harris, director of the Dr. P. Phillips Institute for Research and Education in Real Estate at the University of Central Florida, to ask about malls:
“Q: Did shopping malls ever serve a purpose in society, beyond retailing? What changed, if anything?
A: Shopping malls became the de facto “town square” during the suburban development boom of the ’70s and ’80s. They were the place to go, hang out and be seen. Thus, the urban resurgence that began in the late ’90s, and really intensified in the past 10 years, has taken the “town square” back to the more natural walkable, urban environment. Places like Winter Park, Winter Garden, Thornton Park and now even Baldwin Park (close to 95 percent leased after suffering massive problems during the recession) are all the “hot” places to go on a Friday or Saturday. In reality, history will show that the suburban mall was the aberration, driven by urban decay and rising crime. With urban renewal and major declines in crime, the mall does not fit as well as it did for those few decades. There will be life for existing malls, but likely after being repurposed and designed to feel more like town centers.”
Where logical transportation and community infrastructure already exists, sprawl repair techniques can be used to add residential, office, entertainment, and public open space to spur an entire region with new, walkable Town Centers.
As Amazon nears offering service to Australia, Economist Jason Murphy hopes Australian malls can avoid the current American syndrome of dying malls. He offers the following suggestions that can also offer hope for our American malls through Sprawl Repair and Retrofit:
“Number one is probably to reduce their reliance on risky “anchor tenants”. Coles, Woolies, Target and Big W are shopping centre stalwarts, but none of them is certain to still be succeeding in a decade’s time. One or all of them could find the going a lot tougher in a world where Amazon is trying to win over our wallets.
The next big idea for shopping centres is to offer experiences not just goods. Amazon sells stuff you can get delivered to your door. But experiences — haircuts, manicures and massages; meals, coffees and movies — are still things people want to meet in person for.”
By increasing density and diversifying uses, dying malls can become innovative employment and social hubs that enrich the surrounding neighborhoods.
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.
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.