This is a question that I pose to the group because I think it deserves some brain power.
This is a question that I pose to the group because I think it deserves some brain power.
Here are a couple of ideas for discussion:
1. Convertible frontage – These are units that are built as street-related units with the commercial design characteristics (high ceilings, no steps to front door etc.), but which can also be used as residential units. Normally the commercial uses that would locate in these units would be offices, medical or dental offices, personal services (hairdressers) or other lower intensity retail uses. This allows the commercial market to expand at required without planners having to artificially limit its growth or force retail uses where they are not economically feasible. The City of Mississauga has some great examples of this.
2. Provide wide and attractive sidewalks in all locations. I’ve come across many communities built in the 70’s and 80’s where people have told us that they would love to walk more but they can’t because sidewalks and connections to larger networks don’t exist, or where they do exist they are hostile or unsafe. Engineer’s will tell you there is no observable demand so there is no need to improve the sidewalks and connecting trails, but if they were made attractive and effective the demand would likely appear. If you want people to walk you have to make public space inviting for them. Trees are an important element that should be included.
I feel that the question is posed backwards. It should be how do we create places that have thriving street level active uses that attract retail-like businesses.
To me the question isn't so much how to deal with the saturation of retail, but how to detail with the aesthetic and design quality that we are looking for. If a streetscape has strong pedestrian traffic, proper building scale, and good amenities, the retail and similar uses will want to be there.
Retail is like housing. There is only so much of it - the overbuilt portion of the question is apt, but successful places will create successful businesses. I believe that if we create places we create an incubator for needed uses.
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HP is right. The question is backwards.To create street level uses, you need a few things:
1) roadways that contribute to Pedestrian Safety, or at least make a pedestrian feel safe. This involved large sidewalks (typically larger than 6 feet), on-street parking to separates pedestrians from the roadway, and finally a roadway that is built to a smaller scale, hence, smaller lanes such as 11 to 12 feet per lane, no more than 4 lanes going either one-way or 2 lanes both way. Anything larger, and well, you lack pedestrians.. durr.
2) Can't really do anything about overlybuilt retail, but having housing that is walkable helps out a lot. i.e. a variety of units that make it comfortable to walk to. I walk everywhere (except to work, i take transit ). I live in downtown. Reasons? I just love it, even with 2 kids. I am an exception to the mainstream america. Why do I walk everywhere, it is just pedestrian friendly that's why.
3) What does overbuilt retail have to do with active uses at the street? Seriously? You really can't overbuild retail, unless of course your talking strips centers that are empty or huge big boxes, but that is a different discussion when it comes to active uses at the street level.
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One thing I would like to see is pedestrian-friendly mixed-income retail environments. So many of the pleasant downtown areas that I know of consist solely of expensive, high-end stores. Low-end stores locate where there is cheap rent, and nowadays the cheapest rent seems to be in older, obsolete strip malls (in areas that I am familiar with, anyway). This sometimes creates a situation where the well-off can walk everywhere they need to while the poor have to own a car to drive to stores than they can afford.
I think having things like porches and stoops help, as well as Chinese-style intermediated sidewalks (sidewalks with built-in street furniture).
Stephen Yablon's Jefferson Art Walk project under development in Orange, NJ is a good example.
The important thing to bear in mind (as I commented on the smartcode thread) is that (in the US) each resident only generates between 15 and 40 sq ft of retail space (15 sq ft for a long-income community, 40 sq ft for a young, hip, affluent area). Most community-level ratios sit at an average of 20-24 sq ft/capita. This means that, at best, 10,000 people can support approximately a 200,000 sq ft community retail center. If you think about 45 du/dua as a target multi-unit density (what in SoCal would be that peculiar monstrousity - 4-5 story double-loaded p-block.. basically the densest you can get without going highrise), then you might be able to support a single 2,000 sq ft storefront for each 1 acre building, or one community-level strip mall in 182 acres gross of total development (about a half mile square). The consequences of exceeding these parameters is retail distress or simply lots and lots of unleased space, as happened in Cambridge, MA after they instituted their groundfloor retail requirement. There is never enough retail demand for the type of continuous ground floor retail that best urban design practices demand, really at below the minimum threshhold for podium-type highrises (say 100 du/dua).
Last edited by Cismontane; 06 Dec 2010 at 12:00 PM.
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People love to talk about the brilliance of Dutch planning in places like Borneo Sporenberg, north of Amsterdam. I challenge you to find some retail around all that superb 20 unit/acre housing. You won't find any.. 'cept for a few tiny supermarkets (<1,000 m2 stuff) and the like (I know, because the last time I was there I was dying of thirst and had to walk about a mile to get the nearest open shop from the west end of the of the middle pier). It's nothing like what the New Urbies tell us we're gonna get with smartgrowth mixed-use. Not even 10% of what we're supposed to get with it...
Last edited by Cismontane; 06 Dec 2010 at 3:15 PM.
How do people feel about preventing large retail uses from being built in highway locations in order to force retail into existing built-up, walkable areas? In other words, if a retailer wants to open in your community they have to locate in your downtown.
Notwithstanding the special districts, I suspect retail uses are much more affected by the volume of people passing their door than the residential density in the immediate area (although the two numbers may go hand-in-hand in many cases). For pedestrian-format retail locations that means how many people are walking along the street, along with how many people can see the shop from surface transit and passing automobiles. A street with a major transit system running along it should be able to sustain a much more robust retail environment than a non-transit street simply because people are walking to the transit stops or are transferring between lines and can take the opportunity to pick up a few things as they are waiting.
To your second point, those figures are averages and thus include neighborhood, community and regional level retail together. There is some fungibility between neighborhood and community retail and between community and regional, in terms of their relative distribution. Retail, however, is a zero sum game in the sense that, yes, you can (as you suggest) zone for greater than the regional average for your particular area by concentrating locations and generating traffic, but than, by definition, you're cannibalizing retail from another area.You're making a conscious decision, with your project, to try to take away somebody else's customer flow, somewhere else (or your retail project will fail). The total amount of retail space in a city as a whole is governed by how much consumers spend in aggregate, not by location or concentration.
Last edited by Cismontane; 06 Dec 2010 at 3:28 PM.
As for forcing these uses into the downtown, it often will not work. Yes, Target and others have opened a handful of urban stores, but look at the demographics of these areas. They are intensely developed. The same is not true for, say, cities like St. Louis, Sacramento, or Davenport. Another factor to consider is the size. Some chains, especially Walmart, are experimenting with smaller formats. Still, would you want to level a couple acres of downtown Billings or Savanna to place a discount store there? Interestingly, some small cities (North Platte, NE or Mason City, IA, for instance) have found ways to incorporate large grocery stores, discount stores, or even enclosed malls into their downtowns. So it can work, it just takes a very unique set of circumstances that you will not find in most places.
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Many people, especially lower income people, want to shop at Target and Walmart and Costco, and they want those stores near where they live, which is in cities. Their voices should be heard as well as well as those who have a lot more money, if for no other reason than that there are probably much more lower income people in cities than higher income people.
Nonetheless, the prevalence of BigBox retail is going to make a lot of NU dreams problematic. I would like to see more neighborhood eateries and British-style pubs and they'll work in NU, but purchasing other products? Gonna be tough.
Keep the boutiques, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, banks, offices, theaters, cultural and civic institutions in downtown. That's plenty to keep a downtown vibrant.
Was at a Christmas....ermm...holiday party this past Saturday and there was a long discussion about this very thing. The working class folks in the neighborhood resented having to drive to the stores where we lived, and we liked the housing stock, and many (non-planners) commented intelligently on the mismatch.
Anyway, how much of the lack of affordable retail in inner cities is the result of:
1) Lack of large, vacant properties to build larger, discount type shopping centers.
2) A decision of tenants based on market and demographic studies, with no malicious intent.
3) A decision of tenants based on market and demographic studies, with an intent to stay out blighted communities that might tarnish their store brand.
4) Safety or security reasons.
5) Circulation or access issues.
6) Lack of other commercial tenants in the area. (Nobody wants to be first mentality. Related to reason #2.)
7) Other, or a combination of above.
Or, governmental reasons... say, zoning.
In San Diego's case, Centre City and the 17-odd inner city neighborhoods around the park and west of Division Street, plus the college area, could've all adopted the overlay, along with, say, a dozen beach communities (collectively, white urban San Diego). The various City Heights neighborhoods (although impoverished and primarily minority, they seem to have very dynamic retail corridors that've been able to coexist with the two big box redevelopment sites already there) and some of the ethnic inner burbs north of the river but south of Miramar and the factory belts might've thrown in with them as well. That would've provided a contiguous no-big-box area for, say, 500,000 residents - and extending over 80 square miles - more than sufficient to protect their main streets from big box parasitism at its edges. The Barrio and Southeast would've been left free to court Wal Mart and other big boxes (to be blunt, it's not like those west of Division Street and north of the river would've shopped there anyway.. unfortunately). Also, DeMaio's suburban annex, extending up the 15, north of Miramar - where there are no viable main streets to preserve - would've been free to embrace Big Boxes too. Watching his insular white and asian constituents collaborate on something with Dems in the southeast would've been worth it, in and of itself. Goodness knows which way other outlying areas like the lakes and NCW annexes would've gone, but, in any event, this would've left two or three huge areas of up to some 700,000 residents outside of the overlay zone, fit for big box devevelopment.
I suppose this would've been too complicated, politically. But it points to the issues with implementing smartcode and NU on a citywide scale. Not all neighborhoods will want it.. the post-war 'burban cul-de-sac areas would debateably have no use for that sort of thing, since they seem to like their lifestyles and would be extremely difficult to retrofit anyway. Many minority inner city areas would have more important things to worry about than aesthetically-driven reprogramming and don't have sufficient market-driven redevelopment in any case. I'm not even sure many of the gentrifying inner city areas would want NU.. many of them seem more interested in preservation combined with targetted infilling, not necessarily in a manner consistent with the smartcode.