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Thread: Strip Malls

  1. #1

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    Strip Malls

    Any comments on the Thoreau Institute article on Planetizen?

    As usual, they do make SOME points. It does seem like too many of the overly-pretty retail environments ("town centers" and the like) that we planners like have little room for the quirky, the cheap, the ethnic, the small business struggling to be born. In a suburban jurisdiction, maybe old strips are OUR warehouse districts. They are ALWAYS full of the same national/regional "lifestyle" chains. I know Northern California doesn't need another faux-Mediterranean colleciton of Banana Republics and Pottery Barns.

    But, it still bothers me a little. I still agree with CityComforts' take on this: follow the street wall, with parking to the rear-especially in central locations where pedestrian activity can take place.

    jresta and other urbanites-what is your take on this???

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    BKM:

    I had read it earlier this morning. I am hesitant to react as I think this will just degenerate into an anti-car thread.

    I think the premise--that strip commercial provides convenience and service to consumers and their preferences--is quite valid.

    These centers offer soem variety and choice. I don't see too many Dollar General Stores in so called Town Centers.

    I agree that by and large many center's are poorly designed, poorly landscaped and pedestrian unfriendly. But these are all minor changes--demand better architectural review, make them plant more and bigger trees.

  3. #3

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    In an ideal world, we would live in pedestrian-friendly cities with the buildings fronting the sidewalk and everyone chatting merrrily with their neighbors while walking back to their solid stone homes that have been in their families for 4 generations.

    David Souter to the contrary, buildings fronting the sidewalk are not a panacea. San Pablo Avenue in the East Bay flatlands is still ugly, as are many of the commercial strips I saw in Toronto (two story boxes right at the sidewalk)

    In many cases, strip malls can be upgraded and improved. We have seen some real ugly ducklings in Fairfield transformed with better paint colors, some architectural detailing, and nicer (ccordinated) signage. The parking is still out front, but, like you say, require trees.

    I'm not thinking so much of the Dollar General Stores (they have an important place but are still a corporate chain), but the little Thai grocery store, the Indian market, the independent pet food store still hanging on, and the best Thai restaurant in the area (in an old Skipper's fried fish shack!) "Town Centres" don't have affordable space for such businesses.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Originally posted by BKM
    I'm not thinking so much of the Dollar General Stores (they have an important place but are still a corporate chain), but the little Thai grocery store, the Indian market, the independent pet food store still hanging on, and the best Thai restaurant in the area (in an old Skipper's fried fish shack!) "Town Centres" don't have affordable space for such businesses.
    Sometimes they do, but then they are label run down

    Mix is important where ever you are. downtown, burbs, ect...

    ....variety is the spice of life

    I admit there is a place for the strip mall, but design of it is very important, as said. But they are not the ‘answer’, rather just a small piece.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    neighborhood strip centers don't really bother me. I used to live across the street from one (it housed a Wawa convenience store an independent video rental and an Eckerd drug store) and frequented it almost daily. If i wasn't renting a movie, using the ATM, or getting the paper then i was cutting through the parking lot to get to the park.

    It replaced a former grocery store that people tell me was "hideous" and there was a lot of wrangling in town over what the new strip mall would look like. Of course it cuts a block of storefronts (c. 1920's) in half but the damage had been done long ago.

    I think they did a decent job with it. The lot had about 20 parking spaces and the place was always busy. It was a convenient place to bump into people from the other side of town that i didn't see on a regular basis.

    Having said that - i don't like regional strip centers. Not necessarily because the parking lots are so damn big but because driving is usually the ONLY way you can get to them if time and safety mean anything to you.

    and it's true - aging strip centers do offer cheap rents to new businesses but i've always been of the opinion, and the merchants in the town i recently moved from share it, that they're in a much better position owning their building and either living upstairs or renting it out to some schmo like me.
    Their mortgage is certain - how much the landlord is going to raise the rent next year isn't. Renting doesn't give them the opportunity to build a clientelle over several years. For a retail business they have to pay the higher rents for a good location if they expect to bring in money and have some sense of security.

    Most people starting out can't afford to buy an entire strip mall and, from what i have seen, the opportunity to buy a particular section of a strip mall doesn't exist yet.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Originally posted by jresta
    Having said that - i don't like regional strip centers. Not necessarily because the parking lots are so damn big but because driving is usually the ONLY way you can get to them if time and safety mean anything to you.
    I will jump on that bandwagon for similar reasons as you stated; there is a tremendous difference between a neighborhood and a regional strip center. Though I am bothered by the monster parking lots really choping up a neighborhood making it intimidating to the pedestrian. Plus, not to mention the setbacks off the street, there is little difference between a regional strip center and the standard mall in my mind. (except AC, of course ).
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  7. #7

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    I agree with you both, Huston and jresta. Especially the argument about owning your building. And, it still DOES bother me when a row of urban-style storefronts is replaced with a strip center that destroys the street wall-especially the larger shopping centers.

    I just thought that the article made some good points about the "incubator" role of strip malls.

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