As detailed in my previous post, market trends are shifting toward integrated mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments with an authentic sense of place. Suburban-style strip centers within traditional urban frameworks are quickly falling out of favor with consumers and are prime candidates for large-scale neighborhood revitalization projects. Not all sites are created equal, however. And a cookie-cutter, formulaic approach would be repeating the same mistake as the original, now-failed strip center design. Each site needs to be evaluated based upon its current strengths and weaknesses, and future opportunities and challenges. Understanding the context of the site and the specifics of the neighborhood through market studies, citizen participation, and thorough analysis is key to the long term success of these projects. Presented here are three overarching strategies for redevelopment that demonstrate the full range of strip center repair. Note, these projects are hypothetical for demonstrative purposes only and have not been thoroughly analyzed.
Breaking down barriers and (re)connecting to existing neighborhoods is one of the fundamental goals for successful strip center repair. In traditional urban settings, these strip centers are often surrounded by neighborhoods with an already well designed urban framework consisting of pedestrian-scaled streets and blocks, consistent building frontages, and concealed parking through alley systems or garages set back from the street and corresponding on-street parking. Unfortunately, the strip center model turns these urban principles on their head and instead divorces itself from the well-established urban context by turning its back on the neighborhood and focuses internally; creating nearly impenetrable borders severing connectivity, and offering no building frontage on streets. Instead, it presents a shapeless sea of parking, where clearly car is King and pedestrians are virtually ignored.
Each redevelopment site should be unique and seek to build upon the strengths of the area and/or seek to fill a programmatic void in the neighborhood. Including a variety of housing types at a range of price points provides opportunities for all, whether it be young professionals, families, or seniors; affordable to workforce or market rate.
The ability to age in place is an important emerging concept that should be considered for these new developments. Adding meaningful open spaces — parks, plazas, squares, and greens — that can be utilized by not only the new development, but the community at large will provide diverse neighborhood-wide opportunities.Programmed events such as festivals, movies in the park, farmer’s markets; active or passive recreational opportunities. Commercial uses should seek to provide jobs, retail, restaurants, professional office space, neighborhood goods and services, and nightlife. All of these components add up to an authentic destination that can become the heart — the true “town center” — of a community.
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