Are traditional urban environments an antidote to mass consmerism, big box retailer-dominated markets, and stale strip mall culture? Nathan Lewis thinks we should start bulldozing suburban shopping malls and strip malls and replace them with traditional urban environments: really narrow streets, thoughtfully designed public places, no space wasted on parking, buffers or useless filler landscaping. I have a hard time disagreeing with him.
You can read his archive on traditional urbanism as well as his criticism of Heroic Materialism at his website, New World Economics.
How To Make a Pile of Dough With the Traditional City 10: Let’s
Bulldoze a Big Box Shopping Center 2: No, Seriously
November 11, 2012
by Nathan Lewis
A few months ago, I suggested that one good way to start our
transition from Suburban Hell to something much nicer would be to,
perhaps, bulldoze a big box shopping center, and build something
there that was a little more like Paris or Venice, or Tokyo.
So, let’s do it.
First: where is the big box shopping center we plan to bulldoze?
It needs to be in a place that would have a market for a dense
Traditional City-type environment. This probably means some urban
core area, or a place near an amenity like a beach or train station.
We will be adding a lot of commercial and residential square footage
here, so there needs to be a market for that. You need to be able to
sell it for much more than the construction cost, to create the
profit that justifies the large investment. I suggest a shopping
center near the beach in San Diego. This is not because I like the
San Diego climate, and the beach, and girls in bikinis. No, it is
because everybody else likes those things too, so there would be
interest in purchasing or leasing property in such a place, at a
I took the example of a shopping center in Binghamton, New York.
Binghamton is probably not a good place to do this, because nobody
needs another nine million square feet of floorspace in Binghamton.
However, since all shopping centers are basically the same, we can
use that example. At a density of 100,000 people per square mile,
reached in some Paris neighborhoods, 15,000 people or a third of the
entire population of Binghamton could live here. However, those
15,000 people already have houses, so we don’t need to build any
more in Binghamton. In a place like Darien, Connecticut, however (an
upscale New York City suburb), lots of people might like to live in
a place like this (good schools), and pay a premium for it,
especially if it was within walking distance of the train station.
Bulldozing this thing is pretty easy, because
its mostly just parking lots anyway, and the buildings
themselves are rather insubstantial.
This photo is about 800 meters across, and the land plot is
about 93 acres. That is quite large, actually.
Here are some of our design goals:
1) We are assuming that we have to interface with
Suburban Hell as it exists, so that means lots of parking needs
to be provided, and a way for automobiles to get in and out
easily. Parking will be in enclosed, multistory parking garages,
mostly integrated into multi-use buildings.
2) Our land use plan is something like this:
60% building footprint
30% parks, courtyards, yards, gardens, and other public and
private open space, which consist of Places, not “green
10% roadways, broken down into:
About 20% of streets are Arterial Streets, with
two to four lanes of dedicated automobile roadway in the
middle, probably some trees or grass as a buffer, and
sidewalks on either side. No on-street parking.
The remaining 80% of streets (by length) are
Really Narrow pedestrian-centric streets, of 10-30 feet
wide, no segregated automobile roadway, no sidewalks, and no
3) Building height is generally 3-6 stories, a typical
Traditional City height.
4) Some buildings can be taller, particularly those which
are adjacent to Arterial Streets. This would be more of a
Manhattan-style Hypertrophic approach. Big buildings and big
streets go together easily. So, you can add your 35-story
highrise apartments and offices here too, if you want.