Big Box Urbanism

10 thoughts on “Big Box Urbanism”

  1. Circuit City properties have been made into churches and other retail space as have older movie theaters in the church going Southeast.
    I’ve always wanted to “live” in a depressed strip mall store space but that, of course, would be illegal or against the rules of the owners of the property.

    1. I believe that at a certain point the rules will change and we will see strip malls turn in to housing and all sorts of other things. I don’t expect that to happen right away and some places will adapt sooner than others. I talk about failure pretty often. It’s not that I’m a doomer. I just think institutions need to fail periodically in order to get a fresh start. No one in authority could have looked at decaying warehouses in the inner city back in 1970 and thought, “Wow! What great luxury condos for rich lawyers and cosmetic surgeons!” In the same way I suspect a good percentage of 1990’s McMansions out on the far fringe of the metroplex will devolve into multi-family housing for poor people. That’s exactly what happened to many of the grand elegant homes of Victorian era copper barons and railroad tycoons. Times change. Rules change. Shit happens.

  2. I recall reading a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times, back in the mid 1990s. The series looked at people who worked in Los Angeles, but wanted the (affordable) American Suburban dream. So these people bought homes in the Antelope Valley area. They would commute for several HOURS per day. The newspaper series looked at how families just fell apart. People would come home, exhausted, fall asleep on the floor in front of their TVs, and just get up and repeat the process the next day. Kids had no supervision, and ran wild. Quality of life was so bad, that some people just abandoned their homes altogether. I’m not sure, based upon this article, that things have improved much over the past 20 years.

  3. The large parking lot problem is not caused by big box stores. It is caused, as a German friend of mine put it, by the fact that Americans are too dumb to put parking lots underground. This failure is especially bizarre when you consider how unpleasant surface parking is in extreme climates (hot or cold).

    I realize “dumb” is a bit harsh. The goldfish cannot see the bowl from the inside.

    1. Barney – Re: surface parking lots. When land values are high underground or stacked parking decks make sense. I live in San Francisco and the Costco here has a mutli-level parking garage. We have an “urban” Target that doesn’t have any parking at all. In fact, when existing supermarket chains like Safeway renovate their properties in San Francisco they build much bigger buildings and often reduce the size of their old surface parking lots and don’t even bother to add new parking of any kind. It makes sense here when so many customers arrive on foot or by transit. However, in a suburban environment big box stores tend to located in low value areas on the edge of town where surface parking is cheap and easy. It really is “smart” to build that way in such locations. I suspect that Germans have a different set of policies and economic parameters. Land and fuel are more expensive there and social values help balance economic pressures.

      1. Johnny — You are right of course. Germany is fierce about suppressing sprawl and good at transport. But the point is that towns like these would be better off building underground or stacked overground in town than building roads outside town.The streets are already more than adequate (read vastly oversized) in town.

        Lancaster sort of figured this out. Check out Lancaster Blvd between 10th and the Sierra Hwy on Google Earth. They simply converted the street to a parking lot and then planted a few trees. Voila! Instant walkable downtown. When the trees get a little bigger it will be fabulous. It’s much cheaper and lower risk, and it is creates something people can love and remember, instead of subsidizing anonymity. And it can grow organically by adding a side street and stacked parking. Adding public transportation or nearby high density housing (with parking in the basement) would eliminate the need for parking altogether.

        Most German cities and towns are a pleasure to be in. This is because the locals are fiercely loyal to them, and want to invest there. They are communities, not just random dots on the map.The often have their own dialect. As a result, the are financially sound.

        The connection is that a parking lot destroys a piece of land for all practical purposes, and isolated the building it serves from its neighbors. If parking lots are OK to you, you don’t think the land is valuable. If the land isn’t valuable to you, you don’t love your city. If you don’t love your city, it isn’t a city at all, it’s just a dot on the map.It has no reason to exist, so it will fail. So I don’t really accept the argument that stacked parking is too expensive.

  4. You are a genuine American Sniper, Johnny, targeting deadly skunk-urbanism – butt ugly, resource-depleting, economic junk. With so many target-rich environments, may eyes remain sharp, and your aim, true and focused.

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