In the April-May issue of Better! Cities and Towns Robert Steuteville explains why retail design is so important in our community. The primary example Steuteville uses is a Walgreens in Evanston, Illinois (pictured below), which despite its nonpolluting (“net zero”) design has a huge surface parking lot in a walkable neighborhood. While the design of the store is certainly contradictory in terms of its environmental impacts, the author emphasizes that the store layout also clashes with its environment. The traditional layout of national retail chains is often suited for a sprawling suburban environment, and includes lots of floor space and a big surface parking lot in the front. However, because the rate of sprawl has slowed down, retailers now have many underperforming stores with diminished values on their hands. Redevelopment and infill development are replacing sprawl (like what’s happening in White Flint), and in order to stay competitive retailers will have to adapt their layouts to fit this new mold.
Source: Better! Cities & Towns
Steuteville argues that the way commercial properties develop will influence much of what our cities and towns will look like in the future. In addition to making our streets more walkable and inclusive of transit, we should make sure the places transit riders and pedestrians need to get to have designs that accommodate them (for example, having a door facing the street instead of a big parking lot). He also pushes cities to do more, particularly modernizing their zoning (incidentally, Montgomery County is currently rewriting its zoning code). Continuing old patterns of retail design will come at a cost to both cities and retailers.
Steuteville points out that, “according to Reshaping Metropolitan America, 50 billion square feet of nonresidential property in the US — much of it strip commercial retail — will be ripe for redevelopment in the years 2010 to 2030. This huge redevelopment potential could be used to transform the built environment in the US.” White Flint is at the forefront of this movement, and we can set an example for other communities to make sure the design of our retail connects with the vision for our new community.