Sunday, May 20, 2007

Residences for Retail

One of the most frustrating things about shopping in America--particularly in the suburbs--is the dull banality of commercial architecture. The ubiquitous strip mall drives me totally nuts. Strip malls are bland, boring, and ugly. They communicate no personality, and they make it exceedingly difficult for their tenants to stand out as unique operations. They hide individual identity.

Of course, I'll grant you, they're cheap. And because they're cheap, strip malls can offer lower rents. Lower rents mean less financial burden on tenants, which means local / independent tenants can establish themselves more easily. So maybe it's wrong of me to complain about strip malls and how they make ordinary llife unpleasant.

But rather than just complain about cheap commercial architecture, let me offer a contrast: the residential home as place of business. Maybe you've seen it elsewhere: a street with beautiful homes, well-maintained, unique, with personality, and business signs out front. I snapped a picture of one (above) to demonstrate the effect. It's amazing--instead of feeling alienated in a concrete sea of a parking lot and a vinyl-sided emotionless edifice, you shop in a home, with trees outside and a certain je ne sais quoi.

Of course, this is only feasible in areas where such houses are already built. Developers are certainly not going to built century homes in the exurbs just because an urban planner like myself said they're a good idea. And since such areas are usually zoned for residential use, it takes governmental action to allow commercial activity there. But what an effect!

Coming this week:
Monday: A Paean to the Stone Arch Bridge
Tuesday: Find This Door
Wednesday: Residences for Retail
Thursday: American Apparel: A Leading Indicator?
Friday: Pedestrians Make Their Own Paths


Anonymous Bonnie Erickson said...

Although Arbor Lakes and Main Street in Maple Grove are not "home" architecture, they have started an architectural precedence for new shopping centers in the metro. The building facades are not identical and definitely differ from the large "dales" of the Minneapolis area which are completely enclosed. As old strip malls are being converted, similar styles are popping up around the metro. A perfect example is Golden Valley's remake of the blocks just north of Hwy. 55 and Boone. The City Hall, Police Department, shops, and row house style townhomes have created a new "city center" for gathering. No longer are shoppers able to go in one door and get to all the shops. They actually have to go into and leave each individual shop! But, the convenience of residential living near the city center is being restored in the "burbs". Do you think it's a movement to create a village mentality in each community?

11:24 PM  

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