A Semblance of Urban Life

The closest shopping center, the one with stores we all use, is the Edgewood Retail District.  It does its’ best to work as an “intown” shopping center:  there’s a main street, underground and deck parking, a mix of shops and big box stores.  But is just doesn’t work as well as it should.

Sembler Construction tried to split the
difference between a suburban strip mall
and an urban street.  The result is more
strip mall than street.

Edgewood Retail works mainly because the people who use it make it work.
What’s sad is that it could have been so much better.

Urban features I enjoy are:
Proximity:  a little over a mile from home
Partially Permeable:  there are back door (neighborhood street) entrances east and south
Mix of stores, restaurants, services, housing

Suburban Features I enjoy are:
Parking and lots of it
A modestly upscale Kroger
Lowes:  retail for real men

What doesn’t work:
Inconvenience Stores
Store entrances are placed far apart instead of clustered together.  Sembler has created a semblance of a pedestrian/urban space.  Recently my wife wanted to go to the electronics, book and grocery stores.  She got lucky and found a space in front of the electronics store.  Since moving the car in busy surface lot was such a bother she decided to walk to the bookstore; not too far away.  There were no pedestrian pathways to get from store to store.  She had a long walk through the auto landscape to the bookstore, further to reach the grocery and, when she anticipated the 1/4mile return trip to her car, bought only as many groceries as she could reasonably carry that far.

Fake Frontage
Outparcels along Moreland Avenue are visual, not functional enclosures of space.  The same is true for the sides of the big box stores:  the architectural details infer windows and doors where none exist

Empty Spaces
The parking decks and garage (I had not realized until this week how much space was underground) were mostly empty.  Contrast them with the jammed surface lots.  Most of us will choose surface parking if it is available, even on a day when it was pouring outside. Lighting and signage do not direct you and the underground spaces are spooky.  If I were a woman I wouldn’t want to go there.

Cars 28 Pedestrians 13
“Main Street” has the architectural elements of
pedestrian space but is so busy with traffic that it doesn’t work:  unless you like watching and endless stream of vehicles passing by.  The store awnings are too small and there’s no life on the wide sidewalks.  It’s a picture but not a reality, a cartoon of city life.  Bottom line:  Sembler tried to work with the urban model and this is how it turned out.  Maybe we’re not ready to give up our cars and maybe the design could have been done better.  I think they should have studied mall design more carefully:  an avenue dedicated to walkable, convenient stores without big surface lots.  Maybe we’re just not ready to return to a pedestrian environment-unless it has a roof over it.


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