In today’s Gazette, there is an article on the Centennial Commons Shopping Center that is now vacant. I along with many other new urbanists, have been projecting this to occur to aging shopping centers across the country. It is not only based on the inventory that our cities have accumulated over time, but also due to the nature of the centers and the longevity that they are planned to be used. When shopping centers (and other uses such as stadiums) are constructed for a single-use, their failure is eminent. Stadiums are torn down every year and shopping centers every month across the country. Quality of construction is an obvious reason for this as most strip center buildings are not constructed for their longevity today. Chain restaurants are notorious for constructing new buildings in a way that their building is in essence an advertisment for the business. What happens though after a McDonald’s leaves it’s building with arches constructed into the facade? Sometimes it may become a low-rent subsidiary restaurant, but the area as a whole suffers. What do you do with a building that was obviously a McDonald’s, certainly not open a Burger King? The same is true with strip malls, an office does not want to go in a strip mall, same holds true for a residence. The chain reactino is serious, as soon the major tenant, or anchor, leaves the center for the next commercial strip center, the first center (usually 20 years or older) continues to lose tenants and eventually sits vacant. This is not only a visual and aesthetic blight problem, but a problem for the surrounding neighborhoods in terms of crime and property values. It is unfortunate yet becoming all too familiar. The following is a quote from Alex Krieger: “The majority of sprawl in this country is produced by those who are fleeing from sprawl.”
I have done a quick boxy sketch on how the Centennial Commons in particular could redevelop and adapt to it’s new vacancy. It is very crude, as I just did it this morning, but the point is that the answer is not to simply build what has failed, but adapt. Residential is a going to be a key component to the revitalization of our centers and not single-use residential. It must be intertwined into the other uses (retail, office, entertainments, etc.). I have shown it as adding new retail/residential at the entrance from Centennial and continuing to add more buildings as the momentum increases for the revitalization. Another important feature was the connection to the trail network behind the existing center today. Cycling in Colorado Springs is a very popular exercise and if we simply turn the backs of our businesses to the cyclists, we are missing out on a lot of potential users. Again, with more time, this could be more thought out, but while it is a hot topic in the Gazette I felt the need. Enjoy!
For additional information on suburban retrofits in Colorado Springs, see a rendering I did for a similar application on South Academy at the following link: http://olsonplanning.com/2010/02/28/suburban-shopping-center-retrofit/