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Normal: Razing Indoor Mall for Outdoor Shopping

November 10, 2006 Big Box, Planning & Design, Suburban Sprawl, Travel 6 Comments

collegestationYesterday I stopped in the greater Bloomington-Normal area along I-55 while returning to St. Louis from Chicago. I happened upon something quite interesting, a former mall that was razed to create an outdoor shopping area. Nobody is going to confuse the ‘Shoppes at College Station’ with say the outstanding Country Club Plaza in Kansas City but it is clear some attention was paid to pedestrian connections.

Let’s start with the original mall (image at right). The mall had three anchor stores — a Target (upper left with light roof), a Von Maur department store (upper right) and a Hobby Lobby (bottom, center). In the remake, all three of those remained but the middle mall section was removed entirely. This is a highly suburban and auto-centric section of Bloomington-Normal with Veteran’s Parkway serving as the Business Loop for I-55. I passed another mall not 3 miles down the road and just about every chain you can imagine in countless conventional strip centers. The headquarters for State Farm Insurance was maybe a mile or so away. (See map of mall)

The remaking of suburban mall sites is increasing of the last say 10 years, making it more and more “normal.” Sadly they did not go far enough in Bloomington-Normal as an upscale strip center basically replaced the old mall. In many other places, the former mall sites get parceled out with real streets (aka public streets) and a mix of uses including office and residential. These will often connect to adjacent residential areas.

But they did one thing right (sort of) in Bloomington-Normal: internal pedestrian connections.

IMG_6328.jpgNew meets old with the new Ann Taylor connecting to the old Target store which appears to have received a face-lift. You’ll note the large sidewalks and pedestrian crossings as well as the city bus in front of Target. Many private properties like this, especially those with more upscale stores like Ann Taylor, don’t like public transportation within their borders so that was a pleasant surprise. I guess this also prevented them from having to make connections to non-existant sidewalks on the main public streets.

IMG_6339.jpgThe “brick” pedestrian crossings are in fact just stamped concrete, but these provide a nice visual clue to motorists as well as a strong suggestion to shoppers to consider walking from store to store rather than get in the car to drive within the property.

IMG_6337.jpgThe center of the former mall contains a large planting area with sidewalks on both sides — this helps you cross the large parking area without having to walk in the auto drives. While this has many flaws, it is certainly better access than most of our suburban style shopping centers such as Loughborough Commons, Gravois Plaza, and Southtowne Center in the city and a mile-long list in the suburbs themselves.

What are the flaws you ask? Well, the landscaping is treated as a decorative element rather providing shade. I personally would have created a strong allee of trees to provide shade for the pedestrian as well as a major visual element. As it is you feel a bit exposed out in the middle and I doubt we’ll see anyone sitting on the benches in the middle of the area despite the attractive “public” art that is provided.

IMG_6330.jpgIn this view you can see how the pedestrian areas are clearly delineated. These were not an afterthought but planned as part of the project.

I don’t want to give them too much credit as the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) requires connections between buildings:

4.3.2 Location.

(1) At least one accessible route within the boundary of the site shall be provided from public transportation stops, accessible parking, and accessible passenger loading zones, and public streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance they serve. The accessible route shall, to the maximum extent feasible, coincide with the route for the general public.

(2) At least one accessible route shall connect accessible buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces that are on the same site.

So clearly the mandate from the feds is to connect buildings via accessible routes, so the above may not be out of great concern for creating a good environment but simply a desire to comply with ADA requirements. Yet when I look at the shopping centers mentioned above I do not see attempts for compliance with the standards.

At the Rail-Volution conference in Chicago I met a “Transportation Accessibility Specialist” who works for the U.S. Government in helping to write the ADA guidelines. I will be corresponding with him in the future to determine if some of our recently constructed shopping areas past muster or not. Enforcement of the ADA requirements does not fall to the local jurisdictions such as the City of St. Louis which is why projects may get built that do not meet the standards. No, the enforcement falls to the U.S. Department of Justice. I will seek out accessible advocacy groups to help file complaints against local projects that appear to fail to comply with the accessible route requirement of the ADA.

IMG_6331.jpgThis image is the opposite view of the one above, again showing how the path is clearly marked. This is beneficial to pedestrians of all types — those on foot and those in wheelchairs. My visit was prior to 10am yesterday morning so many of the stores were not yet open but I did see a number of people already walking between buildings that did have open stores.

We can make pedestrian connections even in highly suburban contexts and especially in our urbanized neighborhoods and commercial streets. The car is not banished to provide for a walkable route. The lesson is that if you provide a clear path people will use it and the better the path the more traffic you will see.


Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tom says:

    The sidewalk treatment might be something Metro/Richmond Heights and the Galleria should consider in connecting the Galleria to MetroLink. You are right, adding trees to would be good as well.

  2. john says:

    ^Absolutely right! The sidewalks along the Galleria Pkwy street are poorly maintained and poorly designed. The street itself is a major deterrent to pedestrians. The Boulevard does not even have a pedestrian crosswalk between it and the Metrolink station. The problems are made worse by aggressive drivers attempting to get on 170.

    Even the Metrolink circle fails to have any stop or walk signs, let alone a designated pedestrian path, to reduce the risks between buses, cars and pedestrians. It’s clear that this area had little oversight or any one who cared about the impact of these design failures.

    The shopping areas in the I64/I170 in Brentwood and Richmond Heights are designed solely for the autocentric. This area is a perfect example of how local elected leaders fail to grasp even the most basic elements of urban design.

  3. awb says:

    I agree with Tom and John about Richmond Heights needing to give some additional thought to the pedestrian access between Metro and the Galleria. But most of all, the region needs to confront pedestrian issues from the ground floor.

    While the sidewalks from the Metro stop to the Galleria are far from safe and easy for pedestrians, the walk through the Galleria parking lot is worse. Whether you walk from your car or from off the Galleria land, pedestrian safety is not noticably part of the equation.

    And ditto what John said about the I64/170 stop. It’s an insult to suppose anyone thought about pedestrians/Metro users for those stores. What a joke. Pedestrians beware–landscaping is more important than you at Brentwood Pointe! At least the landscaping is behind a curb. Pedestrians are expected to walk in driving lanes.

  4. LisaS says:

    So it is possible to build a strip mall that takes pedestrians in mind. One would never know that from what we see around here.

    And about the ADA … I’ve been telling clients for years that it’s not building code (although at this point, the major codes incorporate it by reference), but civil rights law. Lawsuits are the bigger danger by far. I’ve wondered for years why disability-rights groups in the region haven’t jumped on that bandwagon on their own, not just against the developers, but the various municipalities as well.

  5. Jim Zavist says:

    This just the latest trend/style in retail – the earliest “malls” were much like this, before someone figured out you could put a roof on the whole thing and make shopping climate-controlled year-round. They seem to work better in the south and west, where the weather is more cooperative. It’s still all about attracting shoppers and separating them from their money . . .

    The other trend, especially with the consolidation in the department store / anchor store ranks (including the closing of the Lord & Taylor chain), more than few malls around the country are doing things like this, taking out a big box of an anchor and adding a bit of a main street. The real test will be the long-term viability of the concept – I tend to agree with Steve that it will have a lot more staying power when a center goes back to bare dirt, a street grid is (re?)introduced and a true urban environment is created (as Belmar did in Lakewood, CO, replacing the Villa Italia Mall).

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