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Walkable Retail in Suburban Locations, Part 1

March 23, 2009 Big Box, Planning & Design, Travel 8 Comments

While in Seattle my hosts and I ventured away from their walkable Capital Hill neighborhood to a more suburban environment in the northern part of the city.  We drove past an urban-ish project that I reviewed in April 2005 featuring a 2-level Target store, others stores and structured parking:

But the above was not our destination.  Northgate Mall across the street was (map).  According to Wikipedia, Northgate first opened in 1950 and was enclosed in 1974.  Eclipsed by newer retail options the owner, Simon Malls, had a few choices.  Raze the mall and start over like the Galleria or West County Center have done.  Change the focus to more mundane uses like back office operations.  They chose to create a more walkable experience.

The indoor mall still exits but along the West face (I-5 side) they attached new structures that in many places would be individual buildings on parcels in the vast parking lot.

The bottom row above (B&N through P are newly attached structures. In the parking lot (below) bioswales absorb water runoff and offer greenery to soften the harshness of the plantings.

The new structures present a more friendly face to both traffic on I-5 as well as approaching customers.

The backside, shown above, is very original and dated.

To the South a parking garage was built.  In the background you can also see new multi-story housing.

Throughout the property walkability became a focus with new sidewalks along the roads at the edge of the property as well as leading into the property.  Would I want to live/work/shop here?  No way! But for those who do this is a huge step over what has been here for nearly 60 years.

South of the parking garage and West of the new residential is a major bus stop.  To the East a hospital.  The North is a Target store.  One could live in a apartmet here and work downtown and do it all without owming a car.  The bus would take you to/from work and you could walk everywhere once you got home.  Couples could easily go to a one car lifestyle to save money.  Again, any form of suburbia is not for me personally but fore those who don’t want to live right in the midst of the old core of regions this solution is a good one.  More dense use of the land provides housing for more without having to go to the edges of the region. Transit & retailers are supported by the new residents. The old mall was updated without filling a landfill. A large suburban area is now much more walkable.  Tomorrow we’ll look at a walkable development on the site of an old big box hardware store.

  • Jimmy Z

    I’m a bit confused. Other than providing some new sidewalks, it’s still a big old mall, and a hike to the nearest main streets. They’re adding the same types of stores to the outsides of South County, West County and Chesterfield Malls here – it’s just the latest, “in” thing in retail*. And as for “The backside, shown above, is very original and dated”, I disagee – it’s probably the most interesting part, architecturally, there – the new boxes could be Anywhere, USA! Finally, the parking garage and new housing are illustrative of two things that need to happen here, higher land values driving higher densities and a viable, functional public transit system, that provides a real alternative to that second (or even first) car.
    *relevant article: http://retailtrafficmag.com/development/mixed_use/mixed-sites-get-new-look-0305/

    [slp — yes it is an old mall and the trek from the street to the mall is a long way. But improving access is important. Improving the area without tossing out everything is a plus. Seems like a good compromise.]

  • Scott

    I like that they (developer/owner/operator) acknowledge mistakes and improve upon it. In lieu of bulldozing and starting over.

  • Kara

    Jimmy Z,

    I agree. It seems that any mall development, regardless of form, is no longer preferred. And the disneyland-like experience of these “mixed-use” lifestyle centers isn’t cutting it. Interest, creativity, variety, and community cannot just be conjured up overnight in a large-scale development. Historic neighborhoods built over time by a variety of people have a richness that can’t be duplicated.

  • john w.

    Looks like a big, suburban crapfest to me.

  • Diana

    Sidewalks through giant parking lots do not equal walkability.

    Suburban retail, in its current form, will never be walkable. I can’t really imagine what it would take to make them walkable.

  • Diana

    Kara, excellent points. Totally agree!

  • Maurice

    While to an outside it may look nice and inviting, I think that if this was done here, all we would hear would be about more suburban sprawl and big box retailers.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and location, location, location).

  • john w.

    I hate sprawl pattern development. It should stop.

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