Foreclosures and closed retail premises all over the U.S. are encouraging people to re-think where and how they live and work. Add to that consideration of ways to reduce fuel consumption and the result is a possibly new way of designing towns.
Around Washington D.C., The Washington Post reports, developers "want to capitalize on the demand for housing from people without children and draw suburbanites to walkable communities where they can live, work and socialize. Local governments see town centers as a form of suburban renewal -- a way to make over aging downtowns, diversify tax bases and reduce traffic congestion -- and some are providing developers with incentives to help make it happen."
Urban planners and other experts are coming up with forecasts based on projections of growth in adult only households including single people, empty nesters and millennials setting up home independently for the first time who, they believe, "largely prefer densely populated, walkable communities."
Faroll Hamer, director of planning and zoning for Alexandria, said, "We're not abandoning the suburbs, but we're providing more choices."
Robin McBride, of Federal Realty Investment Trust, added, "Merchants have to figure out what works and what doesn't, who the customer is, where they are traveling from," matching merchandise, pricing and offerings to demand.
One development in the D.C. area is "still taking shape" after three years with "the large space leased to the Superfresh grocery chain" still empty, restaurants struggling and many stores that were leased having changed hands already. The problem may have been timing but may also be the combination of retail, residential and office space and lack of car parking spaces. Despite being close to a metro station, consumers apparently prefer the convenience of their own transportation.
Citing several other developments around the district, some of the more successful were likened to destinations, ("People want to be somewhere. There's a 'there' there.") while the failures may feel "like a pass-through to other places".
Meanwhile, a recent profile of Detroit in The Guardian looked at both its desolation and early signs of restoration. Houses that are beyond salvaging are being demolished and replaced with community gardens (some offering free vegetables), new shops and entertainment and eating venues. One resident involved in a group called Blight Busters refers to their objective as "right sizing" the city.
Discussion Questions: Are town centers an expansion opportunity for retailers? What will it take for town centers to succeed?
What's the likelihood that town centers will turn into a viable opportunity for retailers?