Yesterday I came across this article about a competition at the University of Alberta called “Strip-Appeal” in which architects and other designers submitted proposals for re-purposing abandoned strip malls. As big box stores and online retailers like Amazon claim more and more business, strip malls have started going empty.
I had a look at some of the submitted designs and I couldn’t help but feel a little weary. Design proposals included:
1. several variations of a park/greenspace/community garden (Yaaaaawn.)
2. turning the strip mall into a mixed-use town-center-y kinda thing with underground parking. (zzzzzzzzz.)
3. a plan where people could just come in and use the building materials from the old strip mall to build whatever they wanted because there would be no zoning regulations for the new space. (Sounds like anarchy but at least it’s different.)
4. a gathering place for mobile “pop-up” retailers. (In other words, one week a space would be occupied by Dahn Yoga, the next by Haagen Daaz? Is this feasible?)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for “re-purposing” rather than scraping old structures clean away and building completely anew. I’m just wondering:
a) if these new and improved spaces would be any more successful than the old strip malls or if they would lose money too, and
b) if we might, just a TINY bit, grow to miss those tacky old strip malls.
I mean, today people have come to look with some fondness back on the industrial landscapes of the 20th century — you know, the old foundries that have been transformed by clever architects into urban parks and artists’ studios. Those old smelting towers and smokestacks that were considered such eyesores have become chic and retro because now they’re surrounded by Karl Foerster grass. (And yeah, okay, they don’t belch toxins anymore, I know.)
But I wonder if, in a hundred years, visitors to one of these repurposed strip malls will be like, “hey look, they salvaged the red faux-shingle roof from the old Pizza Hut! Isn’t it GORGEOUS?”
Maybe one day, far in the future, I’ll be strolling through one of these new-fangled places with one of my grandkids, and I’ll tell him, “that’s right, sweetie, this Sustainable Eco-Plaza used to be a Trak Auto! Granny bought her wiper blades there! And that Carbon Credits ‘R’ Us over there used to be a 7-11! That was back in the days when folks were allowed to buy hundred ounce sodas!”
And I’ll think of the Erol’s Video store that I used to visit every Friday night, and the Cheng’s Chinese Take-Out that I ordered from every week but never actually knew where it was. And my eyes will get a little misty.