Friday, February 12, 2010

Slumburbia

This week the New York Times ran a peice callsed Slumburbua about our country's struggling ex-urbs. The articles cites that in the western half of the country that:

"...median home prices have fallen from $500,000 to $150,000 — among the most precipitous drops in the nation — and still the houses sit empty, spooky and see-through, waiting on demography and psychology to catch up.

In strip malls where tenants seem to last no longer than the life cycle of a gold fish, the bottom-feeders have moved in. 'Coming soon: Cigarette City,' reads one sign here in Lathrop, near a 'Cash Advance' outlet."

Here in Baltimore the second part of this quote definitely rings true. Many of the inner and outer ring ex-urb communities have been "over-stored." in the suburban commercial corridors there have been too many strip malls, shopping centers and stand alone big box stores. Because of the recession when a strip mall or shopping center loses it's anchor, there is nothing to replace that store and the shopping center becomes an eyesore. What had been somewhat nice shopping centers now become home of junk retail and carry-out stores that you would typically associate with inner-city communities.

It's almost as if the area did not learn it's lesson from the large suburban mall failure from 10-15 years ago. When large area malls failed, the thought was the mall concept was dead and that consumers still wanted endless chocies of stores. Local area malls were then chopped up into walkable "Avenues" or "power centers" that featured four to five different big box stores with twenty or more so smaller stores and restaurants. So instead of redeveloping a commercial property that had died into a mixed use community, developers just extended the life of the commercial center from a 100+ store mall into a 30+ store commerical power center.

Now even these power centers and "avenues" or showing signs of distress not because they may have been a bad design concept but because they are too many stores. Redeveloping a dead mall while still using the same footprint for new stores does not change the character of the development if an anchor fails or goes out of business.

The New York Times article goes on to state that:

"...look at the cities with stable and recovering home markets. On this coast, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and San Diego come to mind. All of these cities have fairly strict development codes, trying to hem in their excess sprawl. Developers, many of them, hate these restrictions. They said the coastal cities would eventually price the middle class out, and start to empty.

It hasn’t happened. Just the opposite. The developers’ favorite role models, the laissez faire free-for-alls — Las Vegas, the Phoenix metro area, South Florida, this valley — are the most troubled, the suburban slums."

When the market comes back, which it will, there should be no more new shopping centers in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Local jurisdictions first must push new development into the dozens of vacant shopping centers that are dotted all around the metro area.

What do you think?

1 comment:

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