editorial     Feb 06 2011

The Big Duh


The elephant is in the room and we all know it. This excellent piece shines a light on the decaying and empty shopping centers that are littering the suburbs of the U.S. They’re huge. Their parking lots are huger. The “power centers” where they are built play big in people’s daily lives. They’re inefficient, destroy greenfields, and aren’t that beautiful to boot. Small towns have fell victim to their construction (as they win out over Main street) and often struggle for survival when they eventually die themselves.

What can we do about them? How can we leverage the energy (and money and materials) already spent on their development? What does their second life hold? Community centers? Schools? Housing? Mixed-use? Suburban agriculture?

At the same time, why were they built in the first place? While most are copy-cat developments with little thought to the long term, some are products of very smart people actually putting a lot of thought into their creation. What are their assets? (easy construction, ease of access, easy parking, great for mass retailing) What could greatly improve the relationship between people and planet (connections to mass transit, parking as landscape, connection to the outdoors, skylights, recycled materials, creative fixture design).

With over 100,000 shopping centers in the U.S. – and many of them dead or dying – these seem like good questions to ask.