inspiration     Jun 15 2009

Those Cinnabons Are Stale

Mapos LLC

Is it something in the air? Small cracks of real estate logic are appearing in the mainstream media and Mapos is seeing glimmers of hope in this topsy-turvy economy. Obama says, “the end is not in sight,” but at least we have something to feel optimistic about.

Amy Cortese¬†reports on the growing movement in Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The iron arteries that tied this country together during its industrial revolution have long been abandoned. I joined a generation of kids who thought they were our private playgrounds, safely creating Rambo-inspired getaways on their lines. On one end is the heralded Highline in New York, which turned rails into a park and with it seeded civic excitement, open space, and tangible development along its banks. On the other are communities from Denver to Dallas to Columbus that are planning on turning rails into, well, rails. Defunct rail lines will once again carry passengers from bedroom communities to downtown and to each other. Suburbs are getting a jolt of master planning they haven’t seen since their first stop lights were planted.

And what happened between these periods of growth? Oh yeah, the monoculture we call the Sluburbs spilled out across our communities covering them in a thin sheen of banality. It’s not new to report that, relegated to same-use zoning, retail corridors are dying and taking thier neighbors with them. It’s not new to fault the developers for this dilemma, cannabalizing themselves as they devour open space and excrete cheap empty boxes in their wake. Thanks Wal-Mart!

I’ve always enjoyed Rob Walker’s column, “Consumed,” and am thrilled this week¬†he looked under the cover of an infrastructural consumer dilemma. Small measures are being studied, and smaller actions are being implemented, to counter the trend of the retail world eating itself. What are the solutions? Reuse. New use. Mixed use. It’s almost “urban” in its DNA. More and more municipalities are nurturing their zoning laws to put community interest above short term tax gains.


Our thinking caps are on. Millions of square feet of climate controlled space sit empty. The embodied energy within those walls could fuel a fleet of SUVs. Rail connection could help down-size parking lots. And then our biggest dilemma would be what we do with acres of asphalt.