According to the book Reshaping Metropolitan America, about half of all nonresidential structures in the US will be “ripe for redevelopment” in 2030. Many of these are commercial strip retail buildings with large parking lots or dated office buildings on suburban sites, according to an article in the current issue of Better! Cities & Towns. The annual report Emerging Trends in Real Estate notes that many suburban retail and office properties across the US are languishing in value and may not be worth refurbishing. All in all, 50 billion square feet of commercial space in the US will need redeveloping by 2030, says Reshaping Metropolitan America author Arthur C. Nelson. One of the challenges to redeveloping such sites, however, is that they are often located on commercial strip corridors that are not appealing for mixed-use development. That challenge could be addressed by “complete streets” projects on major thoroughfares that need to be rebuilt anyway, setting the stage for redevelopment.
Arthur C. Nelson, author of Reshaping Metropolitan America, projects that between 2010 and 2030, nearly 80 billion square feet of nonresidential space will be replaced or redone in the US. Retail structures have a short lifespan, he points out. The rapid obsolescence opens substantial opportunities to build retail in a more walkable, mixed-use, transit-supported fashion. Nelson doesn’t think retailing will make a huge shift to the Internet—at least not enough to make physical retail space a thing of the past. Web-based retail sales, even after increasing by more than 10 percent a year between 2002 and 2012, “still accounted for less than 5 percent of all sales” last year, he notes. At this pace, e-commerce will account for under 13 percent of retailing by 2030, and, he says, “I do not expect much if any reduction in retail space demand in the United States. Some retail activities defy e-commerce, especially restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and beauty salons. Moreover, the best way to comparison shop is by seeing, touching, and in some cases, trying on the goods.”
While on an individual level it is clear that today's transportation agencies are filled with people who are professional and want to do the right thing, the institutional inertia is carrying them in wayward directions.
The photo above, by urbanist Peter Katz, was taken in the entrance to a subway station in Chicago. This is the latest strategy being tested by Peapod, an online grocery delivery service that was founded in the Chicago area and serves most of the Northeast corridor from northern Virginia to Boston — in addition to several Midwest cities like Chicago, Indianapolis, and Madison, Wisconsin. Transit users can use their smart phones to scan an item — including produce — and have it delivered to their house later that day. If you have a few minutes to wait for a train, Katz notes, you can do your shopping and "kill two birds with the same stone." This eliminates lugging groceries, but delivery speed will be an important factor in the success of this idea, notes retail expert Bob Gibbs. Shoppers don't like delayed gratification.
In 2003, in Washington’s Logan Circle, Gina Schaefer opened what she believes was the first new neighborhood-scale hardware store in the nation’s capital in 20 years. Since then, she’s opened six more in other Washington neighborhoods (see photo above), in suburban Takoma Park, Maryland, and in Baltimore—all affiliated with the Ace Hardware national co-op. A story in the July-August issue of Better! Cities & Towns reports on these and other similar stores that are opening in urban places — apparently the neighborhood-scale hardware store isn’t dead after all; it was just waiting to be revived. The locations that Schaefer looks for are walkable, have lots of renovation, and benefit from a strong "shop-local" orientation.