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Jacob Norlund - KC

Ma' and Pop Stores in New Urbanist Developments?

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I'm very much attracted to the idea behind "new urbanism" (attractive, walkable spaces, mixed-use development, etc.) but in most pictures of such developments the commercial activity there is confined to large national chains. Does anybody know of a new urbanist neighborhood that houses a substantial amount of family / small / local business?

Oh, by the way, how about one that has plenty of small, local business activity in addition to NOT having an HOA?

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Mom and Pop stores don't tend to opperate out of ANY new construction retail space in high numbers ... whether it's urban, suburban, new urbanist, etc. The costs are usually too high compared to available space in older, more run-down properties. How many brand new downtown developments have Mom and Pop retail? How many brand new strip malls have Mom and Pop retail? A relatively low percentage, I'd imagine. So I don't really think the issue lies with New Urbanism, but with the fact that it's still ... well ... new!

Though, for what it's worth, I've noticed that most new urbanist developments do have local or non-chain businesses. However, they tend to be professional offices and upscale botiques.

No longer responding to Jacob, but just a general comment ...

The New Urbanist vision will never satisfy people who find the essence of urbanism to be cultural (call them "hip" "edgy" "bohemians" whatever you want). The New Urbanism is about infrastructure and quality of life, and it often makes a self-conscious effort to be as clean/sterile and upper-class as possible. Of course, this is a mortal sin to people who conflate grit and poverty with character and community, so the New Urbanism will always be unacceptable to them.

At least until some of them become blighted in a few decades, and start showing a little decay. ;)

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Agreed. The built environment can't create a sense of community as that really depends upon the people. If anything, most new urbanism developments seek to make everyone conform to a certain "model" and the diverse need not apply. A good example of this is one of the first new-urbanist developments, Seaside, Fla. Right off the bat, anyone of modest means is excluded from this place which means the development is going to consist of one or two demographics. Add to that restrictions on the property, and you end up with a bland sameness called new urbanism. I don't know what kind of sense of community you have there, but I suspect that it is going to be pretty superficial.

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But then how does one explain the downtowns of numerous German and Swiss cities?

Spotlessly clean, mostly high-income (the poorer folks tend to live further away from the downtowns), and absolutely filled with chain stores. In fact, most large and medium sized German cities seem to have downtown pedestrian malls consisting of an almost identical line-up of chain stores.

Are they somehow inferior urban specimins, lacking in character, because of this? I never thought so.

New Urbanism's cleanliness might seem superficial ... but to me (and I'll say it again), it's equally superficial to conflate grit and poverty with character and community. Counter-culture doesn't make an environment urban. It makes an environment "cool." Those are two seperate issues. You can have a 100% white republican baptist middle-class community be urban. An urban neighborhood can be totally undiverse, and totally "uncool." There's no disconnect there.

Other examples might be countries like Japan and Poland. Extremely ethnically (and often culturally) homogenous. Does that detract from their substantial urbanism? I don't feel that way.

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Those are German and Swiss cities.

In Italy, where I'm sure most new urbanists would be very pleased with the urban layout, I remember reading that there are about 4 times as many shops per-capita as in the United States.

The chain stores aren't "inferior specimens", but they are not owned by the people of the community or area. It is better for many citizens to own (actively, not as passive shareholders) than a number of large corporations who do not have serious local interests to dominate a city's downtown and/or retail scene. However, I would not be opposed in any way to major retailers coming to a city - I would, however, if ma' and pop businesses with their heart and soul (necessarily) in the community were lacking. (I am very biased because I come from and work in a family business, but I know how special these firms are).

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You have to differentiate between your Walmarts and your BestBuy stores versus say a Starbucks or a Barnes & Noble. Smaller-scale chains can more easily fit into a new urbanist environment.

It also depends on how the development is set up. There are some cases where the population in the 'new urbanist village' or whatever cannot support their own commercial endeavors. In fact, many of them rely on outsiders treating it like a "mall" or sorts. Very few new urbanist communities can acutally support the commercial businesses that exist within them.

The problem I see is that mose of them are set up very much like suburbs, just more compact. Yes its a better type of suburb, and a great step in the right direction, but sometimes a subrub is just a suburb.

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But then how does one explain the downtowns of numerous German and Swiss cities?

Touristy? Actually, i have been to neither, so I really can't say one way or the other. But perhaps that is the point - we have nothing to base that upon besides what it looks like. I think the same thing goes for the New Urban developments. From a looks perspective, they are winderful.

But what about the real life aspects of it? What is a community like that really like when you feel sick, when you have lost your job, when the world seems against you. How much of a real community is there? I think that is the point about mom-and-pop stores - it's not about how classy they are, it's about is it a place you feel connected, or is it just a treansitional space?

Ironically, while the New Urbanist movement is about establishing a sense of home and trying to fight the mobile car culture, in the end it makes people even more mobile, because there is no uniqueness to it - no underlying neighborhood or community, just a collection of off-the-shelf shops. True, a lot of that character comes from time. But it is kind of like mass-produced food - some much went into making it the perfect package that it has lost the little nuances and imperfections that ultimately give it character. Those mom and pop stores, or at least the stores that are truely one with the community, are what make neighborhoods great, not the look of the buildings.

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