Supermarket parking lots as new neighbourhood hubs

Could supermarket parking lots in now-dense urban areas become public squares? or be re-designed as great public places in other ways?

Neal Pierce recently penned an intriguing piece about supermarkets on Citiwire.net.

We perfected the buy-and-drive model from the post-World War II expansion onward. But is it necessarily the future?

No, asserts my Seattle friend and urban design planner, Mark Hinshaw. He sees a dramatically transformed role for supermarkets. They’ll actually become the anchors of new and walkable neighborhoods, he predicts in a Planning magazine article co-authored with markets analyst Brian Vanneman.

Why the shift? Americans’ high personal consumption levels were starting to wind down even before the Great Recession. Households have shrunk in size and the population is aging, with more taste for close-by shops and facilities. Many young people are eschewing the scattered suburban pattern in favor of denser urban living. Buying a house on the urban fringe, once seen as a ticket to wealth-building, now looks to be a big risk. Walking for health and weight loss has begun, for many Americans, to outshine the sedentary lifestyle of using an auto for every conceivable errand. And many people are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

Neighbourhoods that offer the option of walking to do one’s errands have grown in popularity for all the reasons cited above.  In some places this has resulted in homes (including town homes, mid rise and high rise buildings) now surrounding what used to be a more isolated supermarket with a massive, attached parking lot.

In these cases, it seems that turning this space into something more could be great for everyone.

  • If additional small stores or service businesses were added to the space, it would attract more shoppers–great for business.
  • If there was some public space like a small playground, or a sitting area to enjoy one’s coffee, people would come to connect with their neighbours and not just to shop.
  • And if this space connected to other walkable–perhaps retail–streetscapes, more customers would be drawn in.

The owner of the supermarket and parking lot could also benefit through increased property values or options.  A redevelopment of the space might allow for the creation of office or residential space above.

To be sure, parking would still be required at these new versions–sometimes the groceries you need to get are heavy and the car is the logical option–but perhaps fewer spaces, or underground.

While many suburban supermarkets-and-parking lots will likely remain auto-centric destinations for a while.  There are places where density has grown up around these expansive uses and the whole community could benefit from the “accident” of having a big empty space that can now be used for community building rather than parking.

6 comments

  1. [...] Development on April 21, 2010 at 11:40 pm From Vancouver’s Wendy Waters’ terrific blog All About Cities. She links to a piece on Citiwire.net by Neal Pierce who takes a fresh look at supermarket parking [...]

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