CNU26: First Floor Retail

My morning session at CNU-26 in Savannah addressed “first floor retail”; what you see in modern urban office & residential towers: which designs, ideas, zoning, layouts work & which don’t.

The great idea that was being pitched is to code for immediate “flexible” residential that can later flip to retail as the local economy grows and changes. New construction often floods the market with unsold retail. So, setback the entries (for patio cafes), build 16′ ceilings (with interior soffits for human scale), ADA flat floors, temporary small windows inserted into large retail spaces, place temporary 4′ decorative sidewalk barrier walls (brick or block) make a ground floor apt easily flippable to retail / professional once the market catches up. This is exactly what a forward looking city will eventually want.

A long discussion on failed 70’s malls and big box retail (with their acres of parking) also pointed out that only 11% of the economy is eCommerce (despite long list of failed chains). With 89% still brick & motor today, smart retailers are opening boutique storefronts to let customers touch the product, then ship it to you using the Web channel. You do this anyway (touching it at Target, buying it at Amazon) so look for these tiny “stores” for eyeglasses, tailors, specialty clothes, mattress. Most wild was trailers, setup to haul product to street fairs & events, then again ship your purchase from website process. No inventory movable eStores.
A long portion was about specialty destinations, repurposed factories & industrial sites. These are just 70s malls, stuffed with trendy kiosks, eStores Starbucks & wine-bars, instead of Sears & JC Penneys. Plus high price small plate hipster friendly dining outlets and surely free WiFi.
As a citizen activist, I brought up the old debate of 1950’s true public place vs 1990’s privately owned pseudo public place. If you’ve ever done a protest or sign wave at a wal-mart or enclosed mall, you know you are half mile from anywhere, with city cops preventing you from blocking the driveway; threatening arrest (or now the threat of being run over without penality to the driver). This make big recessed retail safe from activism.
There is no more flyers or picket lines or protests in those fancy elite “town centers”; whether stuffed with internet millennials or “the Villages” and its golf carts. Every psuedo street, park, fountain, and boulevard sit squarely on private property … just like Disney World or the Pebble Beach Country Club. I sat quietly until one speaker showed a upscale food court and said “you could bring your laptop here and comfortably work all day”. Sure, I thought, unless you are poor … or black … or have a DSM diagnosis of any kind … or a visible alternative gender identity … or whatever doesn’t fit in at that location (maybe a Trump cap or “allah akbar” shirt?). It is still private commercial property.
If we return to 1950s “active public sidewalks”, we allow protesters, panhandlers, and flyers. Petitions will no longer be limited to the library and city hall entrance. Surely we all remember the weekly Iraq war protesters on the sidewalk outside St Pete’s Bayside (now Sundial) mall. The city literally rezoned a piece of public sidewalk to make them relocate their picket line across the street to not diminish the shopping experience of tourists. Corporate / Government partnership, or “of the people by the people”?
So I asked the architects and planners what advice they had for those returning hipsters & trumpsters, coming back to this once again truly public space. I was waiting for “ahem” and “police” and “vagrancy” … or “improve America’s social conditions” to solve it. What I got was them advocating developers & builders to “partner with the local city” and adopt a “management partner, sadly” to help with “these kind of day-to-day issues”.
I interpret that to mean encouraging city councils (stocked with realtors, developers & bankers) that if you want more bank money & builder’s commitment in your town, you’ll pass whatever necessary laws & up the local police presence to solve this little “problem” of mixing rich-wannabees and poor angry activists making them uncomfortable in their walkable cafes.
But maybe I misread the euphemism.  If you don’t have a dictionary handy … the word is “fascism”.

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