Urban Sprawl

This is number twelve in our series based on Challenges of the
Future: The Rebirth of Small Independent Retail in America
, a 64 page white paper by Jack Stanyon, underwritten by the George H. Baum
Community Charitable Trust, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and the
National Retail Federation Foundation.  Today we take a look at the trend of urban sprawl and real estate development.

Stanyon’s final trend is "Urban sprawl and real estate development."  He points to the spread of "the new urbanism", mixed use developments where people can live, work, and shop.  A prominent example, and one of the first of these new communities was Celebration, FL, a Disney project.

Celebration is a city in itself with homes, stores, and entertainment.  It has its own post office and its own schools.  Theoretically, someone could spend their entire life there, never having to leave.  Other such communities are popping up all over the country, but the more typical "new urbanism" area isn’t quite so self-contained, although it has similar features.

This form of "the new urbanism", one that may have more relevance for our type of business is the "lifestyle center" which seems to be replacing the more traditional shopping mall. Lifestyle centers tend to be smaller than traditional malls with an emphasis on specialty stores rather than big anchors.  They usually feature an open-air design and parking close to the stores.  They appeal to shoppers who are in a hurry and who don’t want to negotiate a huge indoor mall to get what they want.  There is usually a sit-down restaurant or two and there’s likely to be a Starbucks or something similar.  While the number of new malls is declining, the number of lifestyle centers is booming.

Because of their smaller size, there can be more lifestyle centers located closer to residential areas, which appeals to today’s busy consumer, especially with the high cost of gasoline.

Stanyon quotes David Szymanski of the Center for Retail Studies at Texas A&M who said, "Americans are seeking more of a sense of community.  Lifestyle centers, you look at them and go, ‘I like these places.  I feel comfortable here.  These are the kinds of things I like and these people understand me as a customer.’  And the other part is that they are located where these customers live."

In other words, exactly the sort of environment they might find in most independent retail stores.  Comfort, convenience, and individualized service is exactly what you do best.  While no one is predicting the death of the indoor mall, especially in colder climates, lifestyle centers are the trend of the day.  Isn’t it ironic that everything that describes a lifestyle center also describes  downtown?  You remember downtown?  That’s the place everyone moved away from in the 60’s.  Now  we’re building  new downtowns in the suburbs.  Go figure.

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