Are strip malls at “the end of the road”?

One sociologist argues that while strip malls have seen much better days, they can be transformed in ways that they can once again be beneficial:

Strip malls — once anchors of postwar North American suburban neighbourhoods — are doomed, with thousands across Canada and the United States already derelict and eyed by land developers.

But at least one Canadian academic sees value in maintaining the ubiquitous local retailing plazas, and has amassed proposals such as adding community gardens or toboggan slides, or morphing them into giant bee hives or parking lots for food caravans.

“Strip malls were once the economic hubs of new suburbs,” said Rob Shields, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, who received a government grant to rethink strip malls to benefit communities around them…

More than 11 per cent of strip malls in North America are derelict, representing 27 million square metres of vacant retail space, according to the Washington-based Urban Land Institute.

You can see some ideas generated for “reinventing the strip mall” here. This sounds like it fits into a larger idea, retrofitting, where developers and planners take “failed” projects, such as strip malls or big box stores, and design more sustainable, more urban places.

A few more thoughts:

1. If the strip mall is indeed in inevitable decline, I wonder if anyone is tracking what happens to all of the old strip malls. Is there a common use for them or more frequent uses? Will a majority simply be demolished and replaced with something more profitable?

2. It would also be interesting to hear how suburbanites themselves perceive the decline of strip malls – do they prefer “power centers” or is there something lost when strip malls disappear? Perhaps many won’t rue the loss of strip malls because of their very functional design but there may be more who don’t like the disappearance of some of the businesses, like Radio Shack, that once thrived in strip mall size settings.

3. Are strip malls excellent places for small businesses to start and thrive? Perhaps they are not used in this way but I was trying to think of commercial uses that might be particularly suited to a strip mall.

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