Retail is at the heart of American life. Dating from the earliest cities of the United States, storefronts have been more than a place to purchase merchandise. At their best, they have been a central hub for the exchange of news, a means of earning a living for recent immigrants and women, and a source of new ideas and tastes. At worst, commercial streets have been separate spheres with hard boundaries. In many neighborhoods, as new waves of residents have arrived, commercial streets have created and sustained communities.
Before the pandemic, there were many disturbing reports of the disappearance of street retailing as a result of the dominance of the digital economy. Many retail companies have shifted from emphasizing products to selling experiences, but that development evaporated overnight in March 2020. Today the street of retail is struggling. . Online commerce accelerated under the pandemic and many small businesses did not survive the year without a constant flow of customers. Recent economic research predicts that up to 10,000 stores could close in 2021, and although they also predict 4,000 openings, most of these will be concentrated in discount stores (think dollar chain stores) and in the grocery store. Additionally, surveys suggest that many of those who migrated to online-only shopping during the pandemic are not rushing to shop in-store after the end. Sociable and vibrant street life will need an injection of energy and vision to cope with the next moment.
At the end of 2020, we asked five landscape architectural firms to reimagine, in the greatest possible way, the next world of retail. We asked each business to choose a street they knew well and quickly sketch out some ideas for what that shopping street might become and write a short statement. No constraints were imposed except that the street should attract the same constituency it currently serves – no travel and no big box retail. The results, in the following pages, chart the way forward.
POP-UP TO PERM
Mount Eden Avenue, New York
Elizabeth Kennedy landscape architect, PLLC
Sama Azadi; Suzanne Greene, ASLA; Elizabeth J. Kennedy, ASLA
Andrea Baker Consulting / En2action: Andrea Baker, Pooja Rajani
Mount Eden in the Bronx is a bustling, densely urban community of Anglo-Caribbean, Latin and West African Muslim immigrants, settled blacks, and Puerto Rican families. Ninety-nine percent of its residents rent apartments in multi-family buildings; the equity of their neighborhood is strongly socio-cultural.
Mount Eden Avenue is a prime example of a secondary trade corridor occupied by local, mostly independent, store owners who rely heavily on foot traffic for their survival. The slope of Mount Eden also highlights an aspect of retail that is not always obvious: the steeper the street, the narrower the front of the store.
New York City has issued guidelines for outdoor dining structures, but none for retail. If the streetscape defined by the virus is here to stay, how can local suppliers of small brands such as drugstores, dry cleaners and shoe repair shops also market their businesses in public rights of way? difficult?
We believe that lightweight, self-leveling, single-axle retail trailers could creatively bring contextual flexibility to local purchases. The typology of trailers rethinks the food truck that originated in these communities; with extendable decks and bleachers at the front and rear, they could attractively offer essential amenities for activating the streetscape. More importantly, the typology is easily adapted, stylized and claimed.
Our quedamos: We stayed.
Images courtesy of Elizabeth Kennedy Landscape Architect, PLLC.
Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, California
Mantle landscape architecture
Hannah Chako, Lu Dai, Sarita Govani, Katie Laurin, Sean Henderson and Ramsey Silberberg, ASLA
Telegraph Swapscape reimagines the future shopping street transformed into a heterogeneous organism thriving on the multiplicity of city life. It is a place that embraces socio-economic diversity and ecological principles, rejecting the culture of the “throwaway” of society. Here, a more complex trading network is envisioned, where “buying” is not the only mechanism for exchanging goods that everyone needs for food.
The proposal is inspired by the etymological root of retail retailer, a French word meaning to cut, to shred, to discard. Building on the collage-like character of the eclectic businesses of Telegraph Avenue today, the plan proposes to transform the street into an urban “exchange park”, expanding infrastructure to support different consumption patterns. A place where you can always buy new, but also barter, exchange, repair, donate, recycle, share or borrow. People are replacing vehicles as the main activators of this community-driven street. Opportunity kiosks activate the interior with direct-to-consumer businesses, repair co-ops and barter stalls. Linear architectural facades are reformed to create a jagged frame that shapes the exterior rooms for various activities.
Telegraph Swapscape examines how our public spaces are structured to enable our “pay-to-play” consumer landscape and replace it with reciprocal commerce, expanding fairness and access, and recognizing that our world’s resources are finite.
Images courtesy of Mantle Landscape Architecture.
I DREAM OF SHOPPING …
Dallas Street, Houston
Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA; Nathalie Barbe
The future of street-level retail in downtown Houston is particularly complicated due to the vast network of tunnels siphoning workers to restaurants and underground stores. As dying malls are transformed into warehouses for robotic delivery services, disposable fashion enthusiasts will need new places to relax. If the right experience was offered, bored city dwellers could check out their Instagram feeds to take part in the urban fashion show.
The CURA (QR) -TORIUM is a three-dimensional storefront fronting a uniquely curated store that occupies our downtown sidewalks as storefronts have been ripped off at a favorite store. Etsy merchants who don’t have a store to keep will showcase their products in a very neat fashion. Traditional retailers will appeal to online shoppers by showing actual products rather than pixelated web images. These striking displays are constantly changing as competition for the most exciting curatorium erupts among retailers. The streets of the city center become experiential dispensaries where “curiosities” can be scanned and delivered.
A downtown show is created with a Derek Zoolander-inspired walk-off. Participants approach the booth and create extravagant outfits that are displayed on huge digital mirrors as each contestant tries to outdo the next, strutting in digital fashion. The flashes burst, the crowd approves, experiences are lived.
Images courtesy of SWA Houston.
Ingersoll Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa
Planning and Design of the RDG
Doug Adamson, ASLA; Nate Byro, ASLA; Charlie Cowell; Sara Davids Poetting, ASLA; Dani Hodgson, ASLA Associate; Colt McDermott, ASLA; Bruce Niedermyer, ASLA; Kene Okigbo, ASLA; Ryan Peterson; Cary Thomsen, ASLA; Andrea Ytzen
move forward without precedent error
no conformation to a conception deity whose only
contribution is the subtle subterfuge that you are
at ease in your complacent “complete” streets
your streets that bring with them the silent suggestion
it’s quite complete
your streets whose borrowed land is still
only welcoming exclusively
your streets that find more value in
four wheels than two heels
we recreate the reconstruction, but through
a goal neither reluctant nor irreproachable
creating a place that would leave Maslow in love, as he saw his hierarchy manifested in the balance of education formed and nature found
a fair welcoming place for young souls and patinated soles
a place not seen as a passage, but a path towards
a place so full of everything we need that it kneads us – uplifting the environment and the inhabitant
create a place in space and ensure that this place fills us as it is filled by us
Images courtesy of RDG Planning & Design.
LARGE BOX FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC
Church and Cortlandt Streets, New York
Molly Bourne, ASLA; Daniel Yannaccone, ASLA; William Hart, ASLA; Noriko Maeda, ASLA; Sonya Gimon; Emilie gordon
The BIG BOX to BIG PUBLIC concept envisions the future of Century 21, a local department store that filed for bankruptcy following the COVID-19 pandemic. The store had grown over the years, fueled by improved transportation and the post 9/11 rebirth in Lower Manhattan. Today it has façades on all sides of the block at Church Street and Cortlandt Street. Its closure will leave a great void in the retail and streetscape environments of Manhattan’s financial district. Additionally, his departure comes at a time when major flagship stores are closing across the city and demand for office space is declining. Reallocating such a large store can take many years. BIG BOX to BIG PUBLIC offers a retail experience that blurs the lines inside and out. The huge facades are modified to draw natural elements into the interior while simultaneously drawing retail elements on Cortlandt and Dey streets, which would be closed to traffic. From this singular large box, a retail atmosphere similar to a flea market or an open-air bazaar is created. The GENERAL PUBLIC becomes a sensory magnet with tactile, olfactory, visual and auditory cues engaging the public and animating the urban environment. Through its design and relationship to street life, this retail environment challenges online shopping trends and provides the community with a place to talk, come together and explore the unique products created by them. New York retailers.
Images courtesy of the MNLA.