September 3, 2007

We CAN make walker friendly strip malls (without the strip part)

A downtown commercial center's streetscape needs are fairly clear -- make sure there's an attractive, unbroken vista for pedestrians, without gaps and buildings or big setbacks for parking lots that create unappealing walking environments. But what about a suburban district where strip malls are the norm, and individual property owners are unlikely to knit their building facades together?

Manchester, Vt. Manchester, Vermont came up with a pretty interesting development pattern for its collection of retail outlets, not too far from the town's historic center. Although some buildings are set back a bit from the sidewalk, and there are small gaps between some of the buildings, the shopping district manages to combine blocks of traditional downtown stores all at the streetscape with newer stand-alone buildings, all reasonably walkable if not perfect.

It's a welcome change from the typical strip mall approach, like we've got on Rte. 30 (used in Kittery, Maine), or stand-alone mega-mall separated from the surrounding community by asphalt ocean (Wrentham or Lee, Mass.; Shoppers World, Framingham). There's some on-street parking with an emphasis on off-street, "park once and walk to multiple destination" lots. While some buildings have parking in front, it's limited enough so that walking from the sidewalk to the buildings doesn't seem too off-putting; and most parking is at the side or rear. There's a good balance between the needs for cars to go in and out, and the need for pedestrians to have a walking corridor that feels safe and not offputting.

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