Archive for October, 2010

The Lifestyle Center

Posted: October 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

Are amenities important for public spaces?  Isn’t a fountain just a luxury?  Isn’t all that landscaping just a maintenance headache?  Why bother with fancy pavers when plain concrete or asphalt works just fine?

Amenites, such as the fountain at The Grove in Los Angeles, help increase retail sales.

Consider this:  the retail trend of the last decade or so has been away from the sterile indoor mall environment to the amenity-laden lifestyle center.  In fact, according to an article in Landscape Architecture Magazine by Daniel Jost, ASLA, there hasn’t been a new enclosed mall built since 2006.  Lifestyle centers are, by definition, open air shopping centers, but unlike strip malls, they strive to create a casual and comfortable atmosphere that encourages browsing.  This atmosphere is created by the use of amenities and features that actually slow down shoppers and enable them to enjoy the experience.  It becomes more about a pleasant day (that happens to include spending money) as opposed to a mission to buy things.

The Exception:  Sometimes we are on a mission to buy things.  That’s why we have Walmart. (Regarding Walmart, the trade-off of an enjoyable shopping experience in favor of saving a few dollars is just too great for me.   I’ll spend a little more if I don’t have to subject myself to the madness of Walmart.)  It’s true that sometimes we don’t care so much about the amenities.

But for the most part, we do.  We’ll take a break from the stores and hang out in an outdoor café and watch everyone else go by.  We’ll have a cup of coffee and watch the kids play in the fountain.   And even while we’re shopping, we slow to a stroll because there’s so much to enjoy.

The typical lifestyle center is aimed at the high-end shopper and includes stores you don’t typically see in West Virginia.  Shoppers at the Easton Town Center in Columbus have experienced a true lifestyle center.   But I’ve noticed the same lifestyle concept being used on a smaller scale.  I don’t know if the developers of Pullman Square would consider it a lifestyle center but it certainly follows the same principles. 

We can take the lessons from the retailers and apply them to our public spaces.  We can see what works in the lifestyle centers and apply some of the same principals to our parks.    In fact, urban planners have long recognized that a vibrant commercial downtown is critical to the success of public spaces.   As retailers begin to include public spaces in shopping centers, maybe we need to think more about retail opportunities in our public spaces.