You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Back to the Future?

Posted in Economics, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on February 9, 2005

In Michael Crichton’s Timeline (the excellent novel, not the painful movie) a group of anthropology grad students sit in a cafe in rural France, explaining their architectural dig to a friend who works in a different profession. They note that the picturesque 12th-century village, which consisted of little more than a market square, tradesmen’s shops (blacksmith, farrier, and soforth) and a tavern was built as a real estate venture by a consortium of aristocrats who hoped to capitalize on the local trade in goods and produce. In other words, it was a shopping mall.

Chuck Eckenstahler, AICP and Carl Baxmeyer, AICP make a similar analogy in their article, Planning Ten Ingredients Found in Successful Downtowns. The ingredients are:

1. Customer Focus
2. Tell A Story Everyone Knows
3. Clearly Communicated Shopping Experience
4. Value Driven Service
5. Brick And Mortar To Support the Mission
6. Reliance on Customer Attraction
7. A Long Term Customer Loyalty Program
8. Feedback on Performance
9. Dedicated Sales Staff Training
10. Good Business Rationssic – Cross Selling

While they don’t go so far as to use ugly words like “mall” or “shopping center”, items 2 and 7 really make the connection clear–the entire downtown is to be thought of as a single retail operation (“much like a living organism”) with the mission of attracting and keeping customers who come there to shop and find substantially everything they need in one area. In other words, an open-air shopping center with a unified marketing message for the buying public.

This is the antithesis of Duany-style New Urbanist fervor, and it’s also exactly what that movement needs to succeed; a hard-nosed business approach to making the traditional downtown not only look good but function economically.

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