February 04, 2009

Retrofitting Suburbia: Villa Italia to Belmar

If we built more livable cities, perhaps we would not ruin so much land in trying to escape from them.

Popular Mechanics interviews architects Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson, authors of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. Dunham-Jones says,

The term "ghost boxes" [vacant big-box stores] makes sense to everybody, though. They're just on everybody's radar, and there are a lot of them out there. Everyone understands the scale of the big box and wonders: Couldn't it be reused in some useful way?

The article is illustrated with the conversion of a former shopping mall, Villa Italia in Lakewood, Colorado, into that amorphous Denver suburb's new downtown district. Other cities are mentioned too, including Santa Fe.

I vaguely remember Villa Italia from my early teens. I should go see Belmar sometime.

Landscape architect Craig Vickers remarks poignantly, “Belmar is full of ideas intended to almost train suburban people in urban thinking...how to understand it and how to look for what to enjoy here.

Of course, there is no "mar" anywhere near this Belmar. Can we never escape real estate-ese?


Holly Heyser said...

Nope. No escape.

Just like I can't escape developments called Pheasant Ridge when the bulldozers that created them pushed out the last remaining pheasant in my neighborhood.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Belmar isn't half bad, nor is Cindarella City, another of the major mall redevelopments in metro Denver. Both, by the way, have plenty of big box stores.

One of the less told stories of this process is how much commercial development is driven by local tax base incentives.

Retail generates a lot more tax than it costs in terms of government services in most of Colorado; housing costs a lot more in government services than it generates in taxes beyond the very high end, so governments permit it only when they have few other options.

Reid Farmer said...

Of course, there is no "mar" anywhere near this Belmar
Unless Chatfield Reservoir counts!!