Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Back to the Future?

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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