How The Strip Mall Can Save Suburbia proposes that the (often vilified) standard forms and conditions of suburbia – here, the strip mall and the superblock – can be re-imagined and used to generate new, more innovative forms of suburbia. In other words, and quite counter-intuitively, the strip mall can save suburbia.
The strip mall has a remarkable systemized flexibility; it can accommodate many programs, be deployed in many places, and produce many versions of its standard form. However, this potential has never been fully explored. In its current guise, the strip mall typically produces islands of architectural and programmatic sameness, further isolated by seas of surface parking.
How The Strip Mall Can Save Suburbia proposes a new, opportunistic strip typology that is highly adaptable to the specific conditions of its implementation, both formally and programmatically. A ground level of retail, live/work, and/or civic programs is the base for stacks of housing that can be adjusted in type (for seniors, young adults, etc.) and density (for the target populations). Parking, which remains a crucial condition of suburbia even in walkable scenarios, is “flipped” behind the strip, creating a new programmatic zone on the street that is targeted to the new residential populations and responsive to adjacent conditions. How The Strip Mall Can Save Suburbia can be deployed across medium or large sites, but is particularly effective at the scale of the suburban superblock, where its adaptability becomes most explicit.
Like many older suburbs, Hicksville, Long Island, is seeing significant demographic change. In particular, it is experiencing “brain drain”; only 9.4% of its population is between the ages of 18-34, well below the national average of 13.4%, and dropping. Housing in Hicksville tends to be large, expensive, primarily single-family (approximately 78% of homes have three bedrooms or more), and typically owner-occupied (approximately 86%). In total, housing options for young adults are limited. Equally problematic is the reality that there really isn’t much for young adults to do in Hicksville given the area’s historical orientation towards families and children. (All data from http://factfinder.census.gov/ Accessed 19 June 2010).
But Hicksville has three key conditions that make it optimal as a test site for housing targeting the coveted young adult demographic: Manhattan is easily accessible via high frequency LIRR trains, express versions of which take only 42 minutes; its train station is within easy walking distance to the Broadway Mall, whose anchors stores are a Target and an IKEA; and there is plentiful vacant land, ripe for redevelopment, between the train station and mall. How The Strip Mall Can Save Suburbia seeks to take advantage of these characteristics in an attempt to provide new forms of suburban living for young adults in Hicksville. In so doing, it defines a stronger connection between the train station and the mall, generates a more active public realm, and creates an anchor for further re-development in Hicksville.
The train station site presents a long, linear condition. The ground level is primarily retail, with complementary small-scale civic functions, such as the DMV and a branch library, that cluster near the heavily used station. The new outdoor court at the train station is programmed for performance, such as music and film, as well as for food. Commuter parking is located behind the retail bar; drivers then pass through and along stores and courts as they walk to the train station. A second primary court is designated for outdoor markets.
The Broadway Mall site, which currently is used for parking, presents two distinct conditions and scales. The north side faces Target and a collection of outward facing restaurants in the mall. Here, How The Strip Mall Can Save Suburbia proposal is anchored by retail space; it creates courts focused around a farmer’s market across from the Target, and cafes and nightclubs at restaurant row. The south side, however, faces a residential neighborhood, and accordingly, the courts are more domestic in program. They are lined with live/work space, and are programmed with sports and other leisure activities, such as basketball, a public pool, and bocce courts.