Ten ways to make big boxes more walkable


The “big box” is being reinvented. A Target superstore and Angelika Film Center are stacked above structured parking and street level retail at the Mosaic District in Fairfax, VA.

Street trees, sidewalks, and liner stores allow more walkable access to the Home Depot in Stapleton, a new urban development in Denver.

Shaded pedestrian paths through parking areas provide connections to surrounding uses and break-up acres of asphalt. 

Liner buildings hide parking lots in Mashpee Commons in Massachusetts.


The Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Maryland, includes Lowe’s, Kmart, Giant, Whole Foods, and other large stores.  The grid, shown in black,  connects the commercial district to residential neighborhoods. This aerial photo was taken in 2005 and one of the blocks has since been redeveloped with more than 300 apartments.

Street trees form a canopy in a big box shopping center in Maryland.



June Williamson, author of Retrofitting Suburbia, offers eight tips on “how to make big box stores less terrible for walking” in an interview by Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog. I provide two more tips—for an even 10. 

1) Make sure you have sidewalks and crosswalks

2) Create a path through the parking lot

3) Make sure there’s bike parking

4) Create outdoor public spaces and seating.

5) Make transit stops comfortable

6) Create more access points for people on foot 

7) Get smarter about parking. Don’t use formulas that create excess parking; allow shared parking between stores and uses. 

8) Use “liners” to create a more walkable streetscape. Liner buildings come to the sidewalk and create an urban edge for walking. The liner buildings pictured (in the slideshow above) even allow for on-street parking.

Here are two more tips:

9) Create a street grid. Plan the big box store and its parking as a group of human-scale blocks rather than one massive superblock. Place sidewalks, utilities, and pedestrian amenities along the edges of the blocks. Place liner buildings on edges and corners of blocks as the opportunity arises. This approach will make the big box store more pedestrian friendly and coherent immediately—but also allow the site to be redeveloped as an urban center in time.  

10) Plant street trees. Nothing will improve pedestrian routes through big box centers more than street trees—especially when they form a canopy. 

Robert Steuteville is editor of Public Square: A CNU Journal and senior communications adviser for the Congress for the New Urbanism. This article was originally featured in Better Cities & Towns on September 9, 2015.