The Surprisingly Not Terrible Urban Interface of McDonald’s in Alexandria, NSW

Recently I berated a hotel in Shanghai for not welcoming pedestrians from a corner. I have since come across a McDonald’s, shown in the images, which makes an effort to welcome pedestrians from the adjacent intersection, with an opening at the corner, and a clearly delineated and non-circuitous pedestrian path across the driveway to the otherwise typical and un-urban store configuration.

I don’t know the history, I imagine  there was once a typical corner hotel/pub that for whatever reason (abandonment, fire, changing market) became a McDonald’s site. The planners insisted on maintaining the semblance of urbanity at the corner, and this was the compromise. One day there will be a real building again. Until that day, I have seen far worse.



On Shopping in Sydney

Sydney is a consumer city. Because of the relatively high residential density, you don’t need to walk too far to run into a High Street. Further, the economy here is geared to consumption. This is aided by the large visitor and tourist population, but is true for full-time residents as well. Stores are smaller on average than the US, but there appear to be more of them (per capita). So there are successful shopping malls, and not just ‘festival market places’ inside the city, which has been more difficult to execute in the US.

Several things to note:

  1. Unlike the US, many Australian Malls have grocery stores or “supas”, short for supermarket, notably: Aldi, Coles, Harris Farms, Woolworths, as well as butchers, bakers, fruit-stands, ethnic food specialists, and fishmongers.
  2. Instead of upmarket department stores, malls have junior department stores (K-Mart, Target, also Woolworths/Big W).
  3. Woolworths is still an ongoing concern here, and seems to be doing relatively well, at least in the supermarket sector. Things I learned: there is no relation among the various Woolworths internationally. The South African and the namesake Australian chains both separately stole the name of the US F.W. Woolworths in an era where trademarks and intellectual property were less well defended,  (see this list for an untangling).
  4. Target serves the market that K-Mart serves in the US. Like Woolworths, there is no relationship between US Target and Australia’s Target, locals just stole the name, so it appears we are still in the era where trademarks are not internationally defendable. It is owned by Wesfarmers, one of Australia’s largest companies that started as a cooperative to serve farmers in Western Australia (logically enough) and is now listed on the stock exchange.
  5. K-Mart serves the market that Target does in the US. It is also owned by Wesfarmers. It was originally a joint venture between Coles and the US Kresge (the owner of K Mart), so the name is rightfully theirs.
  6. Amazon has not yet invaded the market, but is expected to enter this year. This has the retail sector very nervous.
  7. Food courts are common, and malls have more eating establishments per square meter than the US.
  8. Prepared (i.e. Restaurant) Food Delivery is huge in Australia, with a number of companies in this sector: Deliveroo, Foodora, Uber Eats, among others. I have not used them. I had thought given the suffix, Deliveroo was an Australian company, but apparently it is an import. Many of the deliverers use bikes.
  9. Most High Streets are doing well, and most Malls are adjacent to High Streets.
  10. Some malls are integrated with transit (Bondi Junction, Chatswood, Parramatta), others are nearby, but not fully integrated (Broadway, Ashfield, Liverpool, Queen Victoria Building).
  11. Some parking ramp/garage space has been converted to shops (Harris Farms, a Whole Foods-like store at lower prices) at Broadway, a Chinese supermarket at Ashfield), as shown in the Figure
    Ming's supermarket in the parking garage of Ashfield Mall. The future of parking structures is to be reclaimed for alternative uses.
    Ming’s Fish and Meat Market in the parking garage of Ashfield Mall. The future of parking structures is to be reclaimed for alternative uses.

    . So while the value of store space outweighs the value of car storage space, store space can be expanded into the parking structure, as awkward as that seems (and it is awkward)

  12. Each bank is in each mall (This is unlike the US, but there are fewer banks here)
  13. Australia Post is often at the Mall.
  14. Each cell phone company is in each mall (This is like the US).
  15. There are still white goods stores in the mall. These have been mostly driven out in the US.
  16. Malls have more services in general (barbers, locksmiths)
  17. The malls tend to be more multi-story than the US, especially after considering parking ramps. The Mall of America is only 4 stories. Much smaller malls here go 5 or 6.
  18. Westfield owns a lot of the malls here. They also have a brightly lit sign on top of the Sydney Tower. They are buying and rebranding malls in the US. I think it best that Malls be named after their community, not have a generic corporate brand, just as Department Stores ought to have a historically local name.


US Malls are traditionally dominated by anchor department stores. In Sydney I have only been to one upmarket department store chain, Myer, (whose parent company at one time owned Coles grocery store, before Myer was sold) which is not in every mall, or even most of them, and it doesn’t seem to be doing so hot. Grace Bros was a former Sydney-based  department store chain, acquired by Myer (a Melbourne-based chain) and subsequent rebranded.  Unhappiness ensued (shades of Dayton’s / Mashall Fields / Macy’s) Some former Grace Bros sites have been converted to shopping malls with a variety of stores, including notably Bondi Junction and Broadway.

There is also a Dept. store chain David Jones (not David Bowie), owned by South Africa’s Woolworths (not Australia’s)

US Malls and planning in general could learn a lot from the arrangement of retail activities in Sydney.

Thus far I have been to the following shopping malls.

(w) indicates Westfield managed property.

Now, there is a dispute on Wikipedia about whether shopping centres in Sydney are notable. Many smaller centres are included in the world’s best online encyclopaedia. Yet, the following page was deleted for “non-notability” (a bogus criterion inconsistently applied if there ever was one). Now, I am not saying the perfectly innocuous Ashfield Mall is as notable as George Washington or a third-tier Pokemon character or the latest single of a soon-to-be-forgotten pop star, but thousands of people use it daily both for shopping and as a community centre, it no doubt is recorded in many places like the local newspaper and public documents, and it is easily verified, thus it is notable locally even if it is not so scandalous as to warrant much easily accessed internet newspaper coverage.

Wikipedia deletionists seem to pride themselves in the destruction of work of others and discouraging contributors, with unanimous decisions of 3 or 4 people on a kangaroo court being sufficient to destroy labor, with a process so painfully bureaucratic only those with low value of time are able to pursue it, so I will undermine their deleterious behaviour by putting the page here for posterity. (Wikipedia used to be fun).

Ashfield Mall is a shopping centre in the suburb of Ashfield in Sydney’s Inner West. It is located 10 km away from Sydney CBD and is located near Ashfield Railway Station.


Ashfield Mall opened in 1981 on the former Ashfield Town Hall (which was demolished in the 1980s).[1] It included four anchor tenants – Coles, Franklins, Target and Kmart. Ashfield Mall was acquired by Abacus Property in September 1997. Target closed its store in 2006 due to poor sales and Ashfield Mall underwent redevelopment which included the addition of a Woolworths supermarket & addition of specialty shops on the former Target store.[2] In 2013, Ashfield Mall underwent a redevelopment which included a new food court with a contemporary décor that included a sushi bar, enclosed eating area, brighter lighting and an Aldi store which opened on the former Franklins store. The redevelopment was completed in August 2013.[3][4] Ashfield Mall is currently undergoing a redevelopment which sees buildings of 101 apartments and refurbishment of the main entry into the shopping centre. Stage 2 encompassing the additional 6,500m2 of retail GFA and childcare centre is expected to commence in 2017 and the 67 serviced apartments in late 2017, early 2018.[5]


Ashfield Mall currently has around 80 stores including anchors such as Aldi, Coles, Kmart and Woolworths.


External links

Ashfield Mall official website


Time spent shopping per day | The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport

The rise of online retailing allows people to substitute delivery for fetching, and reduce the amount of shopping trips.  Sears and Montgomery Wards were famous for their massive catalogs, particularly come Christmas time. Catalogs were replaced by the Internet, seemingly a case of the old being dismissed by the new: Sears by Amazon. Notably, Sears phased out its Big Book in 1993 and started shrinking its Wish Book that same year. Amazon was founded in 1994.   Not only can shoppers do the same thing differently (and better), they can do many more things enabled by the technology of the web. Amazon, which now claims 1% of total retail sales in the United States, has become the single one-stop shop for everything. Given that Amazon is now over twenty years old, its hardly considered new anymore. However, its influence on how people "go" shopping is now unparalleled.   Shopping trips are down by about one-third in a decade, they now comprise fewer than 9% of all trips, down from 12.5% in 2000. Time spent shopping per day is also down   From Levinson and Krizek (2015) The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport.   Figure 3.5 Source: Twin Cities Travel Behavior Inventory, Metropolitan Council. Analysis by authors.
The rise of online retailing allows people to substitute delivery for fetching, and reduce the amount of shopping trips. Sears and Montgomery Wards were famous for their massive catalogs, particularly come Christmas time. Catalogs were replaced by the Internet, seemingly a case of the old being dismissed by the new: Sears by Amazon. Notably, Sears phased out its Big Book in 1993 and started shrinking its Wish Book that same year. Amazon was founded in 1994.
Not only can shoppers do the same thing differently (and better), they can do many more things enabled by the technology of the web. Amazon, which now claims 1% of total retail sales in the United States, has become the single one-stop shop for everything. Given that Amazon is now over twenty years old, its hardly considered new anymore. However, its influence on how people “go” shopping is now unparalleled.
Shopping trips are down by about one-third in a decade, they now comprise fewer than 9% of all trips, down from 12.5% in 2000. Time spent shopping per day is also down
From Levinson and Krizek (2015) The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport
Figure 3.5 Source: Twin Cities Travel Behavior Inventory, Metropolitan Council. Analysis by authors.


How I spent 200 minutes last night, or Tim Cook and Jonny Ive should buy their iPhones in the Apple Store

Apple is famous for its user experience. I was at the Apple Store (Rosedale, Minnesota) for 3 and 1/3 hours yesterday upgrading my phone. (5s to 6s, the 5s worked fine, but the battery is clearly nearing the end of its useful life, and getting to 0% before I go to bed and recharge, plus my contract was up, and I wanted to change carriers).  Somehow, 3.5 hours seems too long. This was not Apple Staff’s fault. It’s the system. The system for getting an upgrade should be re-engineered. This will not happen until senior Apple staff actually experience what it is like to go through the bureaucracy required to get a new phone. (Of course Tim Cook and Jonny Ive would likely be recognized, so they will need costumes and have to go incognito).

I got an appointment for 6:00 – 6:30, signing up online last week. I would have done it through the mail like last time, but, (1) There is some complexity with switching carriers (Sorry AT&T, it’s not you, it’s international coverage and the Great Firewall of China. Here’s hoping T-Mobile works better.), and (2) I wanted to trade-in the old phone which seemed more complex via mail. So I signed up to get it in person. This was a mistake.

Like a visit to the Genius Bar, I sort of thought they would actually serve me at the appointed time, so I got there at 5:50. (10 minutes early) Ok, there was a queue. It was the first day of the 6s sales, which I hadn’t quite realized (I knew it was coming out, I didn’t realize it was the first day or I would have avoided and done this over the weekend, though evening should be better than when the doors open in the morning, no?). I made it into the store at 6:40. (40 minutes). Apple should have a better estimate of how long the set-up process takes so it schedules the right number of customers for the right number of staff.

By 7:40 I was signed up with T-Mobile. This should not have taken an hour. (This alone must have cost Apple $25 per customer to sign up just in labor costs (I’m guessing), leaving aside my time.) (60 minutes)

  1. Why cannot the signup software scan the old phone (a photo from the setting screen e.g.) rather than the Apple staff typing everything from one phone into an iPad? (Or isn’t this in an Apple Database already?)
  2. Why must my information be entered more than once? How many times does the system need my name and phone number and iCloud account information, etc.
  3. Why does the T-Mobile signup app ask for my PIN as if I have an account with them. I don’t. If it wants me to create a new PIN, it should say something like ‘create a new PIN’, not ‘enter your PIN.’
  4. Staff said the T-Mobile app was better than the others. This is absurd. Apple should have a straight-forward App that populates the carrier databases later, rather than waiting for their laggy experience.
  5. If I am buying my phone from Apple and service from carriers, somewhere on the Apple website should be a comparison of the different carrier services and prices. I can’t find it. I don’t really know what its going to cost without going to their sites, which are hardly paragons of clarity.

Ok, so now I have a new phone in a box, and am ready to turn in my old phone for a trade-in. First I want to restore my most recent iCloud backup to the new iPhone. This was slow, and failed the first time. Apple staff reinstalled the OS and 9.0.1 update and we did it again. It worked the second time, but this took a while. In the mean time I surfed the web on my old phone with 6% battery. At least they give you free charging at the Apple Store, and free WiFi. Note, the progress bar telling you how many minutes this update will take steadily lies. Surely someone can come up with a more accurate predictive algorithm.  This took from 7:40 until 9:10 (90 minutes).

I understand downloads and installs take time, I did it at home overnight last time. But if you want us to do it in the store (and I don’t want to lose my old phone until my new one is set up), this should be faster. I don’t know if the bottleneck was the local WiFi (which was certainly being slammed), or iCloud servers (which are also likely being slammed) [I suspect the latter], but this is not unanticipatable. And my being in the store is using up some Apple staff time that could be better used.

In short, this would be a much simpler process if Tim Cook and Jonny Ive and Eddie Cue and Phil Schiller and Angela Ahrendts and the other relevant executives at Apple eat their own dogfood and buy an iPhone like the rest of us, rather than being issued phones in-house. They would redesign the process, and save tens or hundreds of millions of human hours now wasted globally at the in store iPhone sign-up/set-up process. If Apple sells one-hundred million phones through stores, and each takes an hour, and this can be cut to 1/2 hour, they will save 50 million human hours for the customer and 50 million staff hours. A human life is less than 1 million hours.

The main thing is just they should take old phone, scan it, take in all your information (enter once your icloud account & password) in one fell swoop, and your new choice of carrier and plan, and set you on your way, and then however long it takes to install properly, and then issue you a set up new phone. You can get a text from them once they are done and return to the store. The old phone scanning can even be pre-done online, as can your personal information intake, they just need to validate in person you are who you say you are, and your phone is what you say it is. I am idealizing a bit perhaps (maybe you must enter your iCloud id and password multiple times, though I am not really sure why), but something closer to this would be standard practice were senior executives to experience this.

So far the new phone is fine, mostly like the old one. The wallet for Apple Pay (with an interesting if trivial bug) does not use my primary credit card, so still is more proof of concept than something that allows me to leave my real wallet at home. There is functioning health app that I did not have before on the 5s, so I can track more than Pedometer++. There is  a slightly bigger screen, but not enough to move me off the iPad when reading at night. And hopefully a longer battery life, which just comes with it being new. A few apps allow force, er, 3D touch.  I will not be profoundly affected by this the way the iPhone 1 or 3g made a difference.

The Apple OSes have their annoyances, mostly related to security and two-factor authorization. How often do I need to do this. I know I opted in to it, but this is a huge waste of time, and I am likely to opt out. Also separate passwords for each app is especially annoying. When I first start up the OS, it asks me for my iCloud password, which is long and complicated (for good security) and I dutifully enter. Then it asks again (apparently for the other apps like Messages and FaceTime), but this is a different password, and it doesn’t say that, so I enter the wrong password several times before it reminds me to get a 1-app use password from, which requires two-factors (a text to your phone with a code) to log in to, and cannot remember its the same browser from day-to-day though you tell it to. And since I do OS maintenance and installs for the family, I revisit this whole process multiple times. And this isn’t even including the PIN to enter the device, or the passwords for other apps that want them when you set up a new OS release. Somehow I don’t think Apple executives experience this either. If I were John Siracusa, I would document this exhaustively with screenshots. But this is a blog about transportation.

Peak Shopping and the Decline of Traditional Retail

Cross posted at the OUP Blog

Shopping trips now comprise fewer than 9% of all trips, down from 12.5% in 2000, according to our analysis of the Twin Cities Travel Behavior Inventories. They are down by about one-third in a decade.


When we want to eat at home but not prepare the food, urban dwellers have options. Some restaurants offer Delivery as well as Take-Away, others offer Take-Away but don’t Deliver, and some specialize in Delivery and avoid the storefront. For the customer who is not out and about, Delivery is more convenient. For the customer who is passing by the restaurant anyway. Ordering ahead and doing Take-Away makes a lot of sense, since there is no waiting for the delivery, the additional distance is small to nil, and tipping charges (or delivery surcharges) are avoided. Drive-thru is Take-Away for fast food (though you can still go into the establishment and take-away as well), which avoids the pre-ordering step, arguably at the cost of food quality.

When we want to consume non-food items, we also have options. There is of course the store.

The block I live on mostly single family homes with some duplexes and apartments, in a quiet Minneapolis neighborhood once had two small grocery stores, founded before the days of cheap at home refrigeration and before larger grocery chains took off. One is now housing, the other a small restaurant.

If we did not have easy access to the store, or its storage capacity limited in the number of goods, we could order from a catalog. The Sears Wish Book being one of many, and delivery, especially enabled by Rural Free Delivery, was as fast as the supply chain of the time (which is to say, as fast they could, but nothing like today). Door-to-door sales was also common in this period, as there would be more likely to be someone at home to sell to.

Catalogs were replaced by the Internet, and Sears by Amazon. Not only can we do the same thing differently, we can do many more things with the technology of the world wide web. Amazon is now nearing twenty years old, so we cannot really consider this new anymore.

The early dot com boom had a number of firms attempting same day if not same hour delivery. That didn’t work out as well as hoped, but like video conferencing and automated (if not flying) cars, it is an inevitable part of the future. There are lots of models out there: lockers, peer-to-peer delivery services (friends will pick up goods for you), and so on, but we already have 3 national networks doing delivery which are cost effective for many types of goods (USPS, UPS, FedEx), as well as specialists (local stores that deliver their own products (furniture, appliances, grocers, newspapers, milk), though one can certainly imagine some others emerging. Amazon is trying to patent pre-cognition, sending you what you are going to order before you order it.

What goods will you have delivered? Anything that is standardized, commodified, and whose delivery is easily automated. Amazon entered the market with books, and decimated the big box book sellers like Borders and Barnes and Noble (who had earlier acquired and then put-down many mall-based neighborhood bookstores (Walden, B-Dalton), which had themselves pushed out the independent neighborhood bookstores). For the book reader, we now have access to many more books than we did 20 years ago. For the nostalgic, we obviously lost something as well. Such is progress. Books were relatively easy kindling for this revolution, the ISBN code had been around for a long time. There is a long-tail of desired, but still standard items. There are economies of scale. They are easy to ship (and even easier to ship in electronic versions).

Music is seemingly similar. Once there was the neighborhood record shop, then the national (mall-centric) chain, then big boxes started to get in on the act. The technology of music changed faster than the book, moving from vinyl to tape to CD. In contrast with books, customers digitized and shared their music before the music industry could get their act together. Ultimately Apple’s iTunes brought prices down enough that listening to music is again more legal than illegal, and then new distribution mechanism (internet radio) changes the market again. Music is standardized, commodified, and the sequence in which you listen is automatically customizable using services like Pandora and iTunes Radio, among many others. While there is copyright-violating sharing of eBooks, it is not of the same order of magnitude as music. (Just search for your favorite book followed by PDF, you might be surprised to find it on a non-US website). Is downloading my own book illegal?

And then we get other items, all commodified though not digitized, that are amenable to the new distribution system: from clothing to lightbulbs, from batteries to baked goods, from Kindles to kites, which can all be ordered and delivered within 48 hours (if not sooner). Even custom goods get sold on places like Etsy. While used (and new) items both standard and non-standard are offered on Ebay.

All of these deliveries reduce my travel to the store, while increasing travel in the logistics supply chain, but generally reduce travel overall.

The decline of shopping travel is one aspect of the decline of personal travel overall, and has many knock-on effects. We need fewer roads. We need less parking. We need fewer stores and shopping centers. We inventory more at home (delivery might entail different economies of scale than fetching from the store). We might engage in other out-of-home activities to substitute for shopping as “entertainment”, but it won’t fully substitute.

Eventually we may have replicators, or pneumatic tubes, or good 3-D printers, and delivery as we think of it now will also decline. Or we may decide to consume less overall. But we can fairly safely extrapolate that, for a while, our 20th century retail infrastructure and supporting transportation system of roads and parking is overbuilt for the 21st century last-mile delivery problems in an era with growing internet shopping.

50th and France

Cross-posted at 50th and France

50th and France

50th and France is a small shopping district on the border of Minneapolis and Edina. It is characterized by two-story buildings with ground-floor retail. The retail is a mix of local-serving shops, restaurants, and movie theaters and more regional destinations like Sur-La-Table. It was a Streetcar stop back in the day, and has long been an important intersection, as both 50th and France are on the ~1 mile spaced arterial grid, and each has interchanges with downstream freeways.
Compare this, organic, successful district with the yet-to-be-successful Shops at West End. To be clear, a driving factor behind the success of retail is the wealth of nearby customers. There is more money in Edina (average Per Capita Income $55,068) than St. Louis Park ($36,334).
However, looking spatially, we see other key factors. 50th and France is centered on the intersection rather than in the middle of a superblock. It evolved over time from locally serving shops to some more regional destinations. The streets (since they are through streets) are wider than the Main Street in West End.
Institutionally, as far as I know, the buildings at 50th and France are separately owned, rather than centrally by a single developer. This creates inherent variation (even if there is some coordination both between building owners and through the Cities of Minneapolis and Edina). It allows a mixture of different sizes and shapes and stages of development that is just not possible with the instant Main Street of the West End. This is not to say centralized retail developments are inherently unsuccessful, just look at the Mall of America for a counter-example. And one can certainly find failed shopping areas that are decentralized. It is to say that decentralization feels different, and a light touch of coordination can be successful as well as a heavy hand. One of the great benefits of the light hand is that there is something going at various stages of the development life-cycle, from new buildings being born, some thriving, and some nearing or having reached end of life. It creates transitions. Edge buildings can be used for lower-rent activities. These photos from the Edina Historical Society show various stages through the history of the shopping district, which had shops (though very different kinds, including a blacksmith) as early as the 1920s.
West End has, or will have, far more office workers in the immediate vicinity, and this should help. It also has much more direct freeway access, which is a bonus (easy to get to) and a curse (almost no one lives within walking distance, so there is not a walkable base outside of office hours.

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In a West End town, a dead end world |

Cross-posted at In a West End town, a dead end world:

“When I first heard about the new development called the Shops at West End (WE), the Pet Shop Boys played in my head. My vision of The West End came from London, roughly the area between Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross. They are not similarly located, London’s version is substantially closer to the City (2.2 miles) than the St. Louis Park version is to Nicollet Mall (4.2 miles). The spatial location similarities fell short, but as in its London namesake, WE is a restaurant and theatre district. Minnesota’s version opened as a new open-air shopping center at the northern end of St. Louis Park, roughly at the Southwest corner of the Junction I-394 and MN 100 in 2009. Now almost 4 years old, how well does WE work?

In a West End town, a dead end world


When I first heard about the new development called the Shops at West End (WE), the Pet Shop Boys played in my head. My vision of The West End came from London, roughly the area between Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross. They are not similarly located, London’s version is substantially closer to the City (2.2 miles) than the St. Louis Park version is to Nicollet Mall (4.2 miles). The spatial location similarities fell short, but as in its London namesake, WE is a restaurant and theatre district. Minnesota’s version opened as a new open-air shopping center at the northern end of St. Louis Park, roughly at the Southwest corner of the Junction I-394 and MN 100 in 2009. Now almost 4 years old, how well does WE work?

Below are some photos taken mid-day on an unseasonably nice Minnesota spring day. The site is not fully leased, as noted in this Biz Journal’s series of articles. The parking ramp is far from full.

The development into a real community remains unfinished, but while on-site it resembles the veneer of a Main Street (see this map), it is poorly connected with any of the neighboring retail parcels (including a Big Box center featuring a Costco and Home Depot across the street), and even the onsite offices are separated by a fortress of parking ramps.

The poor connections are not entirely the developer’s fault, the neighboring developments were designed without West End in mind, and geared to automobile travelers (go figure, located at the interchange of two major freeways). The onsite offices could have easily been above the shops, so that office workers passed the stores going into and out of work. This ground floor retail would have increased pedestrian traffic compared with the current layout (at the expense of fully climate controlled travel for lessees of the office space).

So the internal without respect to the external is inherently hampered. The site itself acknowledges all of its customers are drive up, it features several significant parking structures. The structures do dump pedestrians onto the Main Street (West End Boulevard), but the interface is far from seamless, with some longish unpleasant-ish, malodorous walks within the structure, so while it tries to play nice between car and pedestrian, it falls short. West End Boulevard aims for the shopping street experience, but it still gives more real estate to the movement and storage of cars than pedestrians. West End Boulevard is no Shaftesbury Avenue (which itself was a 19th century slum clearance measure, so some good can come of urban renewal in the right hands and given enough time).

With some artistry, the West End could be tied into future redevelopments of neighboring sites, but I don’t see it happening, this suburb is too far gone, street grids are too hard to reorganize, and no good East-West corridor was established through the site. At a larger scale, St. Louis Park is dissected by both freeways and railroad tracks. Driving from Excelsior and Grand to The Shops at West End is 4.4 miles, and for all practical purposes requires freeway use. Walking is given as 3.4 miles, but is on the circuitous side, requiring 7 turns.

Back at the WE, trees are under-developed (The developer could have installed older trees). More significantly, West End Boulevard is too narrow, and as a result, has too much shade and too little sunlight, even in the middle of the day. A wider street would have helped in this regard.

The roads and sidewalks are bricked, and not just brick highlights, but a fully bricked road. In a different climate, this might survive. I have doubts this will age well under traffic and Minnesota winters. The main street is not straight. It could have been straight, but the developer chose curvy. This seems to be popular in shopping malls now (so you can’t see the end, there is excitement at every bend, there is more retail surface area), but it feels wrong at this scale, like it’s wobbly. Part of the problem is its narrowness. Of course all grids must bend at some point (the earth is not flat), but this short turning gives it a more suburban feeling in what is supposed be an urban-like (or urban-lite) experience. The real streets that West End Boulevard parallels (Duke Drive, Park Place Boulevard) are straighter, and oriented for the movement of cars.

The shops are not unique. I visited solely because of the multiplex movie theatre, which are getting more difficult to find in the cities. The theatre itself is upstairs in one building, which I guess makes sense, as no need to waste ground-floor retail on such a large structure, and I have seen this model in Town Centres in and around London. On the other hand, I passed the entrance before I figured out it was the theatre, the signage is not at all obvious at ground level, and the large highway-oriented signs suggest a different location for the entrance.

While the West End is not scheduled to get any significant transit stations any time soon (just like St. Louis Park’s other signature retail development: Excelsior and Grand), and unlike London’s counterpart, where you can’t turn around without falling into an Underground Station, there is a small park and ride lot one block north of the site at Park Place Boulevard and I-394. If this corridor were turned into a full-fledged Freeway Bus-Rapid Transit system (like the Red and Orange lines, as suggested by the Purple Line on this map by Kyril Negoda), there would be a natural station here. And BRT is technically quite feasible, what with the HOT lanes already in place. Tying that station into a real fine-grained local street network at the interchange may be the planners’ hope, but there is a lot of market coordination required to achieve that.

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Cities sans shopping


Before the advent of civilization, there was little trade and few “stores”. We did not “store” much, we went and hunted or gathered what we needed. Once we invented agriculture, we invented storage, and surplus, and extended trade. We held inventory. Once we sold inventories from fixed locations in exchange for what become money, retailing was invented.

A while ago I wrote this:

Some nuance on language.

Shop: wiktionary: From Middle English shoppe, from Old English sceoppa (“booth”)

  1. An establishment that sells goods or services to the public; originally a physical location, but now a virtual establishment as well.
  2. A place where things are crafted; a workshop or hobbyshop.
  3. An automobile mechanic’s workplace.
  4. Workplace; office. Used mainly in expressions such as shop talk, closed shop and shop floor.

Store: wiktionary:  Etymology from Latin instaurare – (“erect, establish”). store

  1. A place where items may be accumulated or routinely kept.
  2. A supply held in storage.
  3. (mainly North American) A place where items may be purchased.

A shop is a place where things are worked on (and sold), a store is a place where things are kept (and sold). We go shopping but we don’t go storing, we come home and store the things we got from the larger store.

The idea of a store, where things that we may need are stored and distributed, is ultimately one of sharing community resources. I may need tools at some point, but rather than own all the tools I might need, there is a hardware store which sells things on a just-in-time basis to consumers. Who owns the hardware store (an individual, a firm, a cooperative) is secondary to the necessity of such a function to achieve economies of scale and ensure variety. If there were no stores, we would need to store everything we might need, and would need to truck and barter for goods with their makers, a much less efficiency system.

The idea of a shop is just the place where the trade takes place. Implicitly, a store holds lots of things, a shop is just a place for the transaction or some local repair work. This is somewhat lost in modern usage, but we still have hardware stores and grocery stores (which are relatively large), but dress shops, tailor shops, auto shops (which at least the first two are relatively small, and the latter two refer to where things are done rather than already made things are sold).

Both of these functions are necessary in urban systems. We  need both places to store items we may need in the future (and then acquire them when needed), and we need shop-places to work on things, making them, repairing them, altering them.  With the move toward a disposable society, where it costs more to fix things (which is a laborious process) than make them (which is often automated), the share of space devoted to shops rather than stores has declined. Proposition Joe is in a declining business (“Shine that up and put $7.50 on it… Shame to let a good toaster go to waste over a frayed cord” – Proposition Joe, The Wire)

Where these things are located relative to where people and live and work depends on the frequency of use. We want things we want frequently (e.g. milk), to be closer than things we want infrequently (e.g. furniture). But closer and farther are relative not absolute terms. They depend on context: location with respect to others (density or community demand), the cost of travel (technology), frequency of use (individual demand), and so on. Relative locations have changed over time as density, technology, and demand have changed.

While transactions are here to stay, if only for the raw materials needed to operate our 3D printers, “going shopping” in the physical world may have peaked.

American Time Use Survey, Purchasing Goods and Services Trends
American Time Use Survey, Purchasing Goods and Services Trends

The American Time Use Survey shows a drop in time spent “purchasing goods and services) from 2003 (0.81 hours) to 2008 (0.77 hours) to 2009 (0.72 hours) to  2010 (0.75 hours) to 2011 (0.72 hours). 0.09 hours per day may not seem like much, and this is only a few years trend, and there is some volatility, but it is consistent with what we know about the rest of the world.

To the extent I can operate in a de-materialized world, where fetching is replaced by delivery (especially by automated delivery), the amount of shopping (and naturally, the space devoted to shopping) will shrink. This is counter-balanced by the trends toward greater income (which has to be spent on something) and more time (which also has to be spent on something), for which retail may be an attractive solution. But this turns retail into a service and entertainment activity more than a transactional one.

In Chapter 9 of Planning for Place and Plexus, we write about: The rise (and fall) and rise (and fall?) of door-to-door delivery

Door-to-door delivery differs from door-to-door sales. The delivery requires only a catalog (be it paper or electronic) and some way of getting the order and finances from the consumer to the manufacturer and the goods from the manufacturer back to the consumer.

The enabler for this type of exchange was the U.S. Post Office’s Rural Free Delivery (RFD). The need for RFD lay in several factors. The remoteness of rural America meant 30 million residents had to travel to town to pick up their mail. The poor quality of roads made this difficult. Postmaster General (and department store founder) John Wanamaker pushed for RFD, which began in the 1890s, and after experimentation it was finally inaugurated in 1896 in West Virginia and ramped up to 29 states. By 1901, Congress made RFD permanent. RFD had several effects. One is that it gave added weight behind federal involvement in the good roads movement. Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution gives Congress the power “To establish Post Offices and post Roads”; though federal aid for state roads did not really begin until 1913, and did not get going until 1916.

A second effect is that retailers like Montgomery Ward, L.L. Bean, Charles Tiffany, W.A. Burpee, and of course Sears, Roebuck & Company took advantage of RFD. Especially with the addition of parcel service to traditional postal service, the mail order catalog business took off. Sears, which had been publishing specialty catalogs since 1888, issued its first general merchandise catalog, the “Big Book”, in 1896, whose Christmas edition came to be known as the “Wish Book”. The catalog truly was general merchandise, selling cars by catalog from 1909 to 1913 and bungalow houses from 1908 until the Great Depression. In fact, Sears didn’t open its first retail store until 1925, and the general Big Book catalog was discontinued in 1993 (Sears 2004), notably before the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web.

By the time Sears was scaling back its catalog business, mail order, along with toll free numbers, had become a booming industry. The emerging internet saw the rise of numerous e-commerce vendors. (founded 1994) and eBay (founded 1995) relied both on the post office, as well as express carriers such as Federal Express (founded 1971) and United Parcel Service (founded 1907). Jupiter (2004) estimates US online sales at $65 Billion, growing to $117 Billion by 2008, which will amount to about 5% of all retail sales, although the online sector is growing faster than traditional retailing.

Online research influences a great deal of offline purchases, but what is missing from online sales are things that are widely consumed without much research, like supermarket food items, as well as items like gasoline that are impractical to deliver. Many have tried to extend the reach of online purchasing to replace the supermarket, recalling the milkman of yore, but companies such as Webvan did not succeed. Webvan, which attracted more venture capital than any internet retailer except, delivered food to customers in seven cities, and established a new warehouse distribution system (Paying $1 Billion to Bechtel for this) in each of those cities. It acquired rival startup Home Grocer, but wound up spending money faster than it could earn it for long enough that it had to declare bankruptcy July 10, 2001, after the peak in the stock market bubble (but before 9/11). Even more ambitious,, which served seven cities, promised free one-hour delivery for a variety of goods from videos to coffee and ice cream ordered online. Unlike Webvan, never went public, lasting from 1998 to April 2001. Webvan like services (Peapod and Simon Delivers, among others) do remain, with lower capital costs. Whether these are profitable remains to be seen.

But we now see a second run at making delivery of even perishable items standard. Amazon, Google, and others are trying to figure out a workable model that is cheaper than the USPS, Federal Express and UPS for same-day delivery.

The more that is delivered, the less that is fetched. Shopping transitions from the real to virtual, and some, if not all, of the space that was devoted to shopping (14.2 billion square feet) will need to disappear. [For perspective, the Mall of America is 4.2 million square feet, of which 2.5 million is retail. So US retail is basically 3000 Malls of America.]

Fortunately, a lot of the retail that will disappear is, for lack of a better word, crap. We all know the dumpy strip malls that besot our landscape. First they will lower rents. Second they will be abandoned. Then they will be replaced. As with many of these processes, there will be a rich get richer phenomenon, the few remaining retail centers may continue to grow, as the experience of shopping (requiring many many choices) replaces the necessity of shopping. The commodity distributors will be replaced by commodity deliverers if the cost of distributions can be flipped so that delivery is cheap enough. But people still need to leave home, if only to get out of the house. Looking at things is a good excuse. This suggests artisans and crafts, and things that are more attractive in person than online will be the things that motivate us to leave the home-work axis for alternative destinations. The purchase of stocks like paper towels will rarely be enough to get us out of our chairs.

But with what will we replace the losers?

These are the tear-downs. To the extent they still have good transport access, they might remain commercial, or be appropriate for high density residential. On University Avenue along the Central Corridor, abandoned retail is being transitioned to new residential construction.

I don’t expect many parks or single-family homes, since these are still relatively prime locations from an accessibility perspective, and along transportation corridors. While the highest and best use may not be retail stores, there are still other activities that benefit from locations that are easily reached.