Nobody Walks There

This is the sidewalk outside of a big-box center about a mile from where I go to school, captured yesterday afternoon.

There are a few things to note. First, it hasn't snowed here in quite a while - at least a week, possibly longer (I can't really remember). Second, this isn't a sidewalk next to a road of secondary importance, this is the sidewalk next to perhaps this suburb's most important arterial road.

Now, the suburb in question doesn't plow this sidewalk because, they would argue, it's not worth the cost of plowing since nobody walks there. But that begs a bigger question, why doesn't anyone walk there?

It's true. Even on the sunniest summer day of the year, the ratio of pedestrians walking that sidewalk to cars driving past could easily round to zero. The big-box center was designed under the assumption that everyone would drive to it. The Target store doesn't even have a door facing the street. If you want to shop at Target, you have to walk through the parking lot, into the adjacent 5-story parking deck, and then in through the "front door".

In the bigger scheme of things, it's simply an endorsement of car culture. There is a massive parking structure (which is usually almost completely vacant) to accommodate more vehicles than will ever occupy it. There are sidewalks that the municipal government doesn't even bother to clear in the winter. And there isn't even a door on the big-box stores that faces the street. Shopping here is heavily biased against a pedestrian. People barely have a choice about how they approach their shopping. The choice has already been made for them.


    On January 20, 2010 JEFF9K said...



    Well, I hear you, but U. Heights and whoever developed that shopping center are trying to walk a line because, uh, we HAVE a car culture. Most people are going to take cars there, and counting on the people who don't is most likely a stupid business decision.

    On the other hand, putting any investment at all into that location may turn out to be the stupid business decision. As you say, the place seems fairly empty a lot of the time. It's possible that something farther away from the car oriented suburban ideal would have done better, but that would be a big step to take for the municipal government, who have to trade off between a legitimate worry about the future and the fact that things are fairly ok right now and the last thing they want to do is screw everything up by taking a big risk on some kind of unusual retail project in their most valuable retail location.

    Incidentally, I'm told (I never saw it myself) that what was there before the current big boxy thing was a freestanding department store surrounded by a massive parking lot, so what's there now (buildings right on the street with no parking in front of them, parking behind in a structure) is arguably MORE urban than what it replaced, if you can believe that.


    You've got to read James Kunstler's Geography of Nowhere, it'll make your sure to be forthcoming posts like this one pages longer...the great thing about these kinds of developments is that they usually involve massive tax giveaways to the corporations who develop these projects, with the necessary shady political contributions legitimized in gut wrenching legalese. And when the townspeople surrounded by these inhuman, homogenized environments become too depressed to continue functioning normally (read shopping themselves into debt) a new developer will be courted to come in and build a new project (judging from the above comment thats exactly what has happened) which will induce feelings of excitement and joy again. That is until the city realizes that the old project is left a derelict, blighted structure, and the only way to do anything about it is to giveaway huge future tax revenues to a developer because there's no money in the city coffers to pay for any kind of necessary development, much less sidewalk plowing...have a nice day!

    On January 21, 2010 Anonymous said...

    This is even more reason to not patronize these businesses and encourage everyone you know to do the same. Hopefully you have other places to do your shopping.

    My town (Portland, ME) has a wonderful, walkable downtown area where you can get just about anything you might need (except plain, non-boutique underwear, as many people have pointed out). I almost never go to the ugly part of town where the mall and the big box stores are because it's not worth the hassle and stress. It's very clear that pedestrians never even crossed the developers minds when they planned it.

    Vote with your wallet -- and your feet!


    So the answer to "why" is car-oriented zoning, poor or no development review, and myopic urban design.

    So you go to John Carroll?

    On January 21, 2010 Anonymous said...

    Target and the other stores aren't necessarily to blame, the city is. Those stores showed their construction plans to the city, and the city said yes. If the local code required that all stores have an open entrance facing the street, this wouldnt be an issue.

    On January 21, 2010 Patrick Richards said...

    I have seen this at countless large shopping complexes. Even if you did walk on said sidewalk, you wouldn't be able to, as a pedestrian, actually enter the complex wihtou taking your life into your own hands.

    It's ironic that at the end of all that asphalt, through a myriad of parking places and speed bumps, that just before you actually do enter the doors of the store, there sits the ubiquitous cigarette butt covered, slowly choking shade tree. Ah, nature!


    Come to think of it, I don't know that it's the city's responsibility to clear that sidewalk. In the two Cleveland area municipalities I've lived in, it was the property owner's responsibility. Which would go to show that the shopping center management doesn't care about pedestrians...