Earlier this week I took my bike and rode over to Legacy Village, one of two "lifestyle centers" in suburban Cleveland. I've been to Legacy Village before. I don't visit often. Every previous visit I made, I came and went like 99% of the visitors: by driving in a car and parking in the ginormous "free" surface parking lot. Only after I made a trip in a way the designers didn't intend it to be made did I get a perspective on why these "lifestyle centers" are truly so awful.

(from Flickr user parislemon)

Legacy Village is the kind of place Jim Kunstler would probably call a "cartoon architecture". It's a fantasy of an idealized "village". Nobody actually lives there. There really aren't many local businesses. When you think about it, everything is kind of foreign. The people live elsewhere. The businesses live elsewhere. Every night the little village shuts and reopens again the next morning.

There are two primary entrances to the center. One on Cedar Road and one on Richmond Road. There is a perimeter road with 25 mph speed limit signs, but the streets were designed to handle traffic moving at speeds well exceeding 25. Many drivers ignore the speed limit, and why shouldn't they? The designers built the perimeter road so that they would feel safe flying around every curve.

During my visit the heated sidewalks inside the center were salted, dried and cleared so that no "pedestrian" would have any trouble moving from store to store. But the sidewalk right outside the center on Cedar Road, the street that I carried my bike along to get to the center, was covered in a foot of week-old snow. No salt. No plow. Nothing. The street itself was clear and dry. Cars sped by at 40mph.

Legacy Village is surrounded by an ocean of free parking spaces, but bike parking spaces are few and far between. I couldn't find a rack near my destination on the main "courtyard", although I was told after the fact that there is a rack somewhere near the Apple store. I locked my bike to a fence and on top of about a half-foot of snow.

In the end, the question in my mind was, what kind of "lifestyle" does the center attract? It's ironic that in order to be a pedestrian inside its boarders, it's essentially a prerequisite that you must be a motorist to get there. It's convincing evidence that if what we want is density and walkability, the solution doesn't come prepackaged in some faux village on the outskirts of a city. We had real towns, villages and cities in this country for most of its history. And we destroyed them and replaced it with this? That's sad. Really sad.


    This sounds like it's actually just a shopping mall without a roof.


    Wonder if the "second" and "third" floor "windows" open up onto offices or apartments? Probably not.

    On March 05, 2010 Cavan said...

    Making real places is too hard so why not just fake it? Just sad. I wish they could have some good TOD on Cleveland's one heavy rail line. But, that would require actual planning and political will.

    The suburban mall is a dying breed. The "lifestyle center" is a sad attempt to prop up a business model that is a relic of the 20th century. Check out what I wrote about it a year ago: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=1550


    Actually it sounds more like an amusement park. If they had cartoon characters walking around maybe you would feel the full effect.

    On March 05, 2010 Anonymous said...

    Exactly! Out of the mouth of babes. Many people have been fighting this type of development for a long time. Me, I've spent 20 years at it. It's good to know that there are others who see what I see. Its' good to know that there are reinforcements!


    As always, retailers are the slowest to move. These 'malls without a roof' are one step in the direction back towards normalcy. Prototypical development is incremental and retail developers, retail tenants, and to some extent the shoppers move at a snail's pace.

    When cars arrived and provided the freedom (real or debt-fueled/imaginary) to move middle class out of cities to suburbs, retail eventually followed. Its initial format was as infantile and poorly designed as possible. The typical strip retail.

    Then people eventually realized, "hey, this experience sucks. Let's capture the walkable nature of old city shopping districts, but put them out in the burbs, in drive to locations." Malls. They captured the synergy of clustering more retailers together.

    Eventually, we realized the quality of this experience was overblown, so we opened them up to malls w/o roofs. Then, more recently we created "main street districts" which are malls without roofs, but with cars. All are still drive-to. Some have recently begun to even become mixed-use.

    The ones that survive moving forward will be those that are able to adopt and adapt to the principles of urban/suburban cores and introduce more mixed-use, residential, blend in with the context, improve connectivity for modal transpo outside of the car, etc etc.

    I'm not defending them, but suggesting, they are all steps slowly getting back to baseline design/city evolution. The 20th century will be forgotten within 50 years. Hopefully not the lessons, but certainly the forms and patterns.


    @Michael, that pretty much sums it up the functionality of the place.

    @W.K. Lis, there are offices for the management company, but no apartments. A lot of the exterior design is fake. It looks like it should be apartments or condos. In a real village, it would be.

    @Cavan, absolutely, the failure to do much of any TOD around the heavy rail line is truly a shame. Is it thus a surprise that it has the lowest ridership per mile for heavy rail in America?

    @rebekah's valentine, I understand that in the summer there are little 'festival' type events on the courtyard. Perhaps some of them have costumed characters.

    @Anonymous, yes, you have company.

    @larchlion, thanks for putting this into perspective.

    On August 23, 2011 Nate Lord said...

    Building brand new places on relatively cheap rural land is the most profitable for developers. In the so-called golden triangle in Ky formed by Louisville, Lexington, and northern Ky (Cincinnati suburbs) there lies pristine Trimble County. When it is developed I suggest that it be subdivided into lots with houses but not built with roads. Instead auto manufacturers can build civilian versions of the Stryker. Covenants running with the land will allow vehicle users to drive anywhere in the county--roads or no. Well-armed householders can shoot at all-terrain vehicles which plow through rose gardens &c. Given the culture prevailing in this part of the country, I think many people would love living in such a place.