Ellen Dunham-Jones discusses modernization of dying shopping malls at CivicCon

Most American cities are full of “underperforming asphalt.”

Navigate through most communities and you’ll find acres of property cluttered with closed big box stores, dying malls, and dilapidated malls with “for rent” signs permanently stuck in their windows.

But in some communities, these types of parking-dominated properties are taking on a second life as governments, developers and citizens find new and creative ways to renovate, reclaim, redevelop, rehabilitate and re-green spaces.

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Ellen Dunham-Jones has spent more than two decades cataloging thousands of such efforts across the country, and in a CivicCon presentation on October 11, she will show examples of how communities are reclaiming these spaces and how projects are helping communities. economic, social and environmental residents. .

“I’m going to present all of these (projects) in terms of contemporary challenges that renovations are capable of addressing and that when these properties were originally built nobody was thinking: a lot of sustainability and climate change issues, issues related to equity, issues of supporting an aging population and improving public health, and certainly a lot of that comes down to somehow reducing our dependence on automobiles, ”he said. she declared.

Dunham-Jones is the Director of the Urban Design Program at Georgia Tech, a former Chairman of the Congressional Board of Directors for New Urban Planning and a national authority on sustainable suburban redevelopment. She is co-author of the 2009 book “Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs”, and its follow-up in 2020, “Case Studies in Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Strategies for Urgent Challenges”, two of the preeminent texts on redevelopment .

In her teaching and research, she focuses on helping communities imagine and implement change as well as new ways to monitor and measure the social, economic and environmental impacts of redevelopment.

A man looks at his iPhone as he sits in a largely abandoned mall.

“In general, the worst performing places don’t contribute much to property taxes,” Dunham-Jones said. “They help drive down the value of properties around them, so doing nothing is never a good option.… The longer a property is left vacant, it tends to be a bit stigmatized, so you usually want to try and try to. have better use to have more activity on all your properties. “

Reclaiming a poorly performing place can take several forms.

A remodel can be as simple as taking the shell of an old grocery store or retail store and converting it into a school, clinic, or something else beneficial to the community.

“There are communities that really need a lot more social infrastructure, some of the lower income neighborhoods where it would be really nice to have more business opportunities for small entrepreneurs, maybe immigrants or where you need a lot more daycare, elder care, medical and educational training, “said Dunham-Jones.” Those needs can often go into… what I call a ‘re-housing’ of a existing mall or something similar, very economically. “

Shops closed in a once popular shopping center.

Regreening, as the name suggests, involves introducing trees, parks, and other green space onto land that was previously paved. This is especially beneficial in coastal communities like ours, where tropical storm systems are always a threat.

“If you have all these impermeable asphalt surfaces, all that runoff goes pretty straight into the streams and pollutes them. It damages the quality of the water there, it contributes to flash floods, especially during severe storms.” , she said. “Yet, it’s exactly those sites that if we unpaved these properties and rebuilt the wetlands and / or build a stormwater park – and bring that with more housing around a park – suddenly you can actually begin to accommodate these increasingly severe storms in a way that also accommodates growth and meets the needs of the community. ”

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Some communities have invested in comprehensive redevelopments such as demolishing old shopping centers and building multi-family housing and mixed-use spaces in their footprint.

Dunham-Jones said many suburban renovation projects are the result of public-private partnerships and the biggest hurdle is often city regulation.

“You might have a full plan and a vision that says you want pedestrian and sustainable places, but if your current regulations and zoning require developers to build at a low enough density, to build the suburban and sprawling property types. classics, then that’s what you’re gonna get, ”she said.

“So many of our zoning codes across the country were written in the ’60s, stamped, and they’ve been amended and amended thousands of times (over decades), so they’re full of contradictions,” he said. said Dunham-Jones. added. “I think a lot of communities that can do full and total rewrites.… In general, if you can really revise your zoning code and your public service standards, it is a game-changer and it starts a lot of projects.”

Dunham-Jones maintains a database of over 2,000 suburban renovations across the country. At CivicCon, she will highlight some of the most successful, impactful, inspiring and replicable initiatives.

“I’ve been studying suburban renovations for over 25 years … building this database, and it’s really interesting how sometimes, what seemed like a great but idealistic idea 15 years ago, they come together. are building now, ”said Dunham-Jones.

“That’s why we wrote this new book because, because the renovations have gotten so much more ambitious and there are so many more of them. They’re better designed and they really take on more challenges.”

Dunham-Jones’ presentation at the CivicCon Lecture Series Presentation is free and open to the public. The event will take place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on October 11 at the Rex Theater at 18 N. Palafox St. in downtown Pensacola.

Registration for the live event is available by searching for “CivicCon” on eventbrite.com.

Those unable to attend the event in person can watch it live on pnj.com or on the Facebook pages of the Pensacola News Journal, Northwest Florida Daily News, and Panama City News Herald.

CivicCon is a partnership between the News Journal and the Studer Community Institute to empower communities to become better places to live, grow, work and invest through smart planning and civic conversations.

For more information, visit pnj.com/civiccon/.

About Ethel Nester

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