Read the full story in Atlantic Cities.
There is little question that suburban strip malls represent an unsustainable architecture. Totally automobile-dependent, marked by large surface parking lots, and remarkably inefficient at using land, strip malls generate much more pollution and consume much more in the way of resources on a per capita basis than do more walkable, urban shopping districts. Such urbanist thinkers as Galina Tachieva (Sprawl Repair Manual), June Williamson and Ellen Dunham-Jones (Retrofitting Suburbia) are absolutely correct in urging that, as these malls age and decline, they should be replaced with better, greener forms.
Indeed, some of our best and most iconic smart growth developments – The Crossings in Mountain View, California, and Mizner Park in Boca Raton, Florida, come immediately to mind – were built on what were once dead shopping malls. Late 20th-century commercial buildings typically have much shorter life spans than do homes, so remaking these old parking lots and typically single-level stores represents one of our best hopes for achieving a greener suburban future.
And yet: As these properties have declined, so have their rents, making them affordable to small, often entrepreneurial businesses. Particularly as immigrants have settled in inner suburbs (where many of these fading commercial strips are), businesses owned and patronized by the immigrant population have occupied many of these spaces, in some cases alongside small start-ups owned by longtime community residents as well.