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In simple terms, the world of Stantec is the water we drink, the routes we travel, the buildings we visit, the industries in which we work, and the neighbourhoods we call home.

O n e Te a m . I n f i n i t e S o l u t i o n s .

Edmonton, Alberta: A stand out capital city for investment with its robust economic outlook

A place like no other, Edmonton is an economic powerhouse where business thrives and citizens enjoy a dynamic and vibrant lifestyle. With enviable infrastructure and transportation networks, a highly skilled labour force, nation-leading growth, and a high quality of life with a diverse and vibrant culture, the city clearly has its eye on the future.

Investing in Edmonton’s future: • Blatchford: a world-class, sustainable development • LRT expansion • Royal Alberta Museum • West Rossdale development next to North America’s largest urban park • Quarters Downtown/Boyle Renaissance housing projects • Proposed downtown arena and entertainment district






by Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis


by Carole Levesque, Todd Ashton and Aumer Assaf



by Tyler Dixon and Tai Ziola



Rob Shields, Director City-Region Studies Centre, University of Alberta

Iwona Faferek

Brittany Stares

GUEST EDITOR Merle Patchett

EDITORIAL BOARD Sara Dorow, Kevin Jones, Merle Patchett, Howie Phung, Rob Shields, Maryanne Wynne, Peter Yackulic




by Orly Linovski

by David Karle




CITY-REGION STUDIES CENTRE Faculty of Extension – Enterprise Square 2–184, 10230 Jasper Avenue Edmonton, Alberta


by Linda Carroli


IF SPACES COULD TALK: THE INVERNESS STORY by Susan Christie and Diarmaid Lawlor

E-mail: Phone: 780.492.9957 Fax: 780.492.0627



A PLACE TO PARK, A PLACE TO SKATE? by Michelle Catanzaro CURBmagazine



22 Disclaimer: The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the City-Region Studies Centre, Faculty of Extension or the University of Alberta Printed in Canada



by Kevin Edson Jones

CURB APPEAL The “problem of the suburbs” has long been recognized by both planning professionals and elected officials. Sprawl, segregation and reliance on the automobile have moved social and planning challenges once distinct to urban centres beyond their traditional boundaries and into suburbia. What was once the North American ideal for living has become, quite simply, out of touch. Yet at the same time, the vision for the suburbs – and for cities, more generally – is shifting towards one of greater sustainability and connectedness. The City of Calgary’s imagineCALGARY Plan, for instance, articulated a series of goals for the long-term future of the municipality, which emerged from consultation with over 18,00 residents. Such goals included: the development of “complete” communities; the reduction of private vehicle kilometres; the reduction of community greenhouse gas emissions; a prevailing sense of “community”for the majority of Calgarians; and an increase in land use efficiency by at least 30% by 2036.1 The suburbs are ripe to facilitate these transformations; however, significant obstacles stand in the way. Most obvious is the land squeeze faced by inner suburbs – much of the land being “undevelopable,” already in use by roadways, residences and so forth – and, on the periphery, the desire (and need) to curb further sprawl. How to best utilize land in the suburbs then, without sacrificing green spaces or quality of life?



One answer is to more effectively exploit those spaces in suburbia which are underperforming. Here, we zero in on two common features of any typical suburban neighbourhood: the strip mall and the parking lot. Strip malls first rose to prominence in the post-WWII era, encapsulating the idea of convenience close to home and capitalizing on the increased use of the automobile with their location near major intersections and accompanying parking lots. In time, the automobile would prove their undoing; no longer would consumers be content to stop at the neighbourhood strip when they could carry on to larger, “big box” stores in further districts. Quoting Merle Patchett and Rob Shields, “As a business model, strip malls have suffered because they are unable to grow.”2 Subsequently, most modern strips and their vast parking spaces often stand empty, the shops with high vacancy rates and quick turnovers, both failing to engage the community of which they are part. Our special section of Curb, “Suburban Land Use Planning: Strip Malls and Parking Lots,” focuses on alternative uses for these spaces. Here, we draw on ideas generated from the CRSC’s competition Strip Appeal: Reinventing the Strip Mall, which invited participants from all over the world to reimagine, revitalize, and ultimately reclaim (on paper) a struggling suburban strip local to them. The featured entries, based on winning and shortlisted submissions, offer a range of approaches to dealing with these spaces – from flexible zoning

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

practices, as described by Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis, to parking complexes promoting increased densification of the suburbs, as proposed by Tyler Dixon and Tai Ziola. For communities feeling that they have, literally, nowhere to go, the theme shared by these authors of maximizing what is already available can provide valuable insight. Where complete overhaul is not possible, new and innovative ways must be found to reengage with these spaces. In the rest of this issue, we explore everything from possible modifications of the strip mall’s roof with David Karle to creative curation in multi-storey parking lots with Susan Christie and Diarmaid Lawlor. Whatever the case for communities, developers and businesses, there is opportunity to be found in unloved spaces such as strip malls and parking lots – opportunity where one might least expect to find it. Brittany Stares is the Managing Editor of Curb Magazine “As measured by public transit threshold and increased density.” Full plan available at http:// php (November 21, 2012). 1

Patchett, M. and R. Shields, eds. (2012). Strip Appeal: Reinventing the Strip Mall. 2


Contemporary architecture projects are typically triggered by and tailored to specific uses, business plans, building codes and immediate economic interests. These project triggers are increasingly time-specific and dynamic, and the lifespan of uses of buildings is becoming shorter and shorter. A quick succession of programs, changing building codes, updating mechanical services, economic changes, land banking and so forth are all mighty forces that challenge buildings over time. Now, more than ever, buildings are outliving their intended use. On average, retail typologies change every ten to fifteen years. Architects, planners and administrators are struggling to acknowledge and reconcile the rift between the lifespan of buildings and their original use. This means that when buildings are no longer meeting the spatial demands of their use, they are often abandoned, offered as leftovers for an “adaptive reuse” project of some kind or simply demolished. Central Park Plaza exemplifies this increasingly common rift. Central Park Plaza is a derelict strip mall in Buffalo, New York. Having been vacant for years, the vandalized shell is now an infamous site of crime and illicit activity. Built in 1957, partly on the site of a former rock quarry and partly on forested land, the strip mall thrived for the typical time span of around fifteen years before it predictably lost its retail appeal. The City of Buffalo, however, still treats its demise as an unfortunate, unforeseen event. The repeated searches for a

commercial developer for this property only underscore the inability of planners and policymakers alike to understand the changed economic, social and political context for spatially inflexible and typologically outdated buildings like the strip mall. Central Park Plaza is typical of a new form of architecture that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, one that depends on mechanical services to produce vast and unusually deep spaces that do not rely on natural ventilation or lighting. The high running costs of mechanical ventilation, air conditioning and around-the-clock electric lighting were easily met by the large revenues these businesses initially produced. After one or two decades, when the business model fulfilled its ambition and a new retail typology replaced the former one, this architecture would ideally disappear. But, of course, the Plaza did not disappear. It continues to exist, built with the traditional material palette of bricks, steel, wood, concrete and pipes, but it cannot easily be used in its current form because of the high running costs its mechanized space depends on. In our entry for Strip Appeal: Reinventing the Strip Mall, we asked how can the intrinsic tension between the physical endurance of architecture and the fast-paced rhythm of business models be channeled into productive development? What is a viable way to re-use or re-interpret buildings, such as the strip mall?

Central Park Plaza has no spatial value in its current form. Its value lies in its building components: its capable foundation and infrastructural connections to city services, such as water and gas. The first step in our competition proposal was to define the whole site as a quarry of existing building materials (see Figure 1). The second step was to declare the site of Central Park Plaza a “zone of radical deregulation.” Instead of limiting the site to one particular zoning constraint, deregulating zoning would trigger a radical reconfiguration of the existing building components within the footprint of the existing foundation. In our design scheme, Free Zoning, we proposed the following measures: 1) All building materials used in constructing the strip mall get dismantled and sorted. They can be used for free for any new building activity on site 2) The foundation is the most expensive building element to build as well as to demolish. We propose to use the existing foundation as a seedbed for new construction 3) All uses are allowed. No zoning variances are required Instead of relying on a single financial investment and economic profit as the strip mall has traditionally done, this architectural proposal would find its appeal through flexible ownership and free zoning.

CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 2 | 2012


Image: Stephanie Davidson/ Georg Rafailidis

Central Park Plaza, Buffalo, NY

This model would not require any significant monetary investment. Instead of designing a new form or proposing a new use for the site, this proposal offers the legal and economic framework in which new forms and uses can emerge. It is an architectural solution to monetary lack and economic constraints. The City of Buffalo, by offering a space with no zoning restrictions, or Free Zoning, would be inviting unpredictability, instability and risk. The result could be a new kind of economic and legal zone, triggering open-ended typological evolution. Numerous historical precedents show us how the strategy of imposing fewer formal restrictions on a site, and of opening it up for informal inhabitation and use by city inhabitants, can spur new growth and complexity. The former state-run amphitheatre in Lucca, Italy, for example, became an inhabited part of the city fabric by the interventions of countless independent, private citizens who moved into the obsolete structure during the Middle Ages. It was common in Roman and Medieval times for buildings to be used as quarries for new buildings. Existing buildings were viewed afresh through ambitious acts of re-interpretation.


Many building typologies, such as the strip mall, are becoming obsolete. These buildings are the result of a program-driven approach to architectural design, which tailors a building to a time-specific use. While we are faced with a proliferating amount of obsolete, vacant buildings in our built environment, we must question contemporary architectural design practices in order to avoid creating buildings that are physically able to house activities for many years, but are spatially insufficient to accommodate new ones. In addition to fulfilling a client’s demand, designs should be evaluated as future ruins. We should design space that continues to relate to us independent of its original program. While architectural design shifts towards the design of spaces rather than the design for programs, a strategy like Free Zoning shows how the remaining lifespan of the materials in these obsolete buildings can be exploited if the economic and political framework for building activity is made less restrictive. Free Zoning’s ambition is to transform the quasi-architecture of the strip mall into architecture; it tries to create something radically new with what is already at hand.

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

Architects, planners and administrators are struggling to acknowledge and reconcile the rift between the lifespan of buildings and their original use.

Stephane Davidson and Georg Rafailidis are the founders of Davidson Rafailidis Architecture and jury winners of Strip Appeal: Reinventing the Strip Mall.

Inventory of Existing Materials: CENTRAL PARK PLAZA *23 steel columns, 10cm diam, 420cm height *18 steel columns, 20cm diam, 420cm height

*5150 concrete blocks *330 small acoustical ceiling tiles 110cm x 150cm *54 steel I-beams, 2x15x480 cm *9 sheets corrugated steel decking, 550cm x 180cm

*3090 concrete blocks *4 sheets corrugated steel decking, 550 x 180 cm *220 acoustical ceiling tiles, 110 x 150 cm *15 steel beams, 800 cm long *6 steel beams, 550 cm long

*80 sheets corrugated steel decking, 550cm x 180cm

*4714 bricks *400 steel decking, 270cm x 180cm *84 sheets corrugated steel decking, 550cm x 180cm

*640 concrete blocks *21 large acoustical ceiling tiles, 320 x 480 cm *32 sheets corrugated steel decking, 550 cm x 180 cm *19 steel I-beams, 4 x 15 x 320 cm *5 steel I-beams, 4 x 15 x 320 cm *127 wood panels, 380 x 20 x 2.5 cm *193 open-web steel trusses *15 aluminum frame windows *8 aluminum frame doors *2 sheets corrugated steel decking, 550 x 180cm *515 concrete blocks

Central Park Plaza has no spatial value in its current form. Its value lies rather in its building components, its capable foundation and its infrastructural connections to city services (water, sewer, gas, telecommunications and electricity). We declare the whole site a building quarry of its existing building materials. Considering the site as a zone of radical deregulation, or Free Zoning, will trigger a radical reconďŹ guration of these building components within the geometric pattern of the existing foundation.

*3090 concrete blocks *440 small acoustical ceiling tiles, 110 x 150 cm *18 steel I-beams, 2 x 15 x 320 cm *8 steel I-beams, 2 x 15 x 320 cm *4 sheets steel decking, 550 x 180 cm


Site Plan

Image: Stephanie Davidson/ Georg Rafailidis

CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 2 | 2012




Strip malls have a positive role in suburban communities in that they provide the venue for small-scale entrepreneurs to offer a wide range of goods and services. As infrastructure, strip malls offer flexible blank boxes, which can be adapted to the needs of a variety of businesses. The real problem with strip malls is their reliance on and reinforcement of our societal dependence on cars as the primary means of transportation. Strip malls are symptoms of a diffuse car-dominated system, which is inefficient, eliminates focal points of public gathering in communities and discourages people from participating in active lifestyles. Within the pattern of typical suburban sprawl, there is generally one strip mall located in each neighbourhood and within the half-kilometre distance that most people feel comfortable walking to services. The paradox is that though the distribution of these strip malls is such that they could serve as the central points of pedestrian-oriented neighbourhoods, they actually serve a widely-dispersed car-driving population.

With only 5-8 specialized enterprises housed at each strip mall, people need to travel to distant neighbourhoods to satisfy all their needs. The proposal of the Park(ed) Mall is to replace the strip malls in 4 or more adjacent neighbourhoods, housing the existing shops in new mobile trailers, and then scheduling them so the full diversity of goods and services being offered visit each site at least once aweek, bringing all the shops within easy walking distance in each neighbourhood. Our proposal analyzed four strip malls in the neighbourhoods of Balwin, Glengarry, Rosslyn and Lauderdale on the north side of Edmonton, Alberta. The shops were identified and classified in a matrix of the type of goods or services offered, and then a schedule was determined to have them make a circuit of all sites on successive days. At each site we propose removing the existing strip mall and making a park. Within the park, a docking station to which specially customized trailers – the new homes of the old strip mall’s stores – would pull up. The trailers hook

up to the infrastructure, water, power, waste and telecom available in the dock and open for business. Rather than getting in a car to drive across town to find the shop you need, you check the schedule and walk to the Park(ed) Mall on the day that shop will come to you. We compared the carbon footprint of the four existing strip malls to the Park(ed) Mall proposal, assuming 400 households within a 400m catchment area for each mall and one trip per household per day, either by car for the strip mall case or walking for the Park(ed) Mall case. We calculated that the conversion of these four malls would result in the equivalent of taking 89 cars off the streets of those neighborhoods (see Figure 1). This proposal would eliminate current vacancies and duplication of shop types at the existing strip malls, allowing for one day a week at each site to be returned to the community as a Park(ed)-free day. The dock and its infrastructure are available to the community for impromptu or organized gatherings, or the site on hand for a simple stroll through a park.



CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

would you like a balloon?


How was the ride?

That was fun!

Sources for calculating carbon footprint comparison:

Want the red one?



Figure 1 Comparing the carbon footprint of four existing malls (left) and four Park(ed) malls (right)

Ave. gas mileage, cars/light trucks: Ave. gas mileage, semi-trailer: _diesel/ technology-options-for.html Protocol for calculating CO2 production and car equivalents: Carole Levesque, Todd Ashton and Aumer Assaf are part of ciTy inTerviewed in Edmonton, Alberta.

# of cars on road:

# of cars on road:



Strip malls are symptoms of a diffuse car-dominated system, which is inefficient, eliminates focal points of public gathering in communities and discourages people from participating in active lifestyles.

I think that’s the one!

Be back for fresh bread tomorrow!

Great coffee.

Hi arole!

Artistic rendering of Park(ed) Mall courtesy of Carole Levesque, Todd Ashton and Aumer Assaf

CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 2 | 2012




STRIPscaping is a design process which uncovers latent potentials and results in architectural proposals that sensitively draw from, and begin a dialogue with, their surrounding suburban conditions. The process of STRIPscaping analyzes existing infrastructural, architectural, environmental, cultural and social contexts of sites to generate realistic ideas about how to activate them. Transformations occur through additions to and/or modifications of present sites and their infrastructures. New construction and programs are introduced in response to the needs and demographics of surrounding areas. Designs are fused with the contexts out of which they are created. Rather than tearing down, STRIPscaping is about building upon. For outdated sites like the suburban strip mall, STRIPscaping considers the possibility of these spaces to convey and foster community identities. In viewing the strip mall as an event, destination, rest stop and/or


social hub, the individuality of their designs becomes expressive of the unique nature of each area. As new centres of activity, these modified malls encourage residents to visit a different neighbourhood or experience their own in a novel way. Invitations for engagement are also extended through the addition of public gathering spaces within each of the proposed schemes. All designs are developed to be utilized year round; as seasons change, so will interactions with the various sites. The potential application of STRIPscaping at six strip mall sites throughout (sub)urban areas of Winnipeg, Manitoba is described below. These proposals are drawn from the submission Stripscaping to the CRSC’s ideas competition, Strip Appeal: Reinventing the Strip Mall.1 Each proposal considers its immediate neighbourhood demographic, seasonal use, potential extension of operational hours and the existing building whereby a STRIPscape could be built above, beside or within.

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

> Theatrescape is located within close proximity to the University of Manitoba and numerous suburban communities, both established and developing. Given the identified user groups and amenities in the surrounding area, an indooroutdoor drive-in theatre for movies and other performances is proposed. By creating a venue for public events to occur within the mall’s footprint, the surrounding stores would also benefit. > Within the trendy neighbourhood of Osborne Village, Twentyfoursevenscape would extend the operating hours of the street to support its burgeoning nightlife. By day, the area is replete with independently-owned shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. The extensive access to public transit and close proximity to downtown has contributed to making this area a social hub. Twentyfoursevenscape is a nightclub proposal that provides a location for larger parties and dancing not currently accommodated for in the area.

For outdated sites like the suburban strip mall, STRIPscaping considers the possibility of these spaces to convey and foster community identities. Image: Pablo Batitsta

> Waterscape is situated across from the Red River, the site of the world’s longest skating path. The existing buildings provide no interaction with the dynamic surrounding nature of this location. Waterscape is intended to become a community centre including classrooms, hot pools, washrooms, lockers, change rooms and food services. The existing strip mall is re-imagined as a place to bring community members together while providing access to the river and creating another rest/warming stop along the skating path. > In a lower income area of north Winnipeg with limited access to public community facilities, a covered skateboard park is proposed, built on a section of the current parking lot. Skateparkscape would serve to reactivate the existing mall, provide an identification marker for the community and support positive engagement of its youth.

> North of Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg’s premier park for various outdoor, leisure and sporting events, lies an abundant array of strip malls. These malls are separated from the park by six lanes of busy traffic. Parkscape is a proposal for an indoor park/ pedestrian overpass that provides a link to the neighbouring Assiniboine Park. This walkway would provide an indoor park space in the winter and open air connection during the summer months. The overpass provides safe and efficient access for pedestrians across the major thoroughfare of Portage Avenue and the TransCanada Highway. > A featured design exploration, Hillscape provides an in-depth representation of architectural and infrastructural proposals garnered from the STRIPscaping process. Hillscape is a public landscape project that would provide activities for a range of demographics from the surrounding commu-

Artistic rendering of Hillscape and Parkscape (right) courtesy of NDP Collaborative

nities. A rooftop landscape would be introduced, providing an accessible outlet for tobogganing, skating, introductory skiing and snowboarding, and other sports in the winter. During the summer, the newly formed grassy hills provide public park space and the venue for a range of outdoor activities. These studies serve as examples for potential design approaches to ailing or dying strip malls throughout North America.

Pablo Batista is part of the NDP collaborative in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Complete submission by Dora Baker, Pablo Batista and Natalie Badenduck (NDP Collaborative). 1

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There is one of these strip malls within 400 to 800 m – a 5 to 10 minute walk – of nearly every home in Edmonton.


With much of its urban reach being developed in the form of suburbs during the post-war period, Edmonton’s approach to planning was fairly consistent throughout the city’s mature neighbourhoods. In most areas, it is typical to see a community league, two churches, two elementary schools, a junior high school, and sometimes a curling rink, all neatly bounded by a set of arterial roads. What is also consistent is the tidy provision of roughly one strip mall for each neighbourhood. Our team began by mapping all of the strip malls in the city, identifying over 200 instances as potential candidates for intervention. In doing so, we discovered that their reach almost completely blankets Edmonton’s existing residential neighbourhoods. There is one of these strip malls within 400 to 800 m – a 5 to 10 minute walk – of nearly every home in Edmonton. The site we selected is currently home to a range of shops and a small gas station. With an elementary school, playground and community league immediately across the street, it exemplifies Newton’s rigid grid pattern and modular deployment of amenities characteristic of Edmonton’s post-war suburbs. Malls such as these tend to cater to the automobile, often being located near major intersections and almost always distancing themselves from the sidewalk with parking lots in front, the capaity of which overshoots any demand in recent memory. Ironically, however, the caroriented of the strip mall has been dramatically outdone by the advent of


big-box stores, prompting us to consider the possibility of these smaller existing facilities relating to the automobile in a different manner. Our entry proposed that the existing strip mall be encapsulated by a high-density parking structure, designed to house all of the cars belonging to the residents of the neighbourhood. An automated parking garage system could condense these hundreds of vehicles into an extremely limited volume. Residents would access their vehicles on foot only at this central location, resulting in hundreds more visits each day to the strip mall and increasing the financial feasibility of greater investment by the shop owners in the needs of the community. We speculated that their scope might grow to include a range of automotive services and daily convenience shopping. Focusing the neighbourhood’s traffic access into one central location increases the feasibility of public transit, and frees up the remainder of its automobile infrastructure – roadways and garages – for future residential densification and green space. This could effectively double the number of households in the same city footprint without sacrificing the single-family scale of existing neighbourhoods. Every garage could become a garage suite; roadways and alleys convert to parkways dotted with housing, and the area surrounding the strip mall would be ripe for intensification. More importantly, the sense of community may grow as residents have occasion to encounter each other on foot, bicycle, or snowshoe, walking their children

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

to school and frequenting local shops. Removing people from the speed and isolation of individual vehicles, even for a short walk each day, could help communities thrive. The potential for the conversion of these strip malls into neighbourhood transportation hubs – and the corresponding densification that could result by freeing up space currently devoted to automobiles – extends to the whole city. Tyler Dixon and Tai Ziola are part of ziola newstudio in Edmonton, Alberta.

Artistic rendering of Park Aid neighbourhood parking facility and map courtesy of ziola newstudio


Image: Scott Varga


Competitions such as Strip Appeal enable planners to imagine the possibilities – virtually limitless on paper – for outdated sites like the strip mall, but communities, developers and concerned publics in “the real world” are already recognizing the challenges – and opportunities – these spaces have to offer. In our book, Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs (Wiley & Sons: 2009, updated edition 2011), June Williamson and I documented innovative, built examples of successful retrofitted strips, enclosed malls, office parks and so forth. We group such retrofits according to three main strategies: reinhabitation with more community-serving uses; redevelopment into more urban places; and regreening into either parks, community gardens or green infrastructure. Numerous strip malls have been reinhabited with schools, government offices and churches. However, of the forty projects in our database, one of the more significant trends in older, 3-6 acre strip malls is their reinhabitation with destination restaurants and cafes replacing the strictly convenienceoriented retail. In the process, these places are updating their look, adding outdoor seating, turning their backs into new fronts and providing their neighbourhoods with “third places” that provide social opportunities and nightlife for the two-thirds – and growing portion – of U.S. suburban households without children. La Grande Orange in Phoenix and Lake Grove in Lake Oswego, Oregon are both good examples.

More dramatic redevelopment of strip malls into mixed-use sites tends to require a greater critical mass of people and activities – and result in a significant increase in density. Notable examples include larger strip malls of 15-50 acres, such as Santana Row in San Jose, California; agglomerations of a few strip malls, such as Excelsior and Grand outside of Minneapolis; or those that are part of a larger corridor retrofit, such as Columbia Pike in Arlington, Virginia. Particularly when transit is being introduced, it is not uncommon to find 5 to 12-storey buildings replacing single-storey strip malls, abutting newly tree-lined sidewalks or framing new parks and squares. There are fewer regreening projects; however, their value as catalysts for future development is being increasingly recognized. The reconstruction of Ames Lake, for instance, on the site of the failed Phalen Shopping Center outside St. Paul, Minnesota, was funded for the purpose of wetland restoration. Yet its creation of “lakefront property” attracted the first new private investment in over forty years to a very low-income neighbourhood. Since then, in 2009, the City of Columbus, Ohio tore down its defunct urban mall to create Columbus Commons Park, the hope being that once the economy recovered, the park would attract urban housing to its periphery. Phase 2 of the project broke ground in 2012.

universally unloved, built of cheap construction and surrounded by scads of “under-performing asphalt,” there are plenty of opportunities for regreening, densification or clever adaptation of these spaces. I hope this issue will inspire more designers, developers and communities to take up the challenge!

Ellen Dunham-Jones is a professor at the Georgia Institute Technology and a featured speaker in the CRSC’s Regional Planning Speakers Series (RPSS). RPSS presents authorities in their respective fields to connect and educate publics, academics, community members and stakeholders about regional thinking and robust, sustainable growth. Content from Ellen’s January 2012 talk and workshop on suburban revitalization in Edmonton can be found at: http://www.crsc. This article is a modified excerpt from the Forward of Strip Appeal: Reinventing the Strip Mall (2012). CRSC’s Regional Planning Speakers Series sponsored by:

While there are many obstacles to retrofitting strip malls, they should be the low-hanging fruit of the suburban retrofit taxonomy. Well-located but

CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 2 | 2012



Strip malls are frequently targeted as appropriate sites for redevelopment, but they can offer lessons on the complexity of existing uses and ownership structures, as well as on how understanding these barriers can be used as a tool to encourage diversity. Numerous cities in North America are attempting to encourage pedestrian activity by developing strategies that hinge on successful retail uses. While new mixed-use developments often struggle to get tenants, most post-war era strip malls in the Toronto area have low vacancy rates (Figure 1). Looking at the redevelopment potential of strip malls brings to light some of the built form features that allow diverse, and often small or minority-owned, businesses access to commercial space. Strip mall units can offer more affordable rents, partially because of their older age and the perception that they are lower-grade retail space. However, the specific built form characteristics that make strip retail difficult to redevelop also contributes to their success in creating affordable, as well as accessible, commercial space. BARRIERS TO REDEVELOPMENT Strip mall retail, as opposed to larger plaza developments, is characterized by a row of commercial buildings, with usually one or two parking spaces per unit acting as a buffer from the street (Figure 2). This form of development results in a relatively narrow parcel of land, even in cases where the strip


has a rear access lane. In studying the likelihood of strip malls in Toronto intensifying, residential and commercial developers commented on the difficulty of building on these types of parcels due to the economics of residential and mixed-use development. Certain minimum lot depths are seen as required to make development profitable, especially where underground parking is necessary to meet city regulations. As a result, intensification of strip malls usually requires assembling multiple parcels to create deeper lots. Fragmented land ownership is frequently cited as a primary barrier to redevelopment. Not only is the assembly process made lengthier by multiple owners, but a single “hold out” landowner can quickly escalate costs, or even make the project unfeasible. The strip malls I studied provide an extreme example of fragmented ownership, with seemingly cohesive strips containing between 5 and 20 individual owners. When originally constructed in the post-war period, these strip malls were sold to individual owners much like townhouses, and now have a mix of leased units as well as businesses operated by the property owner. The number of individual owners in the average strip mall, compared with undeveloped land or larger sites, makes land assembly and redevelopment a more difficult undertaking. LEARNING FROM THE STRIP MALL While these barriers may seem problematic for the redevelopment of strip

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

malls, they also provide insight into what makes older strip malls successful in certain respects. Aside from the lower rents found in older buildings, there are aspects of the built form and ownership structure of strip malls that allow for more diversity in tenants than other types of commercial space. These should be taken into account when advocating for their redevelopment. Older strip malls have no central control over leasable space, meaning that each owner can rent their spaces to whomever they choose. Newer forms of retail are often overseen either by a condominium board or by a management company, who have concerns about attracting the “right” tenants and discouraging uses seen as undesirable. In some cases, new units are priced artificially high to discourage marginal uses, with condo boards preferring the space to remain unoccupied than filled with tenants that could impact parking, noise or cause other perceived nuisances. With tight control over newer retail spaces, the unlikely mix of tenants found in strip malls (such as storefront churches next to hairdressers and tailors) rarely develops in newly constructed units. Due to these controls, new commercial space for mixed-use buildings often contains office uses (Figure 3), or in some cases, is converted to common space for the upper-floor residential units. These types of conversions are difficult to control, although they have significant impacts on the character of the surrounding streets and neighbourhood.

Strategies to revitalize strip malls should try to emulate the aspects that have historically made many successful

Strip mall retail is also characterized by the relatively small size of units. New commercial units in mixed-use buildings can be as large as 4,500 sq. ft., much larger than the 1,000 sq. ft. average in strip malls. Combined with the fact that these units are often offered for sale rather than lease means that many small business owners are priced out of these new spaces. While the lower rents of older buildings is difficult to replicate, ensuring that new developments offer a range of unit sizes, including small units, is one way to encourage variety in business types. Strategies to revitalize strip malls should therefore try to emulate the aspects that have historically made many successful – multiple lot lines, complex ownership and lack of central control. Such features allow for greater flexibility in the system and ultimately a higher level of diversity and vibrancy.

Figure 1 Strip mall in Toronto with zero vacancy and high diversity of tenants

Figure 2 Diagram of typical strip mall built form

Orly Linovski is a doctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Images courtesy of Orly Linovski

Figure 3 New commercial development with office uses

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Is the roof only a cover? Historically, the roof has been ignored because, from the traditional street level point of view, it was invisible to the observer. The roof, which really should be considered the fifth façade, remains unacknowledged.1 During the early 20th century, the development of modularized systems accelerated the speed of urbanization in North America. Modular systems, created for maximum efficiency and optimization, generated a standardization or generic building for both residential and commercial typologies. The thinness in the strip mall roof is one of hyper-efficiency, developer-driven economic reasoning and a maximization of materials, but the roof could still be conceptually and physically thinner. By delaminating the layers of flat roof construction, the interior is exposed and corresponds with exterior space. No longer should the roof, or the space beneath, be subject to ubiquitous modular building techniques. Rather, the roof needs to be exploited and engaged in new spatial and performative architecture. DELAMINATED SPACE [AUGMENTED] The flat roof of a suburban strip mall became the focus of investigation by a senior-level architectural design studio at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Architecture. The studio was challenged to study and propose a new roof for a local 1970’s suburban strip mall. The studio researched the implications of the roof’s vast scale, which disconnects the interior from the exterior. This out-of-sync, interior-


exterior relationship has produced two conditions: a blank exterior envelope, which has been studied by Farshid Moussavi, and a corollary interior environment, which Rem Koolhaas called “Junkspace.” The studio investigated doubling the square-footage of the suburban strip mall in Lincoln by adding a second story on the roof. In Phase 1 (Structural Taxonomy) and Phase 2 (Descriptive Geometry), the studio researched and utilized the interior environment as a driver for the architectural potentials of the roof. By removing the existing strip mall roof construction (open-web joist spaced 6’-0” on-centre with eight inches minimum of insulation), the occupiable space above and below the roof was reconsidered. PHASE 1 - STRUCTURAL TAXONOMY:

1 Grids and Frames 2 Vaults 3 Domes 4 Folded Plates 5 Shells


1 Light Variables 2 Water Variables 3 Structures Variables

In Phase 3 (Program Identification), the studio leveraged the existing strip mall establishments, along with their structural taxonomy, to propose a new program(s) for the roof. The studio sought to understand the program as an opportunity to re-imagine program-

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

matic relationships and to resist the designer’s propensity to unify, order and fix. Instead, the studio offered possible scenarios. The traditional notion of program was re-calibrated through the lens of economies and untapped latent potentials within a strip mall. Borrowing from Reyner Banham’s The Architecture of Four Ecologies2each student was responsible for four programs based on four economies. PHASE 3 - ARCHITECTURE OF FOUR ECONOMIES:

1 Production 2 Exchange 3 Distribution 4 Consumption

In a suburban strip mall complex, food, service, retail and commercial economies are typical. Each economy caters to a specific yet generic set of clientele. DELAMINATED SPACE [PROJECTED] Two projects that illustrate and argue for this type of architectural intervention are Urban Acres: Micro-climate – Flower Shop by Amanda Mejstrik and Pulped Fiction: Papermaker, Publisher, Author, Consumer by Drew Seyl. IMAGES PROJECT A The structural typology of the folded plate researched and implemented in Urban Acres leveraged the sectional quality of the folded plate to facilitate a series of micro-climates dealing with soil depth, plant spacing, moisture level and drainage of both native and nonnative produce. This allowed for change

Reimagining the roof. Pulped Fiction Project, images: Drew Seyl

to occur across the roof surface. The variable change of the folded plate aligns itself to the primary grid of the existing strip mall to enhance structural performance. This design augments the sectional space of both the existing strip mall and the new micro-climates on the second floor.

The roof needs to be exploited and engaged in new spatial and performative architecture.


Pulped Fiction utilized the folded plate and the hyperbolic curve to control light and integrate structure simultaneously. This coupling of roof and structure through a continuous roof and column surface allows for an organized yet varied roof surface. In both projects, the floor-to-ceiling sectional relationship was augmented to maximize space, control light and integrate structure. Reinterpreting the flat profile of the strip mall roof pushes back on Koolhaas’s definition of “Junkspace” and repositions the roof as a spatial driver for new suburban strip malls typologies. No longer is the roof, or the space beneath the roof, subject to banality. Rather, the roof is engaged in a new spatial and performative architecture. By conceptually delaminating the layers of the roof, the interior is exposed and begins to correspond with the exterior. This Delaminated Space approach provides opportunities for designers to re-conceptualize the role of the roof on ubiquitous flat-roof artifacts like the strip mall. David Karle is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of NebraskaLincoln.

Leveraging the roof for new purposes. Urban Acres, image: Amanda Mejstrik

“Student Works: A Roof is a Roof is a Roof.” Jul 16, 2010, article.php?id=99880_0_23_0_M 1

Reyner Banham. The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971. 2

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In the aftermath of the worst flood to hit Brisbane in living memory, I started developing the Changescaping project, the second of a trio of blogbased writing projects and practicebased inquiries that drew out the emer-ging and shifting agency of artists, designers, planners, architects and other urbanists as changemakers. The projects and practices profiled in Changescaping already exist as designs, plans, provocations or ideas. The intention is to reflect on tendencies in practices and projects, in an Australian context, that enable changed conditions. The project is not an overview of Australian social design or innovation, but rather, a compendium of topographies and topologies, sights and sites which present or explore an alternate potentiality for positive change, recognizing the need to untangle the ideologies that conflate “better,” “growth” and “development.” The idea of change-making figured in this project refers to Nabeel Hamdi’s reflection on the question “What is practice?” Practice, he says, is “about being politically connected and grounded, and about disturbing the order of things in the interests of change. Practice disturbs … practice – that skilful art of making things happen: of making informed choices and

creating opportunities for change in a messy and unequal world – is a form of activism and demands entrepreneurship.”1 It’s not just about professional knowledge, but the impact of that knowledge in sustaining human well-being. There is both a calling and a need for changeful thinking at all scales. To advocate for change and to do things differently is to inspire optimism and the possibility of a better future. It elicits conversation about what might matter, and as such, there is an implied practice of synoikismos, the ancient process of city-making through agreeing to live together in dialogue.

communities, local authorities and organizations, whose resources were already stretched. Initiatives like the Flood of Ideas, which gathered diverse ideas on how to better plan for and respond to flood events, were established. In considering such ripples and movements, Changescaping was, in part, an attempt to draw attention to practitioners seeking to shake off the siloed experiences of professionalisms so as to work and dwell in the soft and relational infrastructures of places and communities. Ideas and creativity develop a kind of relational capital that could be invested in the drive for change.

In the wake of Brisbane’s flooding, practices and commentaries sought to make the reconstruction mantra “build back better” meaningful in ways that indicated Brisbane was rebuilding and rethinking, especially about the implications of climate and geography for a growing sub-tropical city. On one hand, the flood meant work for architects, planners, designers and artists in reconstruction; on the other, large swathes of that work were directed to hard infrastructure to, as Prime Minister Gillard said, “get coal on boats.” The cultural and social dimensions of rebuilding and resilience seemed to fall on the shoulders of

Changescaping also recognizes that change is not an end in itself, and that futuring or speculation must be at play in moments of participation and imagining. For example, Griffith University environment and landscape planning professor Darryl Low Choy proposed forests and farms as a better use of the inundated areas of the city. In offering these ideas, Choy also challenged communities and decisionmakers to rethink urban development as an integrated and resilient mix of natural, agricultural, economic, cultural and social uses. An urban farm is also an enterprise, a cafe, a community centre, a market, a social

Images: Lisa Burnett

network, a learning platform and more. As Ingersoll states, agriculture in an urban context can cultivate a renewed civic identity.2 Achieving this requires rethinking typologies and hierarchies of urban and suburban space for needs such as food security, and recognizing the possibility of “something else” can mean enabling other kinds of urban systems, networks and futures. The flood was one particular kind of disaster; others are playing out or looming. Through Changescaping, attention is cast on initiatives in all kinds of localities, including the suburbs. In discussions about cities and urban change, the suburbs tend to recede from view, disappearing into a realm beyond some imagined fortification of the urban centre, blending beyond as sameness. Yet real projects bring their specific, and seemingly intractable, challenges into sharp focus, ushering in other scenarios for our post-suburban future. Mathieu Gallois’ Reincarnated McMansion, for instance, responds to the impact of low density suburban development and its vulnerability to climate change and peak oil. For this project, a single McMansion will be selected (preferably donated), audited, dismantled and rebuilt. It will be “reincarnated” as two best-practice, zero-emissions green homes using existing McMansion building materials. The project intervenes on a fraught suburban narrative – including acceptance of suburban erosion of health and social capital – to begin the task of rethinking, and eventually, rebuilding.

Internationally, given the shopping mall’s pervasiveness as a suburban stereotype of car dependency and mass production, projects like Flipa-Strip and the CRSC’s Strip Appeal highlight other vulnerabilities and opportunities present in entropy and decline. While Reincarnated McMansion and Strip Appeal highlight the materiality of places, 500 Hours, instigated by social and cultural entrepreneurs Samantha Jockel and Lisa Burnett, was a concerted effort to address declining community connectedness in an area on the outskirts of Brisbane. By volunteering one day per week for a year, the duo initiated community and cultural development initiatives including the crowd-funded Hula Helps program to develop confidence and active lifestyles among young girls through hula hooping. With shared tendencies and cultural momentum, such ventures do not unfold within the confines of urban planning, design, architecture, community development or art alone. While the project is ongoing, there is a shared concern across the practices that shape Changescaping for how we might live and work together in an expanding field of relationships, tools and systems for sustainability. Many of these projects shift the language and the process of conversation. They can drift into the commons as open-ended and open source offerings. They can disrupt professionalisms through interdisciplinary, inclusive and relational practice. Changescaping recognizes the need to make things

happen through local situations, as well as opportunities for building resilience through experimentation and initiative. Linda Carroli is a writer and consultant working on social and cultural planning, regional development and stakeholder engagement projects. Hamdi, N. Small Change: About the art of practice and the limits of planning in cities. London: Earthscan, 2004. 1

Ingersoll, R. Sprawltown: Looking for the city at its edges. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006. 2

To advocate for change and to do things differently is to inspire optimism and the possibility of a better future.

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“...and did you get what you wanted even so; yes, to call myself beloved...” - Raymond Carver If spaces could talk, would those we have created call themselves beloved? Many believe our city and town centres are increasingly irrelevant. If this is true, then a challenge of the public realm is to enable the spaces we consider public. What does contemporary public space look like? Notions of public space have often been dominated by traditional aesthetics, with a tendency to link traditional notions of civics and the space that people are civic in. What we get then is a kind of nostalgic framework applied to how public space is made and re-made. If we start, however, with the very idea of what it means to be public in modern society – for instance, what the conditions are to engage people in doing things together – then we look not for prototypes shaped by nostalgia, but for something more challenging: spaces which give people the permission to be, and provide the permission to be together. Beginning here, we find that the spaces allowing for contemporary “public-ness” can be surprising, not only in terms of what and where they are, but also the specific and compelling ways in which they use their particular context and cultures. Inverness, the administrative centre of the Scottish Highlands, is leading the discovery of such spaces as well as a debate through action about how to be public in our times using spaces that already exist. This includes spaces in


seemingly hostile environments. Old Town Rose Street car park, for instance, is a multi-storey in Inverness owned by The Highland Council. As a public asset, residents of the town are exploring how to stretch the twin ideas of “public-ness” and “public asset.” Inverness Old Town Art (IOTA) has curated a series of events and projects in partnership and/or supported by the car park team, Creative Scotland and Inverness’ Common Good Fund. IOTA is an arts organization dedicated to engaging the public and bringing contemporary art to the Scottish Highlands. It creates opportunities for public art projects through forging unexpected alliances across diverse situations. Through IOTA-led initiatives, the 10-level Old Town Rose Street car park has already played host to the Scottish Opera, an electric ceilidh with the skateboarding community, a rooftop outdoor cinema, live music, theatrical performances, a mass car painting with visual artists, and workshops and creative lectures. IOTA’s Lead Curator, Susan Christie, explains the importance of such efforts: “At a time when retail is changing at a rapid pace, how we inhabit and interact with our city centres needs imaginative and creative approaches to morph and allow for new activities to emerge. Working with artists, businesses and community facilities, we are in the process of pioneering and testing out different ways of enjoying and experiencing our cities.” Diarmaid Lawlor, Head of Urbanism at Architecture and Design Scotland, adds, “[such projects] are rooted in a belief in the potential of

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

space to externalize the cultures and subcultures that exist in a place by giving permission to be public. This sense of public space is, I think, what cities are about, and it is a foundation we should use to imagine what our city centres and town centres might be.” On the Old Town Rose Street car park in particular, the car park’s supervisor, Philip Barron, explains, “Because it’s such a big building and publicly owned, we felt it would be good to use the space for other projects. If you’re going to make buildings viable, you’ve got to make them try to help as many people as possible. We want this building to be an asset to Inverness and encourage people to interact with us.” The car park is one of a number of community spaces that IOTA has inhabited or curated projects in to attract new audiences and re-invigorate the urban landscape. A brief description of work undertaken by IOTA may help to demonstrate how radical thinking in existing places can create excitement, connection and a desire to express and challenge ideas of what public space is and might be. IOTA-curated projects in the multi-storey for 2011 began in July with The Big Fat Electric Ceilidh, funded by Creative Scotland as part of the Cultural Olympiad Open Weekend. This event brought together skaters, local residents, Olympic representatives, professional dancers, Highland artists, politicians, youth workers and the police, all of whom danced together in a transformed, club-like space. Light, sound and music were critical to the success of the event, creating a hypnotically dark, contempo-

rary world more evocative of underground nightlife than a multi-storey car park. Filmed interviews with skaters were projected onto the walls, accompanied by throbbing, electronic music. The event was described as “dark, heavy, live, intense and exciting,” and the mix of people dancing together “amazing.” September 2011 saw the launch of Sublime – a 14-month program supported by Creative Scotland and The Highland Council to bring art closer to the public, specifically those who would not normally go to an art gallery. The project capitalized on the fact that over 1000 people pass daily through the Old Town Rose Street car park. The first installment (September 22-24) saw the multi-storey transformed into a cinema, bringing a whole range of moving image works and live music to the building. Each evening, open-air screenings took place on the car park’s roof. The program profiled successful Highland artists alongside their international contemporaries. Highlights included a roof-top screening of Life in a Day (the collaborative film project from Kevin MacDonald and producer Ridley Scott involving thousands of clips from taken all over the world on a single day), a unique screening of the classic wedding comedy, The Philadelphia Story (screened in a room that topically used to be a Registry Office), live musical performances from Gaelic sensations Brian O’ hEadhra and Fiona McKenzie, and multiple screenings of Gaelic shorts. Through November and December, IOTA and the car park presented SUBLIME Freaky Fridays, a series of weekly, unexpected happenings that

transported the public from hell, through purgatory, to heaven. SUBLIME began with an innovative new solo version of the classic Faust/us that fused animation, mixed media and physical theatre, followed by live performances from magician Dean Melville, a film screening by artist Torsten Lauschmann and live street art from Team Recoat, who created a visual spectacle on the ground floor of the multi-storey by transforming cars and vans volunteered by the public. Continuing towards heaven, with nature reclaiming our industrial relics, were Rosie Newman’s sculptural installation Wild Things and a screening of Industrial Revolutions. The journey concluded with the public being lifted towards heaven with the yarnbombing duo Annie Marrs and Jennifer Cantwell, whose installation Cloudishness featured a knitted blue-sky cloudscape in which passengers were taken to and from “heaven” via lifts and a soundscape of utopian public information messages broadcast from the departure lounge. SUBLIME attracted a phenomenally high level of press coverage, nationally and locally. Chief Executive of Creative Scotland, Andrew Dixon, followed the project on Twitter and enthused about it publicly in other parts of the country. The groundswell of support from the public culminated in IOTA being invited to curate another, larger version of the project in October 2012. Expanding on the need for similar experiences elsewhere, as well as the potential model offered by their approach, Susan Christie explains: “The positive attention on the city has attracted the eyes of the politicians

(locally and in the corridors of powers at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh)... [I]nnovative approaches may seem high risk, but in fact, are exactly the kind of creative thinking that is needed right now... Artists have always been important in taking unexpected perspectives and coming up with unusual solutions, and should be celebrated and supported. Arts funding is under pressure, and this is exactly the time when funders and city dignitaries should invest in the arts as a key part to re-imagining new city landscapes.” Returning to the thoughts of car park supervisor, Philip Barron, who has been involved in supporting IOTA events, he observes the need for designers and architects of the future to “design in” features for car parks and other traditionally mono-use venues to be flexible and multi-purpose. He recalls hearing of a football stadium in Arizona (the University of Phoenix Stadium) where it takes just two hours to roll back the grass so the facility can be used for concerts and community events. Thus, while it is important to re-imagine new uses for spaces that already exist, we must also encourage designers and architects to implement strategies that create flexible, multi-use spaces from the outset. Susan Christie is the Lead Curator of Inverness Old Town Art. Diarmaid Lawlor is the Head of Urbanism at Architecture and Design Scotland.

Images courtesy of Inverness Old Town Art.

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ENGAGING YOUNG PEOPLE: Participant’s Take For IOTA, there is unique importance in providing creative space for young people to come together who would otherwise lack exposure to contemporary arts.

To say there’s been a lack of interesting, fresh artists to be inspired by in the Highlands is an understatement. Until now, it’s been difficult for aspiring artists up here to access professionals - local and from elsewhere - which is why the work being done at IOTA is so crucial for people like me ... Events like this, although only a couple of hours spent in a random little room beside the multi-storey car park, really do make a marked difference on how young people feel about art and their future involving it.

SUBLIME workshop participant Eva Coutts, 18


Get everyone excited about the potential involved Promote the fact that a building universally known for one thing has other, completely different potential functions Forge partnerships with nearby businesses Experiment with spaces to flavour the curation of the program (i.e. using the stairwells and registry office in IOTA’s car park events)

Be tenacious when faced with glitches and do not push health and safety boundaries to the limit Protect the artists from unnecessary hassles - be “the shield” Be sensitive to the importance of securing and actively harnessing political support

Collaborate with staff and senior management from the outset; be open to ways of involving them

Organize professional quality documentation throughout

Be alert beforehand about how people navigate and understand the space

Work hard on publicity – before, during and after

Enable hands-on opportunities


Remain flexible when unexpected ideas emerge during the process

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

Clean up after the event. Building must be returned to its original use


The last of the daily shoppers bundle groceries into their cars. The shopping centre car park, which, a mere hour before, was filled with the screeching of tires and slamming of doors, slowly begins to quiet. Fluorescent lights flick on as the sun dips behind the lofty cityscape. The towering, multi-storey car park casts a lengthening shadow over the empty shopping centre it services on a daily basis. As night falls, the car park starts to take on another life and purpose. Depending on the night, weather and security, anything from one to a dozen skateboarders can be seen tumbling from cars, unloading rails, fun boxes and various skate devices – transforming this daytime concrete holding space into a nighttime concrete wonderland. Skateboarders have always utilized the urban cityscape as an avenue for play and experimentation. Increasingly, their efforts to experiment with existing architectural and urban forms are thwarted by the use of ”skate stoppers,” anti-skating devices that hinder the skateboarder from appropriating stairs, handrails and ledges for their own entertainment, sport and art form. This, combined with an increase in surveillance of private and quasi-public property, precludes free use of public space and stifles the creativity of a nomadic and innovative subculture. Despite the continued restrictions placed on skateboarders, this subculture’s drive is not deflated. The needs

of skateboarders are few – namely, a place to skate. More often than not, this prohibition only increases the need – and arguably, the right – to (re)claim space. In the city nightscape, the lack of lighting at viable skate spots is limited; even skate parks generally turn out their lights to avoid condoning delinquent and/or juvenile night behaviour often associated with these sites. This makes the empty carcass of multistorey parking lots the perfect avenue to pursue. Most commonly, skaters prefer to utilize the open-topped roof sections, unless, of course, evading their biggest enemy after security guards: the rain. The long, vast expanses of concrete, illuminated by humming fluorescent lights, are the perfect space for creation. Reuse of existing items is common. Trolleys left overturned become obstacles. Parking barriers are transformed into potential acts of heroism. Concrete ramps, parking poles, speed bumps and other paraphernalia associated with the daytime needs of shoppers are all appropriated by night.

slapping against the ground in preparation of a trick. The grind of wood against cement or steel, reverberating off the walls, is jolted only by the raucous laughter, clapping, accolades (and sometimes taunts) of teenagers. As the hours drag on, the numbers dwindle. Rails are packed away, order is restored and cigarette butts are extinguished. The skateboarders reluctantly vacate the parking lot, leaving behind only scuffed concrete soon to be covered with oil stains. As the sun rises the next day, the parking complex fills with mechanical machines and consumerist-driven shoppers, ignorant of the playground upon which they stand. Michelle Catanzaro is a researcher, image-maker and designer.

With an influx of people skating long boards or “old school” boards (think Lords of Dogtown), the empty multistorey ramps, winding down level after level, closely imitate a downhill race run, though one free of the dangers of cars. The very acoustics create a surreal world: the rhythmic sound of polyurethane wheels gliding over concrete, the sharp click of boards

CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 2 | 2012


most chain cinemas found in Edmonton’s suburbs lack a distinct architectural identity


Saturday afternoon in Clareview: Alberta’s big, blue sky, bright sunshine, a mass of oversized shopping carts by the LRT station. This is the final stop on Edmonton’s LRT line going north. A short walk from the station, you find the usual selection of suburban landmarks – a Superstore, a Future Shop and a chain cinema, in this case, Empire Theatres. The cinema’s façade looks rather forlorn against the bold storefronts of its neighbours. It occupies a long, concrete structure and shares space with an XS Cargo discount store. A sign above the entrance states: “Adventure Within” Writing about live theatres, Marvin Carlson argues that their architecture and geography “generate social and cultural meaning of their own which in turn help to structure the meaning of the entire theatre production.”1 Does this also apply to cinemas? Do their locations and architecture contribute to the spectator’s perception of a movie? For instance, does the experience of going to the historical Garneau, centrally located on 109th Street and 87th Avenue in Edmonton, differ from that of watching a film at a suburban chain cinema, such as that at Clareview? Dating from 1940, the Garneau features the art deco architecture of William George Blakey and is the only surviving example of this style in Alberta. When it first opened, the Edmonton Bulletin described the Garneau as “spacious, attractively designed and modern in every detail.” In addition to a beautiful 21

foyer with doors and pillars made of gumwood, the original Garneau included a complimentary coat check. Ushers in striking uniforms escorted visitors to their seats. In contrast to the Garneau, most chain cinemas found in Edmonton’s suburbs lack a distinct architectural identity. Instead, as exemplified by the cinema at Clareview, they occupy functional yet drab premises, devoid not only of architectural but also historical significance. In his well-known essay “Notes on the New Town,” Henri Lefebvre writes that, in an old town, “each house has its own particular face” and that each street “is not simply there so that people can get from A to B,” but rather, is a “place to stroll, to chinwag, to be alive in.” New towns, or “machines for living in,” terrify Lefebvre. He acknowledges the modern conveniences new towns have to offer, but asks if these modern “block of flats” can “mediate between man and nature” or “between one man and another.” Contradicting Lefebvre, the always controversial Andy Warhol declares that his “ideal city would be completely new. No antiques. All the buildings would be new.”2 His privileging of the new over the old makes some practical sense; “the building and the tearing down would keep people busy, and water would not rust from old pipes.” In addition to advocating the “good, plain American lunchroom” over fancy restaurants and admiring the food and shopping at airports, Warhol singled out film as having “the best atmosphere,”

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

explaining, “it’s three-dimensional physically and two-dimensional emotionally.” Cinema has the overwhelming power of the screen; it does not have to resort to stage curtains, lavish sets and unusual architecture, as used in theatre. The slogan “Adventure Within” alludes to this distinction. Most suburban cinemas appear to rely on their capacity to deliver the promised adventure from within only. In contrast to such historical venues as the Garneau, chain cinemas abandon their spectators both before and after they attend a show. With their strictly functional architecture, as well as their mundane surroundings, they fail to prepare viewers for the magic of the screen, and they also fail to cushion the viewer’s transition to the everyday world on the way out. Paying more attention to things external can go a long way in attracting more spectators, not to mention providing them with a much richer experience. Leaving Clareview, I photographed a vacant lot near the cinema – a giant mud puddle strewn with rubbish. Elena Siemens is an Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta. Carlson, Marvin (1989) Places of Performance: The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, p 3. 1

Warhol, Andy (1977) The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, San Diego: Harvest/HBJ Books, p. 157 2

Images: Elena Siemens



Image: Orly Linovski

KEVIN EDSON JONES This is my confession. I love strip malls. It is not a declaration which comes easily. There is much to dislike about these bland, square and increasingly abandoned retail units cluttering our neighborhoods. It only takes the most cursory of glances to understand what the strip mall is all about. Their origins lie in the suburbanization of North American cities, becoming a mainstay of suburban planning by the 1960s and 1970s. Fronting onto ample parking and connected to arterial road systems, the strip mall epitomizes a suburban obsession with consumption enabled by the automobile. It is a vision of urban planning that has often attracted scathing criticism. Historian and sociologist Lewis Mumford, writing in the 1960s, was contemptuous of the belief that the “good life” could be arrived at by abandoning the city to “a sorry mess of motor cars.” He thought that although people hoped to find space and proximity to nature in the suburbs – a romanticized view of living a hybrid life between city and country – what they found instead were banal, uniform and mechanical places, alienating individuals from their communities and from each other. Such places were a denial of the human spirit and the vibrancy of the metropolis – the voluntary prisons of “the lonely people.” Add to this today’s problems of congestion, pollution, sustainability and ongoing (and still unbridled) suburban growth and you might be skeptical about renewing a courtship with aging suburban retail spaces. My argument is this: strip malls offer one of our most accessible means of renewing communities and building a sense of place in

our established neighborhoods. Here are three reasons why. Firstly, they are where we live. Leaving our homes to go buy groceries, we turn the corner and drive past them en route to more distant districts of car-crammed mega-box stores. Economies of scale demand we go further, wait longer and spend even more time in our cars. In a world where food miles are increasing – and your journey to pick up a carton of milk comprises a larger and larger percentage of this – it may be that the suburban strip mall is a more sustainable choice. Moreover, it is with only very minor modifications to sidewalks, crossings and parking lots that strip malls could be accessible to pedestrians, cyclists, strollers, walkers and wheelchairs. Secondly, they are flexible. Where once the strip mall was home to uniform chain stores, look for a successful strip today and you will find a multitude of creative, local, independent shops. It is the strip mall’s smaller spaces and lower rents which make it attractive to different varieties of retail. When you look to buy local, you may likely do it at a suburban strip. Thirdly, the strip mall can be a hub around which communities can come together. If your city is like mine, the most vibrant strips have appealed to immigrant communities. These provide a range of “ethnic” products and services and likely house a variety of grocery stores, restaurants, independent clothing retailers, dentist offices or a local daycare. This sense of community is attractive. Look closely and you will see far more than the ethnic community listed on the store front coming together in these places. Each of these arguments harks back

to earlier – pre-automobile – periods of peri-urban development, in which suburbs were designed as partially independent urban regions – organic in form, locally focused and emphasizing the value of community. Strip malls are our legacy and they are the infrastructure we have to work with. And it is precisely because of their lack of charm and invisibility within our urban landscape that they hold such possibility. The prophets, and the profits, of suburbia have moved on since the 1960s and 1970s. Driving further outward expansion, they have gone on to develop even larger suburban retail spaces, parking lots, road systems and neighborhoods on the ever expanding edge of our cities. The strip mall often lies empty, not because of the failure of suburbia, but because they have been outgrown within the mode of development they were first conceived as part of. Left behind, however, they may be adapted to another model of consumption and development. Loving the strip mall – and by this I mean actively reimagining what opportunities these ugly ducklings offer – seems to me an affair worth pursuing. Strip malls, the very symbol of the suburban dream, may now allow established urban communities to redefine themselves, their character and their cultures. The entrants of the Strip Appeal design competition provide ideas about how this can be achieved. The value of these designs is not that they provide a road map for change, but that they provide inspiration for strip malls to be redefined by and in the communities they are part of. Spread the love. Kevin Edson Jones is a Senior Research Associate at the City-Region Studies Centre.

CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 2 | 2012


We asked... How might the small-scale strip be reinvented and redeveloped to local advantage? Simple and sturdy, what better adaptable typology than the small-scale strip? Any community can make the small-box their own.

The Shortlist... We invited architects, creatives and the general public to propose innovative ideas for the aesthetic reinvention and adaptive reuse of small-scale strip malls in their local neighbourhoods.

reinventing the strip mall

Need an idea?

Strip Appeal is an ideas design competition and travelling exhibit, intended to stimulate and showcase creative proposals for the revitalization of strip malls.

Pick up a copy of the Strip Appeal catalogue and see how you might reinvent your local strip mall!


ORDER a glimpse of the future


the strip mall





Catalogue $60.00 (includes GST and shipping)










Detach and mail to: Curb c/o City-Region Studies Centre 2-184 Enterprise Square 10230 Jasper Ave, Edmonton Alberta T5J



* cheques can be made payable to the University of Alberta


Detach and mail to: Curb c/o City-Region Studies Centre 2-184 Enterprise Square 10230 Jasper Ave Edmonton, Alberta T5J

$30.00 / 1 year subcription (includes GST and shipping)

$70.00 / 1 year subcription plus a copy of the Strip Appeal catalogue (includes GST and shipping)















* cheques can be made payable to the University of Alberta


Curb Magazine is inviting contributions to an issue on how cities and regions can plan for innovation and translate developments in science and technology into benefits for local communities. What factors contribute to whether the benefits of innovation “stick” to a region? How can local communities, their concerns and their needs, be integrated within innovation processes? Articles must be between 500-800 words, preferably with accompanying images. Please submit articles in doc or rtf file and images in high quality jpeg or RAW format. Articles will be edited to suit Curb’s tone and subject matter. Please note that all contributions are unpaid. Please send completed articles to by April 10th, 2012.

2012/ 13


Regional Planning Speakers Series City Building: A New Convergence

Ken Greenberg October 23, 2012

Sustainability and Regional Planning March, 2013

Regional Resilience, Cross-Sectoral Knowledge Platforms and the Prospect of Growth in Canadian City Regions

David Wolfe

November 28, 2012

Local Panel Discussion: The Future of Urban Agriculture in the Alberta Capital Region Panelists: Dr. Mary Beckie, Jennifer Cockrall King and Dustin Bajer

Place-Making and the Politics of Planning

Jennifer Keesmaat January 22, 2013

February 19, 2013

The City-Region Studies Centre has initiated this yearlong educational program to bring together stakeholders (planners, architects, designers, community members, academics, students) in regional planning for learning opportunities, to build capacity for regional thinking and for opportunities to connect and network with one another. This program helps Albertan communities learn how to manage growth in a way that promotes sustainability, supports a robust economy, encourages collaboration and improves the quality of life of its citizens. With a focus on sustainability, growth drivers, land use planning and transportation, guest speakers address and work with people from diverse backgrounds, conduct workshops and hold panel discussions.

The 2012 – 2013 RPSS is framed by two broad topics: Innovation and the Planning Community and Development of Sustainable Cities. This year’s series is poised to include a combination of discussion panels on local topics and workshops, as well as featuring a diverse group of guest speakers. For more information visit: City-Region Studies Centre @cityregions #rpss




PROPERTY? The Green Acreages Guide Primer


for Small Acre


There is so much to think about when you own a rural property – are you managing and maintaining it in a way that protects your investment now and in the future? Land Stewardship Centre has developed the Green Acreages Primer, and more detailed Green Acreages Guide Workbook, for acreage, hobby farm and recreational property owners. With helpful information, advice and tools to plan and track virtually everything associated with your property, it is a must have for all who enjoy country life.

Learn more at

Making a Difference. For the Industry. For Alberta. The Alberta Real Estate Foundation supports initiatives that enhance the Real Estate Industry and benefit the communities of Alberta. We, like so many others, celebrate the release of these two important documents which answer so many questions held by rural property owners.

ISSN 1923-7413 (Print)

ISSN 1923-7421 (Online)

CURB Magazine 3.2  

Curb Magazine is about policy practice and community experiences in cities, regions, and rural areas. Curb is distributed to municipal offic...