In many neighbourhoods across North America, small 5 to 8 store strip-malls, once anchors of local retail activity, have become today’s suburban blights. Envisioned as community hubs of consumption and services, many of these places are being abandoned, becoming underutilized and dilapidated as services move out of local neighbourhoods in favour of larger-scale shopping districts serving a greater catchment area.
Long deplored for their inefficient use of space and lack of aesthetic appeal, strip malls are uncelebrated, unloved and often overlooked. At the CRSC, we believe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the strip mall.
We asked: Can the car-oriented, aesthetically nondescript strip-mall be imaginatively reinvented? How can we adapt and repurpose this building stock (and its parking lots) to meet the changing needs of our suburban neighbourhoods? What potential might there be for mixed-use renovations, community farming, social spaces and regreening? How might landscape architecture, streetscaping strategies and creative planning make these sites more pedestrian friendly? What innovative new uses, forms and spaces might result?
To answer these questions, we invited architects, creatives, design students and the general public to propose innovative ideas for the aesthetic reinvention and adaptive reuse of small-scale strip malls in their local neighbourhoods. This approach, and the subsequent exhibition and publishing of the winning and shortlisted submissions, was chosen to stimulate intelligent conversations and provoke a critical rethinking of the role of strip malls in our communities.
As a method of community engagement, the design competition allowed participants to actively participate in our research, to drive innovation in urban planning, and have a voice in how their communities are shaped.
Over 100 design ideas from 11 countries were submitted to the Strip Appeal competition. From a community greenhouse to a dynamic pop-up food truck station, the ideas submitted reflected the creativity of the design community, and the limitless potential of small scale urban revitalization.
Submissions were judged based on clarity of ideas, usefulness and economy of the designs, community appeal and relevance, and visual and aesthetic appeal of renderings. The winning submission came from Buffalo-based architectural firm Davidson Rafailidis which proposed that a local underutilized strip mall be given back to the community. Called “Free Zoning,” their idea proposed that the municipality rezone the space and building salvage for any activity so that creativity could flow.
This winning submission and 20 shortlisted designs were showcased on our website and in poster and digital form at the Faculty of Extension’s Enterprise Square Atrium Gallery. We invited press, community leagues, retail developers, and architectural and design associates to our gallery opening. The Strip Appeal gallery has since travelled to the University of Buffalo and the University of Calgary, and been published as a coffee-table book available for purchase on Amazon or through University of Alberta bookstores.
To explore the full competition shortlist and other notable submissions, as well as to order your own copy of Strip Appeal: Reinventing the Strip Mall, visit: www.strip-appeal.com or Amazon.ca.
Funded by SSHRC and Space and Culture, the Strip Appeal research project was led by Merle Patchett, Lecturer in Human Geography at the School of Geographical Studies, University of Bristol, and Rob Shields, H.M. Tory Research Chair at the City-Region Studies Centre in the Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta. Additional members and partners of CRSC participated in competition judging, promotion, and exhibition.
The Strip Appeal design competition and gallery, combined with the online display of our shortlist, has generated a great deal of press attention locally, nationally and internationally. The following links are a selection of the conversation sparked by this project:
Or visit our dedicated project web page to learn more about the project: www.strip-appeal.com