Reinventing Retail: Creating Community Destinations

Featured in the June 2017 issue of Gig Harbor Living Local

by Brett Marlo DeSantis

Recent national articles have posed the question: Are Malls Over?

Think about it. According to the New York Times, approximately one in ten Americans work in the retail industry. Here in Gig Harbor, our population explodes (practically doubling) every day when workers enter our city to earn a living and provide us with services.

The concept of the indoor mall, and the shopping experience in the built environment in general, has been evolving over the past couple of decades. Perhaps it is the online competition that has hit traditional retailers hard. Or it could simply be that consumers are now wanting a greater in-person experience. Whatever it is, developers are now motivated to invest and create new built solutions based on what consumers are craving.

What if you had the opportunity to design your own shopping center? Well guess what, you do. What would you want to experience there? Can the new retail concept encourage physical health, include beautiful landscapes, capture our culture, celebrate our local artists, preserve parts of our history, represent our regional resources and harmoniously fit into its surroundings? What’s unique in this day and age is that the developer is now seeking your advice–asking our community for our input.

We have a chance to shape the vision of our growing community through thoughtful conversation. When there are open meetings to talk to developers, don’t hesitate, attend! Imagine these spaces and talk about possible features. What do you want to see, hear, touch, smell, eat and do?

Some interesting features to discuss may include educational or storytelling signage, ways to frame views and keep the local aesthetic, pocket parks, water features, connection to walking trails, covered bike parking and underground parking. What if the buildings were sited to allow for a public center to host events like concerts? Could we create open, covered spaces for local vendors engaging through pop-up shops? What does the future hold for malls? Certainly not more surface parking or the ominous giant grey air-conditioned architectural boxes that appear along highway exits.

Goodbye to the stale food courts. Hello to the outdoor eating opportunities! We are getting closer to what well-planned retail centers could be for ourcommunities. Your input is valuable. Let’s be careful not to fracture our community and the possibilities of tomorrow through distorted information.

Public discourse is vital and necessary to shape our city to resemble our values. Only when we truly listen, can we collaborate and design for the future. Sustainable development is possible and necessary within the growth management areas.

The Growth Management Act (GMA) was adopted in the 1990s and requires fast-growing counties and cities to manage their population growth through smart comprehensive planning. GMA goals include: concentrate urban growth, reduce sprawl, create regional transportation and affordable housing. This speaks to why it is so important to redevelop the existing infrastructure and develop within the urban growth area. With thoughtful design, shopping could be more than just consuming.

When we build with mixed-use sustainable strategies that include the community’s desires and input, we have the potential to bring our community together to share experiences while supporting our local vendors.

As James Hoggan says, Success comes from understanding another’s needs so fully that you can reshape the future together.