How to Make Big Box Stores Less Terrible for Walking: 8 Expert Tips

Is there any way to integrate walking into the big box development model? Photo: @fineplanner/Twitter

It’s no coincidence that the most dangerous streets in many communities are the ones in front of big box stores.

As a rule, big boxes generate a lot of motor vehicle traffic — and they tend to be a nightmare to navigate without a car. Even though the industry is shifting and some mega retailers have started to create smaller, more urban stores, big boxes likely aren’t going away soon. Is it possible to salvage the streets and parking lots around big boxes to make them more walkable for the people who shop and work at these stores every day?

To find out, I interviewed June Williamson about how communities can make better use of big box sites. Williamson is an architect and co-author, with Ellen Dunham-Jones, of Retrofitting Suburbia. Here are her tips…

Make sure you have sidewalks and crosswalks

This really is the most basic starting point. There should be sidewalks and crosswalks, and they should be continuous and navigable.

One step further, Williamson said, is to eliminate “slip lanes” that allow drivers to bypass intersections when making right turns. Those can be dangerous and hard to navigate on foot. A simple right turn lane will suffice instead.

Create a path through the parking lot

Photo via Human Transit
Photo via Human Transit

Once someone has arrived at a store, they need to navigate a large, potentially dangerous parking lot. A path for walkers is critical.

A path can be created using materials as basic as a mixture of epoxy, paint, and sand — the basic ingredients of New York City’s pedestrian plazas — if need be. Williamson recommends a strip of solid color. “I like green,” she said.

Just make sure the paths are shoveled in the winter.

Make sure there’s bike parking

Cover a parking space with the same epoxy-and-gravel mix, add bike racks, and voila!

Create some outdoor public spaces and seating

“Cut out bits of asphalt,” says Williamson. “That then could become a little garden seating area, or you could add a drainage swale.”

These spaces can give employees a nicer place to spend their breaks, or give patrons of indoor cafes the option of sitting outside.

Make transit stops comfortable

A bench and a trash can, at minimum, “are things a community can require a big box developer to provide,” says Williamson.

“A lot of the staff is arriving by transit,” she said. “They’re the ones coming by bikes or buses. The people that cross the arterial roads and are waiting 10 minutes for the light to cross, they’re wearing their uniforms because they work at the McDonalds or the Starbucks.”

Create more access points for people on foot

Photo via Human Transit
Photo via Human Transit

In many cases, zoning limits big box stores to one street entrance. But you’ll often see paths, known as desire lines, worn by people who take another route by foot. Among other things, these paths are opportunities to cut down on car traffic to the store.

“Sometimes people make these cut throughs in the dirt,” said Williamson. “Can those be made more purposeful?” If the unofficial paths get built out with better materials, more people will walk and fewer will drive.

When turning a desire line into a paved path, Williamson adds, it’s important to make sure it has proper lighting as well.

Get smarter about parking

Retailers will often demand large parking lots to hold all the customers they project on the busiest days of the year. Smart communities will resist this impulse, says Williamson.

Rather than rely on rote formulas to determine how many parking spots to build, a customized study can help reduce how much parking gets built, she says. Even better is to get retailers to pool parking spaces, so that each doesn’t maintain a day-after-Thanksgiving-size supply.

“They don’t want spillover parking,” she said, meaning it’s frowned upon for customers to park in a lot that “belongs” to a different store than the one they shop in. “That has to change. If you have an enlightened planner, they can look at all this parking as a shared resource and a driver can park once and a driver can visit multiple stores at different centers.”

Use “liners” to create a more walkable streetscape

These "liner" buildings outside a big box store development in Ohio make the streetscape more walkable. Photo; Jacobs Real Estate
These “liner” buildings on the edge of a big box development in Rocky River, Ohio, narrow the gulf between the street and stores. Photo: Jacobs Real Estate

Increasingly, big box sites are designed with smaller, street-facing retail stores on the periphery. These “liner” businesses, as they’re called in the industry, conceal the enormous parking lot from street level. It’s a cosmetic change that nevertheless can make walking in the big box environment less intimidating.

  • Joe R.

    I think you’re misunderstanding what I had in mind. When we talk of recycling, think of something like 3D printers. Now think what it would be like if we could 3D print not only plastic items, but metal, fabrics, organics like food or even spare body parts, perhaps even eventually complex devices with electronics. None of this is speculation. We either have these capabilities now, or will have them within a decade or two. Now consider when you’re tired of your old items you bring them to a recycling center where robots sort out the different types of materials for reuse in new items. The only input you need in this system is energy. You can in effect have new items without the waste associated with making them now. No need to mine raw materials, transport them, shape them into finished goods, then transport them again to the stores. If we use renewal energy like solar, wind, hydroelectric then this economy is 100% sustainable indefinitely. We might even be able to clean up our landfills and reuse those materials.

    The alternative to this is frightening. China is less than a decade away from a resource crisis thanks to their breakneck consumerism. Globally, we might not be far from methane hydrates on the ocean bottom thawing, accelerating global warming a few orders of magnitude, basically turning our planet into something resembling Venus. So the price we’re eventually going to pay for consumerism is first wars over ever scarcer resources, then eventually the death of the planet itself, or at least most of the people on it. While we’re establishing this new recyclable, sustainable economy, we may well need to ask people to take the consumerism down a few notches. In the end, this might be a wise decision anyway for people’s emotional health. We’ve already seen having more stuff than you need makes you less happy, just as not having enough under communism makes you less happy. Striking a balance is in order.

    But without proper nutrition, most people including men were very short, tiny in size – even compared to me, and I’m only 5’2″…

    Honestly, smaller humans are probably better for the planet anyway. They consume less food per capita, require less space. Also, I’m pretty sure the Chinese are just genetically small. Quite a few of the girls back in high school were anywhere from about 4’8″ to 5′, and this with American standards of nutrition. A good way of telling if short stature is natural or due to poor nutrition is to see if a person looks “squat” or in proportion. The former indicates someone who likely might have been taller with better nutrition. On the other hand, if your body looks proportioned normally, but everything is just smaller than an average person, then this is just genetics.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    Sometimes Utopian social schemes are very cruel, even genocidal. The Khmer Rouge wanted to transform urban society in Cambodia by “blowing up” urban life/cities. The monumental loss of life and the shredding of society/culture were the result.

    I don’t see how Walden is possible, in a world where everyone wants the best health care possible, and all the other conveniences of modern culture. The model of doing without, with its “cognate” illness, malnutrition, lowered life-expectancy, billions have fled from, or are in the process of fleeing from.

    Even in a Western culture such as Cyprus, bikes are shunned, since they are associated with poverty, the inability to own a car. Unfortunately, it is going to be an uphill battle to convince folks to give up cars and return to bikes – give up symbols of material success.

    Also, material success means they are much more likely to be able to support a wife and kids, and see that they’re well-fed, well-educated, and so forth. Although some might disagree, for the most part, successful reproduction is an important life goal. It’s a fact that if there’s scarcity, there is less likelihood or even less point to continue the cycle of life. You can see this fall-off in nature as well. As harmful as our modern consumer society is to the environment, if it enables the greatest number of people to successfully reproduce themselves, because it generates excess goods/wealth/resources, it is likely to continue. You cannot raise several kids in a Tiny House, or transport a family of a “platoon” of let’s say 6 kids plus a wife, in anything but a truck-like car or van. How many parents really want to have small kids trailing along in traffic on bikes? Why do stroller moms still use strollers rather than take infants with them in snugglies and so forth on bikes? When was the last time you saw a hugely pregnant female riding a bike? Do you really think she would want to risk a fall/crash? Successfully raising the next generation, conveying social superiority through consumer choices that convey wealth, are two of the biggest reasons the Western system, as harmful as it is to the environment, is here to stay.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    Well, that sounds good, but you still need resources/technology to produce complex machines like 3D printers and so forth.

    How could you make a machine with enough cartridges of different raw materials needed to make a complex machine such as a 3D printer, or one of the most complex machines, a car?

    I agree that balance is needed. Break-neck consumerism is unsustainable, but you can’t convince people who previously had nothing, to go backwards.

    A man who is short in stature typically is less successful including his chances of reproducing – in a society where there is a choice of tall or short men. Women may associate shortness of stature with less power/strength and may prefer taller men as being possibly stronger. They may want their kids to have the benefit of the “stronger” man’s genes. Of course if everyone were small/short, then tall vs. short wouldn’t be a factor. Obviously, in China, even with widespread poverty, lack of proper nutrition, Mao had to institute the one-child policy – agricultural output could not keep pace with population growth. Poverty may not keep the population down; clearly China’s population was expanding even under the austerity of strict communism. If all people are poor, and poverty is the future, people are still going to reproduce – less food per person is the result, with the people getting even less well-nourished, less healthy, as the succeeding generations get less food (a resource the Chinese could not pump up to match the rate of population growth).

  • WithheldName

    Good points. It’s still wasteful and destructive ecologically and financially. And it wasn’t always this bad. Back in the old days, there was no “designer bottled water” like there is today, for example. Mass media has gone too far and socialized our brains from the cradle to worship consumerism/materialism more than family, friends, health, community, religion, history, ecology, etc.

  • WithheldName

    Great points, but hybrid is the goal we should strive for. We ideally want to have less waste, more happiness and health, and still be comfortable and competitive in the modern age.

  • Joe R.

    If goods are produced locally via 3D printers then why do you even need cars? Cars are one of the most wasteful things of modern society. We can give people mobility without the need for cars, especially in the urban areas where most people will need to live. Also, one important thing society can do is decrease the need for mobility. To some extent a society where most goods and services can be provided by robots will decrease the need to travel to work because people will work fewer days, perhaps not at all. Much work can be done from home also.

    Well, that sounds good, but you still need resources/technology to produce complex machines like 3D printers and so forth.

    Initially you do, just as initially you might need raw materials to produce robotic labor. Eventually though this becomes a self-sustaining system much like grass growing. All grass needs is sunlight. All the other materials are continuously recycled. All this system needs is energy.

    Of course, we’ll need to adapt to having more leisure time. We’ll also need to adapt to the concept of everyone living well, perhaps on average better than now, but nobody living much better or much worse. In short, under a system like this you would get some allotment of energy with which to produce goods you need, food you eat, and any traveling you may do not under your own power. There really won’t be any way to have a lot more than anyone else under this system, which in my opinion is a good thing. The problem with communism is it made everyone equally poor. An automated, sustainable society like this might make everyone equally what we now call middle or upper middle class. Most people will be happy with that, especially when they’ll have tons more leisure time than now. Obviously, those in power now won’t like it. They’ll lose their control over the populace simply because the common person will have no economic reason to do their bidding for them.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, that’s exactly the problem. We’ve been conditioned by the media to crave ever more, and to have certain goods branded with success. The same way this was done, it can be undone. Maybe if we do this people in general will seem a lot less superficial than they do. There’s way more to life than accumulating ever more material goods.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    Yes, I agree. Consumerism has gone overboard. Still, it will be hard to convince the entrepreneur who believes he has discovered a niche need his service or product can fill. There’s also self-expression/creativity in the design and so forth.

    You find echoes of this throughout cultures. Why would pre-industrial peoples expend time and effort in producing (somehow) artistic or embellished products such as pottery if they intended to trade them? They might gain more in barter/trade. Maybe I’m oversimplifying. But I’m not sure we can stifle what may be a basic human trait.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    Very thought-provoking JoeR. Please don’t take my silence as indicative of disapproval or anything, or that I’m backing out of the conversation: I have to do something for the next few hours so I’ll be away from the computer.

  • WithheldName

    Excellent point on convenience food and mobility. But there is a simple solution. We can go backwards. Let me describe…

    – My family and I live in a house with 4 bedrooms and 2 of those bedrooms are unoccupied.
    – My retired parents live in a house with 4 bedrooms and 3 of those bedrooms are unoccupied.

    I’ll stop there, even though I could go on and on about how many empty bedrooms we have in America. The simple solution is that we could merge households. We could eat dinners together as a family and 1 person could cook. We could pack brown bag lunches instead of going through drive-thru restaurants. We could carry a thermos to work rather than stopping at a Starbucks. We could eat leftovers instead of mostly throwing away excess food. We could carpool to work with neighbors. (Right now, we hardly know anyone on our block.) We could ride bicycles for some short errands – remember half of all trips are less than 4 miles. There are commuter buses and city buses in many places – those work, too.

    We all have been raised from the cradle in a society of ridiculous affluence. We expect to and believe we should travel around everywhere like superstars in private cars, with homes of our own, eating meals any time and any place we want, having people prepare them for us at the snap of our fingers.

    That’s not reality for most people on the planet. That shouldn’t be reality for us. It would never be sustainable for the entire planet. But worst of all…it doesn’t really make us happier. We’re lonelier than ever. We’re more depressed than ever. We abuse drugs and alcohol more than ever. We have shattered families and shattered communities, worse than ever before. We’re more obese than ever before. Our environment is more degraded than ever before.

    This is progress? The solution is to turn around and take many big steps backwards.

  • WithheldName

    Many or most of our human traits don’t make sense in today’s world and/or have been suppressed socially, legally, or otherwise. Most of us are relatively violent, horny, gluttonous, unfaithful, greedy, self-centered, overly-competitive, pleasure-seeking beasts. Without heavy social, intellectual, and physical structuring of our lives, modern society couldn’t exist. Our challenge now is to further refine our institutions to somehow save the planet and make all of us happier and healthier.

  • Joe R.

    No problem. If/when you want to rejoin the conversation I’ll eventually read your replies. I know some of my thinking here may be out of the box, but I really think that’s what we need to solve our problems. I’ll be the first to say I don’t want to give up modern conveniences or modern medicine. At the same time though, I think if we put a little thought in we might be able to deliver all these things far more efficiently than we’re doing now.

  • Joe R.

    Not all that long ago a common arrangement would have been your parents living in one of those two unoccupied bedrooms. Also, not all that long ago it wasn’t uncommon for adult children to remain in their parents household indefinitely, unless work circumstances required them to move elsewhere. The idea of three or four generations under the same roof is both age old, and a healthy living arrangement. Everyone saves money, a support system exists. Eventually those who get too old to take care of themselves are taken care of by younger family members, not strangers in a nursing home.

  • Artleads

    Thanks, Joe R.

    We live in such a complicated society, that no one seems to have a solution to our predicament. If the consumer society stops in its tracks it probably won’t be a gentle and gradual easing off. It seems that every single thing we use is part of a finely calibrated system that is more complicated than juggling. Drop one thing and everything goes splat all at once. Since we have gotten used to live in such luxury (shallow though it be), we can’t imagine our conveniences going away. I’m hoping we can change and still keep going somehow–long enough for us to figure out a better system.

  • WithheldName

    Exactly and that’s how most of the world still does it. Only in a filthy-rich society of overabundant houses and cars would people actually expect to have an average of 3 bedrooms per person or 1,000 square feet per person or 1 private automobile per person or any of the other ridiculous, unjustifiable, unnecessary, unsustainable extravagances that most of us take for granted. For example, half the rooms in my house I never even use. And that’s normal in America. And most of us don’t realize how crazy it is.

  • Artleads

    WithheldName picking up on the idea of seeing big boxes as hubs (or malls the big boxes usually occupy) suggests that this isn’t off the charts entirely.

    – Malls often have many big box stores, not just one Walmart. I haven’t though how several big boxes could contribute to a hub in a non (or less) consumerist/waste oriented society.

    – Malls have managers and owners. I have not taken steps to talk to any of them.

    – Since doing tiny local change is as hard or harder than going global in scale, we may benefit from an international conference on mall directors.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    It’s a great idea but multi-generational households are mostly a thing of the past, as you point out. The nuclear family rules since probably the middle of the last century. And with the rise of singles, shattered families, etc., household size gets smaller and smaller, and of course each unit has to have their own car, appliances, and so forth. It is wasteful because of a lot of the tasks/appliances/investment in things could be shared. There is co-housing http://www.cohousing.org/what_is_cohousing and also sharered housing http://www.alaseniorliving.org/ala-shared-housing-initiative.

    But, even so, the norm is to have your own car, home, appliances, lawn, and so forth. The economy depends on millions buying the same thing, although if some shared a car or other appliance, then you could make a dent in air pollution etc. I think it would take a lot to convince people to give up on things they own. There’s also the privacy factor. They may not want to share housing because they may not want others around constantly. They might rather have a pet than human companionship. So they live in their own bubbles, which are quite expensive and wasteful. Yet, the goal of home-ownership, owning a car (or two), having a lawn, having as many material goods as one wants, it’s the American dream, it’s what people are chasing globally. To get people to share more would take a massive re-orientation of priorities/expectations. You would probably have to “brainwash” people by means of what they’re taught in school, what they see on TV/movies etc to get them to accept the idea of sharing some things, or maybe having multi-generational households as in the “olden days” and so forth.

    What is the ideal? Shows like Seinfeld, Friends, Sex and the City – all shows featuring singles mostly in their own places (except for Friends). The goal would be to move from a (“humble”/struggling/shared living) Friends-like situation to a (ultra-glamorous/exciting/single) SATC-like situation. This story-line since time immemorial – the idea of success/making it/and enjoying nearly unlimited opportunities of meeting people – has driven people to NY/urban areas To have made it and then to be told they might want to consider sharing (again) will take a lot of convincing – a lot of “propaganda” or “brainwashing” to glamorize what make look like going backward. Or at least to make it look acceptable.

    You can try to raise peoples’ consciousness about living less wastefully. I think this message is getting across with news stories about the environment, since environmental concerns moved to the front burner at least since the 60s. And more cities are putting in mass transit systems. But, predictably, the benefits of modern life – increased life expectancy, lower infant mortality – means the population of Earth has exploded, despite efforts to control population growth in populous countries like India and China. If waste and environmental degradation were bad before, now they’re much worse with billions more adding to the environmental stress.

    A good example of how modernity doesn’t make people happier is the phenomenon of people glued to their devices very often following social media feeds – totally ignoring people around them. It’s very interesting because although they once might have struck up a conversation in some settings, they are now glued to their devices. How did everything get done, and how did people connect before the age of social media? I guess every new generation, with new technology, raises the same questions: How did people communicate before the age of the telephone? How did people find out about current events before the age of TV? How did people stay in touch before facebook or twitter? The current focus on devices is ideally suited to the atomized society, of singles living alone. They are alone but don’t feel alone since they have their devices. For fun, or in their spare time, they can browse unlimited profiles on tinder, or the multitude of other meet-up/dating websites. There are stories of people diving onto subway tracks to retrieve cell phones – that’s how attached they’ve become to their devices. They’re the perfect way of enabling a glamorous, varied, multi-faceted consumerist life. If you are going to ask individualistic people to share, you are going to have to ask them to put their devices down. Good luck. There are people that have grown up on devices or computers, they may not know of any other life – if they feel alienated or depressed, they consider it normal, since they’ve been been “happy” or “connected” other than virtually. And this will become increasingly the norm. If you’re going to ask them to share and interact more IRL, and not aspire to the SATC ideal (or, at least they do pair off, although some never do) you will have a huge task of “counter-brainwashing.” Remember the old/original Ipod ads? Of course they didn’t show people dancing together – since the user could listen to their own music on their headphones. The ads showed people dancing alone. This is the ethos of the current age: Alone, maybe vicariously enjoying life; or alone, and maybe lonely. But, maybe the representation of life, instead of life itself, is enough for some folks, and whatever alone means to them, they either don’t realize they are also lonely, or haven’t a benchmark (of not being alone) that would enable them to know they are lonely.

  • WithheldName

    Some good thoughts. Just 3 points in response:

    1. You say the economy is built on all this. It doesn’t have to be. While it’s painful for people to find new jobs when they lose their old ones, they inevitably do. We’re only constrained by how fast people can adapt. And people can usually adapt very quickly, within a few years, not just decades.

    2. As for what makes people happy, that can change quickly, too. Studies say 90% of reported happiness returns within a year after even the most devastating tragedies, injuries, and their life changes.

    3. Most importantly of all, you talk about the American Dream and how the world seeks our level of affluence. But there’s just one, huge problem. Scientists say that there is absolutely no way the planet could support the whole world living American lifestyles. Not even with unheard-of technological revolutions in energy, transportation, agriculture, etc. The planet is already creaking and buckling at the stress we’re putting on it. Biodiversity is in an exponential free fall. Our atmosphere is becoming unnatural to the point of serious risk. Our oceans are dying and becoming toxic. Every ecosystem on the planet is in a state of collapse.

    Bottom line? There’s no path forward for the planet with any conceivable technologies that might even become available in the next few generations. We must go backward. Or there will be collapse. And it will most likely resemble what has happened to the bees. And now the bats. And most other species of wildlife on the planet. There will be a cocktail of diseases, low infant survival rates, both from natural pathogens like viruses and from environmental stresses like chemicals in our food and water. There could be collapses of our food supplies that cause health complications. There could be these new “superbugs” that are resistant to all antibiotics, causing simple cuts and scratches to be issues of life and death for many. Like the bees, the human race won’t go extinct. But we could easily lose 30% to 90% of our population while we correct our societies and lifestyles to survive in the new toxic landscape.

  • Artleads

    “The Khmer Rouge wanted to transform urban society in Cambodia by “blowing up” urban life/cities. The monumental loss of life and the shredding of society/culture were the result.”

    Blowing up urban/city life is exactly what I’m NOT trying to do. As to whether industrial society is here to stay, you could take a look at this:

  • Joe R.

    That entire blog is pretty depressing. I happen to think Gail makes a really good case for a total collapse. At the same time though, I think a switch to a different paradigm, an economy not based on infinite growth or money, might prevent the collapse for long enough to develop some solutions. Of course, when we make the switch there will be big time losers, mostly those holding long term debt. We might opt to not honor some of that debt starting with those holding the most. It matters little if some multibillion is left with a few million afterwards but a middle class person with a few hundred thousand shouldn’t lose a penny.

    Long term though, she’s right. The planet has finite resources. We’re soon going to have to recycle virtually everything using sustainable energy sources to power it all. People may well have to be limited to one or two children, although this seems to happen on its own as economies become more industrialized. Indeed, Japan is already below replacement birth rate without any government intervention. So I have guarded hope for the future of humanity, and the future of the planet, but at the same time we need to throw away just about everything modern economies are based on to have any hope at all. For a start, we’ll probably end up with no more super rich people, and frankly I think that would be a great thing.

  • Artleads

    Thanks, Joe R. There’s plenty to think about in what you write.

    However, Gail is saying that the energy to make, transport, install the renewable resources won’t be there. So it looks like we’ll need something “poorer” and simpler even than what you envision?

    I like the idea of the fixed allotment of energy. And of the end of money. Unfortunately, I don’t understand Gail’s economics analysis; my artist brain doesn’t work that way.

    Can people be enticed to work in the energy field without pay? What if government “pays” them with housing and land to grow food?

    Agreed that the super rich must go. I’ll try to copy here something I recently posted on Gail’s about the next steps.

  • Joe R.

    “Can people be enticed to work in the energy field without pay?”

    I think that’s the key here. Gail’s entire theory is based on the idea that once the monetary system collapses and we can’t pay workers with money nobody will show up at work, and the grid will go down, taking modern society with it. I submit people in the energy sector would be willing to continue working in exchange for necessities, especially if the alternative is the world their families live in going dark. I know I would. The bottom line is we mainly need to keep energy and food flowing to preserve human and material capital as we start transitioning to something like I envision. Given the prospect of a return to the stone age, it won’t be hard to entice people to continue working in exchange for goods or services, rather than money.

    Obviously at this point the means of production on all levels will likely end up in the hands of the people. Without the need to repay investors, we can start a sustainable economy. Yes, these investors, bond holders, etc. will all take a bath, but frankly since their so-called wealth was on the backs of their workers, it was never really theirs to begin with. That’s really the way out. Gail assumes we have to find a way to grow the economy enough to keep paying debt. Eventually that results in a death spiral. If we lose the idea that this debt must be paid, we have a way out, albeit one where the super wealthy will lose most of their net worth. Perhaps as some sort of compensation for this, we can assure them that they’ll be taken care of in comfort for the remainder of their lives. Remember in the end if the entire system collapses, they’ll likely die along with everyone else.

  • Artleads

    “Is there something that we can learn from what Uber has done that could be applied to saving the world or even kicking the can a little further?”

    I’m much less interested in Uber than, say, big box stores for kicking the can down the road. (Saving the world is a heavier lift.) What I’m saying is that you change (not eliminate) EXISTING BAU forms by making them more complex. A taxi operator just drives a car he doesn’t own, while picking up (preferably white) passengers. Uber drivers drive cars they own, and so there are more of them than there are taxis. They relate to their customers in more selective ways than taxi drivers. They have complex ways of rating passengers before picking them up, while their passengers can do the same in reverse.

    Big box stores can remain being big box stores while becoming more complex too. Their parking lots are empty at nights and can accommodate residential parking if tiny residences were built at the site. (I have not tried to sort out the issues re the malls that sometimes many big boxes occupy. I tend to believe that it’s malls, and not big boxes per se, that we should be concerned about.)

    Malls epitomize wasted space and resources. Occupants could cooperate more than they do. They often could accommodate residences above their big boxes (or something similar) The residents could patronize new businesses within the existing stalls (that often enough sit empty). Some sleepy malls have plenty of parking area for which food growing could be substituted. Malls are often ideal village size, and many could accommodate one or two hundred permanent residents, an optimal group size for the traditional human band. Food and other items produced on the grounds could be sold in the stores. The can kicking function of this setup would be supplying potential workers who didn’t have to commute when the pump runs drier. Because the residents/workers would constitute a band, they could have buying power to procure stuff that is less readily available…

  • Joe R.

    It sounds like your idea is building more resiliency into the system, while not making getting basic necessities dependent upon cheap supplies of oil. Sure, we should be doing this already. There’s lots of wasted capital in this country, starting with all these automobiles which sit idle 22 or 23 hours per day, along with the land they’re parked on.

    I think the value of alternative energy is being grossly underestimated by Gail. We may not be able to install enough solar to power the modern economy but it’s ideally suited to powering small and medium buildings, making them independent of the grid. Again, redundancy. We need that both economically and in our infrastructure.

  • One other bottom-of-the-barrel strategy to employ: raised crosswalks in the parking lot. That should be a given, there’s no reason to make the parking lot a speedway too.

  • davistrain

    “Hush little luxury, don’t you cry.
    You’ll be a necessity, by and by.”
    Back in the 1930s, Huey Long had a campaign slogan “Every man a king”, and typical Americans have things the kings of old never dreamed of. But as one commenter said, it’s an “uphill climb” to get people to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Relatively few Americans are willing to voluntarily cut back–those that do are usually doing so because of losing a good paying job or other financial downturn. I’m reminded of the boy whose family had a major “belt-tightening” telling his buddy, “Mom doesn’t buy food anymore, just ingredients.”