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The Art of Place Making in the Retail Market

By: Jacqueline Berman


Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations.


― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities


As traditional shopping centers and retail giants fall to the way side, retail developers are starting to adopt techniques that create spaces similar to that of Jane Jacob’s 1950s Greenwich Village street ballet. Moving away from static malls and utilizing place making techniques, developers are now adapting to the demand of true shopping destinations by balancing three key components.


Segmentation, Stability, and Adaptability


Limit the number of times, the question of “If we build it, will they come?” Is asked. Even though it may have worked out in The Field of Dreams, the stress of pitching that type of plan to investors and hoping future tenants follow suit can be avoided through research and segmentation. Demographic research is more accessible than ever and planning for different types. Researching the target demographic(s) will guide the curated experience. CBRE’s Global Placemaking Report took a case study approach to ascertain the distinguishing features of successful retail places. In addition to CBRE’s findings, is the commonality of catering to more than more population. Whether it was Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco or the Chelsea Market in New York City, the retail development catered to local visitors and another set of visitors, such as tourists. Segmenting and planning for a local population plus another set of visitors creates stability to a retail development by bringing together the consistent stream of local customers with the buying power of a larger population.


Timing is Almost Everything


Two of the most distinguishing factors of real estate is its immobility and uniqueness in that no two properties are identical. These factors create the perception that real estate hinges on “location, location, location.” While an extremely vital component, timing is just as important in retail developments. The nature of cities and places is dynamic, changing as quickly as the people who frequent them. Zooming in and planning for space throughout the different times of the day or days of week are essential to maximizing the success of the property.


However, analyzing timing on a larger scale is just as important. Zooming out just slightly in regards to time will add another layer of complexity to place making in the retail market. Tracking other developments, current supply, and future supply of retail spaces will be essential when obtaining funding and curating a vision for the space.


Adding Leisure into the Mix

As more and more big box, anchor tenants pull back their brick and mortar locations, developers are being pushed to be creative in their plan of action in retail spaces with ever evolving sense of place of demands from visitors. Whether you are breaking up the daily grind for office workers or providing a space for tourists, the shopping destination will need to have a leisure component. CBRE reported restaurants, sports facilities, events, and cinemas retained visitors interest for longer period of time. Offsetting these leisure uses with maximizing rents from other tenants will be key to assembling a active retail destination.


Placemaking is about crafting an experience that people want visit and return to. In order to do that The idea of Jane Jacobs’ street ballet has been pushed even further when applied to the retail market to resemble a balancing act of people, time, and amount of leisure.

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