Want to live at the mall? A look at Bayshore
Partially as a way to take a break from Jane Jacobs, I’ve been reading Witold Rybczynski‘s very readable City Life and Makeshift Metropolis. A chapter of the latter (one of Planetizen’s best ten planning books for 2009) and sections of the former discuss the American retail landscape’s shift from downtown department stores to shopping malls to open-day lifestyle centers.
I was thinking about this when I stopped at the Bayshore Town Center, in Milwaukee’s northern suburbs, and remembering my reaction the first time I was there.
From the interstate, it looks more or less like any other shopping center, though perhaps a little bit glitzier. But it’s a surprise when you turn into the center — I’ve driven and walked in shopping centers like the Grove in Los Angeles before, and when I initially turned in on Port Washington Rd, I was expecting to pull into a sea of surface parking.
Instead, I was surprised to turn into streets with on-street curb parking and pedestrians crossing to and fro and even a fake . As it turns out, Bayshore Town Center, is actually a mixed-use town center, with apartments above the retail stores and all three forms of parking — curb parking, surface parking and parking structures.
(I should note that this is only new to me, by the way — people wrote about this development earlier.)
As a driver, it’s remarkably stressful to drive through the complex, at least during the Christmas holidays when there are people everywhere crisscrossing the streets of the complex. And as a pedestrian, while the nature of the curb parking does mean that you’re separated, the exclusively commercial nature of the buildings, the completely uniform architecture does make you feel like you’re walking in a shopping mall that has just turned inside out.
“Lifestyle centers” and open-air malls aren’t anything new, of course. But this one differs in that it is mixed-use: you can actually live at Bayshore, with condos on top of the buildings, in that traditional mixed-use form that urbanists are always so proud of.
On paper, Bayshore Town Center seems to check all the smart-growth requirements. It has commercial and residential streets in a mixed-use layout and a street grid, if a small one, with sidewalks for pedestrians. If I recall correctly, they even re-connected parts of the street grid
Yet it’s a fairly unsatisfying shopping experience overall. It doesn’t please you as a driver, but it doesn’t really please you as a pedestrian, either, in the way that successful city streets do. I think the fundamental thing it’s missing is that it’s a mixed-use center (good) with limited transit (bad). There is transit, for sure, but outside of the Town Center, the rest of the suburb is unmistakably auto-oriented; and within, there is a bus stop, but it’s on the side of the road, separated from the center by auto traffic on the way to the interstate. (I would have taken a picture, but I was one of the drivers in those cars.) You get the sense that transit is an afterthought.
I think fundamentally Bayshore’s just not a great shopping experience, and may even lend these mixed-use complexes a bad name, because of the lack of transit. Creating such a tight fundamentally auto-oriented form is disconcerting and dissatisfying for all, pedestrians and drivers alike, and I’m worried that it makes “mixed use” just seem synonymous with “poorly designed.”