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Greyfield Redevelopment and Leadership

Fighting sprawl using Greyfields as an opportunity

Raymond Chetti ARC482: Professional Practice Spring 2010 Instructor: Kenneth MacKay, AIA

Since their inception during the mid 1950s, suburban shopping malls have contributed to decentralization and the phenomena of urban sprawl. Due to recent trends in the late 20th century, shopping malls are failing and becoming vacant, empty boxes with little or no economic use (otherwise known as greyfields). Despite the negativity associated with greyfield sites, many planners and architects are viewing them as an opportunity to help reverse the negative impacts they were once responsible for. It is up to urban planners and architects to assume leadership roles and ensure that a greyfield sites potential is fulfilled.

Table of Contents 1. Introduction page 3 2. History of the Shopping Mall and Urban Sprawl page 3 3. Greyfield Redevelopment as a solution for Urban Sprawl page 6 4. Relationship to Professional Practice (32. Leadership) page 8 5. Works Cited page 12

Introduction Greyfield sites, provide important redevelopment opportunities to reverse the harmful effects of urban sprawl such as negative socio-economic and quality of life impacts, more rapid consumption of natural resources and energy, the destruction of rural and natural areas, and the depletion of our ozone layer.1 However, without appropriate leadership from urban planners to initiate the discussion with private sector entities who control greyfield sites, the full potential of a greyfield site may never be realized and an opportunity to reverse urban sprawl could be lost. History of the Shopping Mall & Urban Sprawl In citing the shopping malls role in the destruction of the urban core and proliferation of the urban sprawl phenomena, Duany et al. argue that shopping centers (which are also referred to as strip centers, shopping malls, and big-box retail) are one of the five physical, man-made dimensions of the built environment which contribute to sprawl.2 The authors also discuss how automobile-centric development led to the segregation of housing subdivisions, office parks, and civic institutions. The segregation of the places where one lived, worked, and interacted with the community eventually led to the last dimension of sprawl that the authors discuss, roadways. Roadways are the infrastructure that is required to connect the four other segregated dimensions. Before discussing the development of Americas first enclosed shopping mall in 1956 by Austrian-born architect Victor Gruen, a number of push and pull factors helped contribute to the decentralization of the urban core and the creation of a new landscape that would later

become known as urban sprawl. Henry Fords mastery of the assembly line technique and its application to the mass production of early models of the automobile in 1913 helped contribute to the spreading out of low-density developments. In citing the automobiles influence on decentralization, David Nye discusses how The automobile was an enabling technology that permitted greater dispersion of the population.3 Nye goes on to elaborate upon how the availability of cheap, mass produced automobiles provided inner city workers a means to live further away from the urban core while still being able to access it by conveniently commuting to work with their new, American automobile. In the years to come, decentralization would rapidly occur, but it was not until 43 years later that Gruen would develop his first enclosed shopping mall called Southdale in Edina, Minnesota in 1956. Following Gruen came James Rouse, the American developer whom had developed the 1st official non-enclosed shopping mall in 1956, just shortly after Gruens Southdale, in Baltimore called Modawmin. Rouses first enclosed mall, Harundale, would not open until two years later in Baltimore in 1958.4 The same year that both Rouse and Gruen opened their first shopping mall projects, President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 which helped contribute to the decentralization of inner cities.5 Even though the interstate highway system was a piece of legislation meant to help the American people, Jackson discusses how the Interstate Highway Act helped continue the downward spiral of public transportation and virtually guaranteed that future urban growth would perpetuate a center less sprawl.6

In addition to the number of push and pull factors, cheap automobiles and Eisenhowers Interstate Highway Act, three short years later in 1961, the two mall developers collaborated on an indoor shopping mall called Cherry Hill which would forever be remembered as the project which secured the future development of Americas suburbs and the future development of Americas shopping malls.7 With the opening of Cherry Hill, the next two decades of post World War 2 development saw an abundance of enclosed shopping malls which eventually expanded into regional, super-regional, and megamall sizes.8 As the number of shopping malls saturated the market during the 60s and 70s, it was not until the late 1970s that successful older malls were renovated and enclosed to ensure further success, while the continued success of generic and older mall types could no longer assured. As the 1960s and 1970s marked the saturation of the shopping mall market, the later 20th and early 21st century have seen declines in new shopping mall developments while other, smaller, and older shopping malls are declining in sales per square foot and are dying off. As recent data supports the notion that shopping malls are approaching the end of their lifecycles, only five new malls were built in 2005 while only one new mall was built in 2009.9 Data also records how in 1995, 38% of U.S. retail purchases were made in malls as opposed to a more recent decline in 2002 that records a mere 19%. As trends shift away from traditional shopping malls and more towards other modes of shopping, the future of shopping malls are uncertain as they slowly fade away from once successful economic generators to greyfields, empty big boxes with seas of deserted parking lots.

Greyfield Redevelopment as a solution for Urban Sprawl

Failed shopping centers are not just a matter of deteriorating buildings and cracked parking lots. The communities in which they sit have also changed. 10 -David Smiley, Assistant Professor of Architecture & Urban Studies at Bernard-Columbia University

The redevelopment of urban greyfields has become a popular topic among urban planners, public officials, and community leaders as a growing number of communities are facing problems of declining retail sales and shopping mall foreclosures. According to the Congress of New Urbanism (CNU), in a survey of 2,000 regional shopping malls in the United States, almost one out of every five malls were categorized in 2001 as a greyfield that was either vacant or highly vulnerable to becoming a greyfield (having sales per square foot of $199 or less).11 The 2001 study by the CNU and PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC) describes how the transformation of a once successful shopping center to a vacant greyfield can translate to, lost tax base, lost job opportunities, and valuable land sitting unused.12 In addition, the American Planning Association highlights how greyfields also send a signal of disinvestment and decline of the immediate area.13 In addition to the environmental and socio-economic impacts of urban sprawl, current planning literature has associated sprawling low-density, single-use development with contributing to the obesity epidemic by fostering lower levels of physical activity.14-19 According to the CNU (2001), greyfields are perfect sites for the development of new urbanist neighborhoods primarily because the average site size is just over 45 acres which serves as a

sizable amount of land to implement new urbanist principles. The report also states how greyfields are typically on transit lines and serve as an opportunity to provide appealing public space that many suburban neighborhoods lack. In combating urban sprawl, the Congress of New Urbanisms ideal redevelopment strategy for reversing urban sprawl highlights the need to turn greyfields into mixed-use, transit oriented town centers or urban districts. This is typically accomplished by eliminating seas of surrounding parking areas, reconnecting the street grid, and incorporating a wide mix of uses that include affordable residential units, retail space, public spaces, office space and civic or cultural uses. According to the Congress of New Urbanism (2005), their mixed-use town center model for greyfield redevelopment is based on the Charter of New Urbanism, which asserts 27 principles of well-designed places ranging in scale from region to block and supports the principles and goals of the Smart Growth Network, a partnership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several non-profit organizations dedicated to encouraging sustainable development that can improve the economy, community, and the environment.20,21 In supporting the hypothesis that new urbanist developments can combat urban sprawl by reversing its negative effects on human health, a 2006 study by Rodriguez et al. found that residents of new urbanist communities are more physically active than their counterparts who live in typical sprawling, suburban neighborhoods.22 In Frantz and Collins book that documents their lifestyles while living in Disneys new urbanist development, Celebration, Florida, they repeatedly point out how they always used to see their neighbors walking to the town center and how their children were free from the restraints of the automobile when wanting to travel.

When referring to their travel options due to their freedom from the automobile, the authors highlight how we allotted our children a measure of freedom that they had never experienced.23 The hypothesis behind new urbanist developments argue that if neighborhoods are more compact with a variety of land uses that support an individuals daily routine within a residents home, an individual would be more inclined to partake in active transportation such as walking or biking instead of driving an automobile. Relationship to Professional Practice (32. Leadership) In relating my topic of greyfield redevelopment to professional practice, I would like to analyze and discuss the importance of the planners need to provide leadership on growth, development, and aesthetics in order to reverse the negative effects of urban sprawl. For the purpose of this paper, we will discuss how the lack of planning leadership led to the redevelopment of Buffalo, New Yorks failed 400,000-square-foot, 32 year old, Lockport Mall into a Walmart. The redevelopment story for Lockport Mall began in the middle of November 2003. In an article published by the Buffalo Business First (2003), Ed Pilarz, the vice president of General Growths asset management, had publicized that they were investigating methods to make the property as productive as possible.24 According to the article, it seemed as if the private developer, General Growth Properties Inc., was the only decision maker involved in determining the future of the Lockport Mall site. Even though the towns urban planning department was made aware of the developers plans for a potential change in their site, Eugene Nenni, the town of Lockports planning department director, failed to engage the

planning department and the private developer early in the process. Instead of promoting leadership on growth, development, and aesthetics, Nenni played a more passive role as General Growth Properties Inc. went about their own, private negotiations. When quoting Nenni, the article portrayed Nenni as a passive community leader who only reviewed proposals from interested parties, Plans must be submitted by Dec. 31 to meet the January deadline. In other words, Nenni was not actively involved in providing leadership to help turn the failing shopping mall into a potential community asset. Within a year or two of General Growth Properties Inc. announcing its alternative plans for its site, Walmart submitted a proposal to the town to turn the once vacant mall site into a 185,600 square foot, 24-hour supercenter.25 Despite the potential for discussion on what to do with the vacant greyfield, planners and the planning board did nothing to initiate a discussion on alternative plans for the site. In 2007, Lockport hosted a town hall style meeting where more than 60 people attended the Lockport Planning Board Meeting to discuss Walmarts proposal for the greyfield site. Despite the need to fill the empty gap (in reference to the vacant mall site), the majority of the attendees spoke out against the store and wanted it to be built on a larger site.26 During the meeting, the Planning Board Chairman, Richard Forsey did not portray any signs of urban planning or community development leadership to initiate any discussions on alternative solutions for the vacant greyfield site. Similarly to Eugene Nenni in the 2003 article, Forsey

played a passive role in the town hall style meeting and did not know what would happen until the board would meet again for another work session. Despite the call against the new Walmart supercenter, a month later the Lockport Planning Board unanimously approved of the plan.27 In addition to approving the plan, the Lockport Journal discusses how the planning board approved a special use permit that allowed Walmart special conditions, the proposed site plan and subdivision of the mall property, and 12 waivers of the Commercial Corridor Overlay District. Unlike the prior two instances when the planners involved were passive, this case they went against their job descriptions and supported and favored a development that would promote more vehicle miles traveled while also feeding the towns sprawl problem. One of the board members even noted, Who knows what would happen if Wa-Mart fell through? That (mall) building could stand there empty a long time. In responding to the board members statement, given the appropriate amount of time to perform research on the feasibility of alternative developments, a Wal-Mart could have been avoided and a better development, possibly a mixed use project, could have possibly been developed. Despite opposition from Smart Growth America lawyers and many appeals from them, construction on the new Walmart could take place later in 2010.28 After analyzing the role of urban planners and the planning board in the redevelopment of Lockport Malls greyfield site, both the Planning Board Chairman and the Planning Department Director did not portray any signs of professionalism in urban planning leadership to initiate a public-private partnership with the original developer to discuss alternative plans for the failed Lockport Mall site. Personally, this case study of how some

people can call themselves a planner is bewildering. The way Lockports urban planning officials handled the situation was not one I would be proud of considering the amount of research in the field about the Congress of New Urbanisms move to see greyfields as a redevelopment site that battles the urban sprawl that they once caused.


Works Cited European Environmental Agency. (2006). Urban sprawl in Europe: The ignored challenge (EEA Report No. 10/2006). Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Duany, A., Plater-Zyberk, E., & Speck, J. (2000), Suburban Nation: The rise of sprawl and the decline of the American Dream. New York: North Point Press.

Automobile in American Life and Society. (2004). The Automobile Shapes the City. Retrieved from

Olsen, J. (2004). Better Places, Better Lives. Washington, D.C: Urban Land Institute. U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. (2010). History of the Interstate Highway System. Retrieved from

Jackson, K. (1985). Crabgrass Frontier. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. See #4 National Endowment for the Arts. (2002). Sprawl and Public Spaces; Redressing the Mall. In Crawford (eds.), Suburban Life and Public Space (pp. 21-30). New York: Princeton Architectural Press.


PSFK. (2008). The Decline (or Death?) of the Shopping Mall in America. Retrieved from


National Endowment for the Arts. (2002). Sprawl and Public Spaces; Redressing the Mall. In D. Smiley (eds.), Addressing Redress (pp. 13-18). New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Congress for the New Urbanism. (2005). Malls into Mainstreets: an in-depth guide to transforming dead malls into communities. Chicago: Congress for the New Urbanism.

Congress for the New Urbanism. (2001). Greyfields into Goldfields: Greyfield mall characteristics, revitalization success stories. Chicago: Congress for the New Urbanism.
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Morris, M. (2009). Smart Codes: Model Land-Development Regulations. American Planning Association


Frumkin, H. (2002). Urban sprawl and public health. Public Health Reports, 117(3), 201-217. Lopez, R. (2004). Urban sprawl and risk for being overweight or obese. American Journal of Public Health, 94(9), 1574-1579. Smart Growth America. (2003, September). Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl; A national analysis of physical activity, obesity, and chronic disease. Retrieved from Ewing, R., Brownson, R., & Berrigan, D. (2006, December). Relationship between urban sprawl and weight of United States youth. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 31(6), 464474. Frank, L., Andresen, M., & Schmid, T. (2004). Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 27(2), 87-96.





Frank, L., Schmid, T., Sallis, J., Chapman, J., & Saelens, B. (2005). Linking objectively measured physical activity with objectively measured urban form: Findings from SMARTRAQ. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28(2), 117-125. Retrieved from
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Smart Growth Online. (2010). Smart Growth Network. Retrieved from See #11 Rodriguez, D., Khattak, A., & Evenson, K. (2006). Can new urbanism encourage physical activity?: Comparing a new urbanist neighborhood with conventional suburbs. Journal of the American Planning Association, 72(1), 43-54. Frantz, D. & Collins, C. (1999). Celebration, U.S.A. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company. Fink, J. (2003, November 14). Big changes coming to Lockport Mall. Buffalo Business First. Retrieved from Smart Growth News. (2005, April 5). Wal-Mart submits revised proposal for Lockport supercenter. Retrieved from







Besecker, A. (2007, October 3). Most speakers oppose Wal-Mart supercenter. Buffalo News. Retrieved from

Miles, J. (2007, November 21). Town of Lockport: Planning board OKs proposed Wal Mart Supercenter. Lockport Journal. Retrieved from

Besecker, A. (2010, February 25). Path cleared for Walmart to be built in Lockport: High court refuses to hear foes appeal. The Buffalo News. Retrieved from