How To Make a Pile of Dough With the Traditional City 7: Let’s Bulldoze a Big Box Shopping Center

How To Make a Pile of Dough With the Traditional City 7: Let’s Bulldoze a Big Box Shopping Center
April 1, 2012

Touch your nose with the index finger of your left hand.

Now, touch your nose with the index finger of your right hand.

Easy, right?

That is all it takes to “transition to the Traditional City” from the Suburban Hell we suffer from today.

What I am saying is: building things in the Traditional City fashion is no more difficult than building things in the Suburban Hell fashion. Actually, it is easier, because we don’t waste a lot of time, effort, money, and land making a lot of parking lots, green space, oversized roadways, and other Hypertrophic nonsense. We can put 100% of our time, energy and resources to making beautiful Places for people, not cars.

October 10, 2009: Place and Non-Place

Every year, we build a lot of stuff. About a trillion dollars worth of stuff, actually, in the United States. So, just take that same trillion dollars, and use it to make things in a Traditional City fashion rather than a Suburban Hell, 20th Century Hypertrophic, or 19th Century Hypertrophic fashion.

We look at all the crapola infesting our American landscape today, and we say: “oooooh, how can we fix this? It would take fifty years and fifty trillion dollars!!!!”

June 6, 2010: Transitioning to the Traditional City 2: Pooh-poohing the Naysayers
May 23, 2010: Transitioning to the Traditional City

But, if you spend a trillion dollars a year — as we are already, to gradually replace the Suburban Hell crap we have with new Suburban Hell crap — and use that instead to build Traditional City stuff, then in fifty years we will be there.

August 22, 2010: How to Make a Pile of Dough with the Traditional City

For most people, the transition would seem a lot faster. Because, if you wanted to live in a Traditional City environment, you would move there, if it was available in every city. So, even if only 10% of the city was in a Traditional City format, it would seem to you that the transition was complete. At 2% a year, getting to 10% only takes five years, not fifty years.

Just think of your iPhone. Does everyone in the U.S. have an iPhone? No. But, maybe you bought one the first day they came out. For you, the transition was complete, the day you bought it. And you could play with all the apps and stuff.

Do you worry about the deprivation being suffered by those who don’t have an iPhone? No. They don’t care either, actually. The important thing is that you have one. If you like that sort of thing.

Think of Manhattan. Actually, just the part of Manhattan south of 110th Street, where the Beautiful People live. Which is really only about half of Manhattan Island. If you know about New York City, you realize that most of the rest of the five boroughs are not worth wasting your time on. Some parts of Brooklyn are OK. But — tell me I’m wrong Brooklynites — most of Brooklyn kinda sucks, just like the rest of New York City. The rest of New York City is where everyone who fled to the suburbs in the 1950s came from.

New York City — the five boroughs — has 320 square miles of land area. Manhattan Island has 34 square miles. The southern half of Manhattan has about 17 square miles. So, we are talking about only 5.3% of the land area of New York City (not even counting the endless suburbs).

If you want to live in Manhattan with the Beautiful People — why not? I recommend it! — then you spend a lot of money on rent, and then you are there. Doing it. You don’t have to ever leave Manhattan, if you don’t want to. You don’t have to go north of 110th street. Many people don’t, except for the occasional vacation and weekend trip. As far as they are concerned, their lifestyle is 100% Manhattan Beautiful People Fabulousness.

Do you care that the other 94.7% of New York City (by land area) is a dump? Do you care that Queens is not as nice? Do you care that Teaneck, NJ is a Suburban Hell shitehole? Do you care that the rest of the United States hasn’t transitioned to lower-half-of-Manhattan-fabulousness?

No. For you, the transition, from wherever you came from to lower-half-of-Manhattan-fabulousness, is done. So you see, we don’t need to remake the entirety of the United States in the Traditional City mold. Just one square mile, along the beach in Los Angeles or San Diego, would be wonderful. Just thirty-two acres — which is 1/20th of a square mile — would be fantastic (you can fit a lot into thirty-two acres using the dense Traditional City style.)

If you can just make thirty two acres — a twentieth of a square mile! — of Los Angeles, along the beach (Santa Monica), in a Traditional City style, you would be there. Using the 100,000 people per square mile of some of Paris’ residential districts (in the Traditional City style of buildings generally no higher than six stories), 5,000 people could live in that thirty-two acres.

Thirty-two acres? That’s nothing. Smaller than a single big-box shopping complex. So, just bulldoze one of those empty big-box shopping complexes, and make something new in the Traditional City fashion.

Let’s make that our goal. Just thirty-two contiguous acres of Traditional City fabulousness, in every major city in the United States.

This is an aerial photo of Venice. It is about 350 meters across. The square has about 12.25 hectares, or thirty acres.

This is thirty acres! Look how much is in there! Remember, these buildings are three to six stories high. It looks like this:

It’s horrible, I know. Imagine if we had thirty-two acres like this, on the beach in San Diego, with girls in bikinis. Just thirty-two acres. A twentieth of a square mile. A minuscule portion of the entirety of San Diego. But, you could live there.

Here’s a parking lot. It is one small part of the parking lot at the Mall of America, in Minnesota.

This photo is also about 350 meters across, or thirty acres. So, I’m talking about taking just one parking lot like this, and building a Traditional City neighborhood on it.

Do you think that, maybe, we can spare just one parking lot out of the entirety of our Suburban Hell wasteland?

Here’s a big box shopping complex in Binghamton, NY. The big white building on the left is WalMart. This image is about 800 meters wide by 700 meters tall, or 56 hectares. The shopping center occupies about 70% of the frame, so call it 56*70% or 39 hectares. That’s 97 acres.

97 acres! Just for one big box shopping center.

That’s three times my 32 acre goal. So, let’s just bulldoze one shopping complex like this — many are empty these days anyway, and it is mostly just asphalt — and make 97 acres of Traditional City fabulousness. Using the Parisian example, over 15,000 people could live there.

The population of Binghamton is 47,000. So, we’re talking about a third of the entire population of the entire city could live in a Paris-style Traditional City neighborhood.

If we bulldoze just one big box shopping center.

Can you imagine how much fun that neighborhood would be? We would have shops, restaurants etc. on the ground floor, and offices and apartments above, in the Parisian traditional city style.

From this:


This is the actual view of that actual parking lot. The building on the left, in the distance, is WalMart.
Google is amazing, really.

To This:



This is what I keep telling you. If you can imagine it, it’s easy. Then you just do it.

Property Developers — think about the profit of taking a worthless parking lot and making it into high-value mixed retail/commercial/residential for 15,000 people. Preferably on the beach in San Diego. With girls in bikinis.

Just think about that a little bit.

August 21, 2011: How To Make A Pile of Dough With the Traditional City 6: Better Than a Thousand Words
July 31, 2011: How To Make a Pile of Dough With the Traditional City 5: The New New Suburbanism
July 17, 2011: How To Make A Pile of Dough With the Traditional City 4: More SFDR/SFAR Solutions
June 12, 2011: How to Make a Pile of Dough with the Traditional City 3: Single Family Detached in the Traditional City Style
May 15, 2011: How To Make A Pile of Dough With the Traditional City 2: A Ski Resort Village
August 22, 2010: How to Make a Pile of Dough with the Traditional City

If it’s successful — it will be, if you do it right — then it will be imitated. The next year, we get 96 more acres. We bulldoze just one more big-box shopping complex. Out of the entire city of San Diego. Just one more. Preferably near the beach.

After a while, maybe 50% of new construction is being done in a Traditional City style. Which would mean about 1% of the city per year.

After five years, you would have 5%. Which is about the relationship of the lower-half-of-Manhattan to New York City as a whole.

Do you see how easy this is? It’s no harder than touching your nose. But, with your right hand, instead of your left hand.

You just take a defunct big-box complex, bulldoze it, and … instead of building another big box complex … you build a little bit of Paris.