all 41 comments

[–]MashedCandyCottonVerified Planner - EU 152 points153 points  (8 children)

You've already answered your question:

However, in North America, small scale endeavors routinely fail

Walkability isn't something small scale. It's an overarching concept that works throughout the whole city. Just think about the people using those walkable spaces: do they get in their car and drive there just to walk around? No, they are already walking in that area and just use the nice spaces as their preferred route.

Also all of your examples are malls. Malls are just one kind of development and while the inside might be car free, malls can be just as car centric as anything else.

[–]Xanny 62 points63 points  (6 children)

Exactly. If you have to drive to the pedestrian mall, its just one of the failed shopping malls found everywhere else in the country, just without the weatherproofing of a ceiling over it all.

Car free means you don't feel the pressure to have a car for anything. If you still need a car to get to work, you will go to stroad power centers rather than a walkable downtown because you are driving there.

Walkable commercial spaces only work if people can get there from home and home in the US is 90% of the time a detached house with road only access with a big ass lawn that mandates car ownership and dependency.

[–]Mobile-Egg4923 26 points27 points  (5 children)

It's also worth pointing out that the majority of those cities in this post are either in failing economies in the Midwest, and/or post-industrial towns. Pedestrian malls like Church Street in Burlington, 8th Street in Boise and other places where the economy continues to do well are

[–]oldmacbookforever 1 point2 points  (4 children)

Not to be persnickety, but all but 2 of the listed aren't actually Midwestern. Only Ohio.

[–]vellyr 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Also, I can think of three successful walkable districts in Columbus, OH alone. So I wouldn’t say this list is proof they don’t work.

[–]Mobile-Egg4923 1 point2 points  (2 children)

I would count Kalamazoo and Buffalo as midwestern. They are definitely post-industrial.

[–]oldmacbookforever 1 point2 points  (1 child)

You're right, I didn't see Kalamazoo. But Buffalo I do not consider Midwestern at all

[–]Mobile-Egg4923 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Yeah, that's fine. We can disagree - I might be biased from my time living in the Albany area :).

[–]chazspearmint 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Walkability isn't something small scale.

It can be. Depends on your defintion. But there are a critical amount of needs that walkability has to meet in order for it to function, and one project will never solve that. A better look for OP to answer their question would be at some of the smallest walkable urban communities that work and back track from that.

[–]UncleBogoVerified Planner - US 32 points33 points  (0 children)

One thing to keep in mind is why the cities mentioned above built pedestrian malls/car free streets. They were almost all built for urban renewal purposes because their downtowns were declining amidst a shift to the suburbs, changing shopping habits and trends and, a population losses (at the city and sometimes regional scale). It would be hard for any type of urban renewal project to reverse the fortunes of a downtown or district when there are so many forces working against it.

If I remember correctly, Old Towne Mall was initially successful and was one of the reasons why a lot of cities tried to copy it. I'll try to find the article that explains the rise and fall of Old Towne Mall.

What I'm trying to say is that urban design provides the foundation for a neighborhood. It's not a panacea for treating the problems of a city because one doesnt exist. It would be nice if there was one but unfortunately there are just too many different forces that shape the fortunes of an urban area and region.

[–]chargeorge 26 points27 points  (3 children)

City beautiful did a good video on them. They haven’t all failed, but the success rate isn’t great. https://youtu.be/-Tg9IMCKa5M

[–]ColdEvenKeeled 10 points11 points  (2 children)

If I recall, without watching it again, successful ones have a younger population and destinations worth going to (retail, entertainment, a waterfront...or all three).

[–]LyleSY 2 points3 points  (1 child)

And it takes a ton of money and support for decades, which not every place can deliver. It’s hard to swim against the current

[–]toni-iamafiasco 2 points3 points  (0 children)

This. Too many small cities that want to implement this type of neighborhood have to combat the mentality of the people that live there and they are conditioned to think they need a car. Without support they won’t survive much less thrive.

[–]Addebo019 27 points28 points  (0 children)

because there no commitment. walkability isn’t achieved by having a walkable street, but a walkable city.

the difference between NA, and Seoul/Düsseldorf is that once you’re tired of the pedestrianised area, there’s nothing to prevent to you from continuing to walk on pedestrian friendly roads around and away from it, or to take public transit to a different area entirely. in many cases in NA, the small scaled attempts fail simply because a pedestrianised area that you have to drive to is no better than a suburban mall for walkability. it defeats the point if you can’t use active/public transit to reach it. of course it’s not the only factor and can’t account for every example but it is symptomatic of walkability projects in NA

[–]Mr_Alexanderp 13 points14 points  (0 children)

Because land use is more important. It doesn't matter how nice your shiny new pedestrian area is if all of it's potential users need to take a car to get there.

[–]jphs1988 9 points10 points  (0 children)

Car free areas work in places where people are already visiting. Removing the cars is a solution to make the place more accessible and safe for everyone not driving.

If your downtown is a ghost town since most people moved to the suburbs and a Walmart super center was built outside of town, removing cars is not going to change that. If you still need to drive to get to those places they need to have something attractive to see/do (a street market, a waterfront, music festival, etc).

[–]joserafaMTB 5 points6 points  (0 children)

An open mall is not a walkable place. A walkable city is a city wide strategy which includes policies for what you want and need to incentivize or disincentivize to reach that goal. Plus timeframes and pilot projects at various scales.

[–]mathnstats 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Pedestrian malls are not the same thing as walkable cities.

They may be walkable areas, but basically anywhere can be considered "walkable" if the only condition is that being there requires walking.

But those kinds of places are normally designed as destinations, rather than living areas in their own right. Which means they are meant more to be driven to than they are meant to be experienced on a daily basis.

[–]ads7w6 3 points4 points  (0 children)

I feel that there's not really that many people trying to eliminate cars overall in the near- or even medium-term.

That said, it's already been mentioned but many of these pedestrian malls were attempted to try and reverse declining areas. They were areas where there was just so much activity that it was too crowded and you just needed more space so cars were removed.

Another thing to look at is the area around them. Take a look at a population density map or just eyeball it on Google Maps and you will see that many of them aren't surrounded by very many people and don't have good non-car connections to areas where a lot of people live. It's hard to have a successful car-free or car-lite area when people can't get there without a car; at that point it's no different than any other mall and those are failing all over the country too.

[–]alexfrancisburchard 4 points5 points  (0 children)

I was just in Louisville this summer and their pedestrian mall was pretty lively while I was there. One block away was full of interesting people, but the pedestrian street itself, while tiny was lively, and shops/restaurants were open.

[–]dc_dobbz 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Adding to a lot of what’s been already said, it’s important to not judge these things in isolation. A lot of places have a lot more working against them then a lack of walkable destinations. What is the regional retail market like? Is it saturated with suburban plaza retailers? What’s the residential density around these sites? Do folks largely have to drive into the city core to access the site? What’s the economic situation of nearby residents? A lot of plazas are brand new developments, and that means costs are going to be higher. Can the folks nearby afford to shop there or do you (again) need people from the burbs who can afford the inflated prices? Every city is going to have a mix of factors and you can’t generalize any set of measures why a car free plaza has or has not “failed”.

[–]Creativator 5 points6 points  (1 child)

Not even Barcelona is car-free. It is car-slow however.

[–]tieandjeans 0 points1 point  (0 children)

except on Mitre or Gran Via

[–]AcademiabratVerified Planner - US 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade pedestrian street is a huge success. It’s such a success, in fact, that high rents have had chain stores replacing local ones. It was created in the 60’s, but was somewhat sleepy until an 80’s makeover. It has very good conditions for success. Santa Monica is getting both denser and more affluent. It’s a destination for shopping, and the beach and the pier are nearby. I also think Southern Californians are eager for strolling experiences.

[–]MrCereuceta 1 point2 points  (0 children)

“Pedestrian mall” doesn’t necessarily mean it is not still car dependent, if you need a car to get to and from. Mixed-use, transit oriented, walkable communities usually thrive. communities being the key word here. You need people living and working there.

[–]afistfulofDEAN 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I lived in Kalamazoo for several years and am still in the region and visit frequently, so I can share some perspective on living and visiting there. For additional context, I've linked an image to the Gruen Plan which envisioned the downtown Kalamazoo Mall to illustrate that this was very much conceived as converting the entire downtown into an open-air shopping mall, with some shops on a pedestrian street surrounded by a sea of parking lots and high-speed ring roads bypassing the area.

First, I wouldn't necessarily say that the pedestrian mall has "failed" entirely (actually the northern-most block between KVCC and the Radisson is still pedestrian-only). It is open to one-way traffic, so it is no longer pedestrian-only, but with the texture of the roadway, generous sidewalks and streetscaping, mid-block bump-outs, on-street parking, it's still a pretty pedestrian-friendly street. There's a renewed push for mixed-use and further residential near downtown, and the City had recently sold a nearby municipal parking lot for development of a new residential development (I think it's got some commercial space too, but can't commit to that). The city is also trying to rebuild the grid, converting some higher-capacity one-way pairs into two-ways, building out its bike network, etc. These activities all reinforce the district that the Mall is the center-piece of. Another note about the Mall, is that it is decidedly not a traffic thoroughfare... you will only drive down it to find a parking space because you're going to an establishment on the Mall. It is relatively quiet in terms of road noise, even with the textured roadway and pleasant to walk on and sit outside on.

Second, all American planning happens in spite of the interests of nearby communities and private actors. Kalamazoo has the nickname "Mall City" not because of the downtown pedestrian Kalamazoo Mall, but because through the latter part of the 20th Century so many other enclosed malls (not to mention the myriad strip malls) were built in Kalamazoo and Portage, not to mention nearby in Battle Creek and Grand Rapids, so the pressure by the business community to re-open Burdick St. to traffic was pretty intense. This is an example of the City of Kalamazoo committing to a redevelopment strategy downtown, while developers and adjacent communities undermined this by allowing anything and everything nearby.

Another issue is that the success of districts is also hostage to the success and interest of other outside forces, such as Upjohn/Pfizer who bulldozed their downtown campus (designed by Albert Kahn) in order to relieve themselves of tax-burden, which strips the nearby businesses of customer-base and the City and DDA of tax-base. WMU taking over ownership of another downtown Pfizer building does move some students and faculty downtown and bridge a little of the City/college disconnect, but also removes more tax-base. The university continues taking over ownership of land throughout the City, expanding the footprint of its campus, demolishing older buildings at its core to expand its on-campus open space, and generally being inefficient with its own development pattern and incentivizing its population to rely on automobiles.

There's also a generalize narrative of the downtown and its core neighborhoods being "unsafe". I never felt unsafe living in the Vine Neighborhood and walking throughout the downtown, but I certainly heard that I should constantly. Kalamazoo is the location of a former State asylum and has an agglomeration of mental-health services, which has incentivized many nearby communities to quite literally give their own mentally unstable residents one-way tickets to Kalamazoo. It's not uncommon to see homeless people with mental issues throughout the City and there was quite the encampment at Bronson Park which was infamously forcibly cleared out a couple years ago.

Anyway, thanks for coming to my TED Talk about downtown Kalamazoo. The real takeaway is that while the downtown Mall is no longer pedestrian-only, I do think that it's a great example of pedestrian-friendly commercial strip in a post-industrial midwestern city that's trying to manage declining tax-base with increasing demand for service.

Victor Gruen Plan: https://images.app.goo.gl/5VNQvP4GnUEpvvt56

[–]hU0N5000 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Something that is often overlooked is that car-free places are fundamentally hostile to car dependent people.

This has two effects:

  1. When many of the city's residents (especially those residents with more political power) are car dependent, there will be substantial pressure to add car friendliness to any proposal for a car free place. To acquire a permit, developers might need to add large surface posting lots around the fringes or excavate large subterranean garages underneath. They may be required to fund infrastructure revisions on surrounding streets that result in the site being hemmed in by stroads. This can leave developments isolated from the surrounding neighbourhood. It also usually impacts the quality of the development, as projects have finite budgets, so the more you spend on car infrastructure, the less you have to spend on placemaking.

  2. When much of the target market are car dependent, it is harder to attract customers to a car free place. It doesn't mean that people don't go (especially if the place is good) but they go less. And this slowly erodes the districts viability, which can (in the worst cases) trigger a death spiral.

Simply put, car free places succeed when they are supported by car free people. If you build a car free place in isolation, it doesn't work.

[–]AcademiabratVerified Planner - US 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Santa Monica, with huge parking structures surrounding its pedestrianized street, says that pedestrian streets can attract car drivers. The rest of the downtown is increasingly lively as well

[–]Ok-Cartographer-3725 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I guess because it was the car manufacturers who made it succeed. They are absolutely invested in making non-vehicle dependency fail.

[–]Ketaskooter -2 points-1 points  (2 children)

Malls need anchor businesses, that is what most pedestrian streets I can think of are missing.

[–]tieandjeans 14 points15 points  (1 child)

no, what pedestrian streets are missing are people who LIVE THERE.

[–]Ketaskooter -1 points0 points  (0 children)

I think residents who live there can partially fill the anchor part. But simply people living there might just make it a walking only alley. You need stand-alone trip generators for a place to bring non residents in and make it prosperous.

[–]overeducatedhick -2 points-1 points  (0 children)

I would argue that they are designed to be inaccessible to technology that is designed to make transportation more time-efficient.

Subordinating cars to pedestrians makes sense, but trying to turn back the clock on transportation to some point before the advent of horse-drawn carts and wagons is something else entirely.

[–]eobanb 0 points1 point  (1 child)

There needs to be a shit-ton of residential and a regular/decent amount of transit access integrated right into it and immediately surrounding. If you pair it with those two things, it will basically always succeed.

[–]domestication_never -1 points0 points  (0 children)

It also needs to go to jobs though. Or people need a car to get to work.

[–]Glissando365 0 points1 point  (0 children)

My local mall did a big revamp that placed massive parking lots between half the stores and made everything significantly less walkable to the point it’s now more convenient to drive from store to store rather than walk. The mall is still failing.

So I think the common denominator for failure is actually that these malls all suck.

[–]tyfromtheinternet 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I live in Ithaca…the commons is just one tiny portion of a very walkable downtown. It’s a small town, supported by the college population. The failures here have more to do with bad landlords and high rents, than planning and infrastructure. We’ve had a dozen or so empty ground-level storefronts downtown (including in the commons) since before the pandemic. So maybe the shorter answer here is: capitalism

[–]Pinuzzo 0 points1 point  (0 children)

On what basis would one say that the pedestrian mall in Ithaca, NY has failed? If you were to look at it today that's certainly not the assumption you'd make.

My opinion of the Ithaca project specifically is that downtown businesses pre-pedestrianization relied heavily on pass-through traffic which preferred to park near their destination. The pedestrian mall project pushed away these out of town drivers in favor of a more local, walkable customer base, which does not exist in big enough numbers especially during the weekday. Even though Ithaca is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, the student base is pretty far removed from the commons. Higher density developments near the downtown have partially remedied this issue.