Ped malls have it backwards

[sent to NextGen list, responding to Lydon]

Prime downtown shopping streets rarely work as ped-exclusive streets. 3rd Street or Lincoln Road are exceptional places on many levels: most of America is not Santa Monica or South Beach (nor Boulder, Aspen, Burlington, nor Times Square). Instead, why not focus on smaller streets with an entertainment focused tenant mix? East 4th in Cleveland (official site) actually seems to work okay (a single owner is a huge advantage), especially relative to its surroundings. Even in Europe or Asia, grand retail corridors aren’t pedestrianised (Stroget

being the exception rather than the rule); it’s the side streets, where cars always felt like a huge intrusion anyways.

Shown here is Sai Yeung Choi Street in Kowloon’s Mong Kok district, which is car-free from 4pm-midnight every night — a switch only undertaken in the past few years. As you can see, a pedestrian street is not defined by the absence of cars: it’s about the abundance of pedestrians.

Kowloon’s main spine, Nathan Road, continues apace a block west, and alleys (really, just wide enough to push a cart down) are on either side should deliveries still be necessary. Of course, the other side streets are just as choked with pedestrians — often browsing at retail stalls, as on Tung Choi Street just east, and often sharing the space with the few cars who dare to brave the streets.

Of course, having stupendously high densities helps to sustain retail on both the arterials and the side streets, and the American tendency to have fewer but larger shops certainly doesn’t help.

Insisting that shoppers will materialize out of thin air just to see a place that’s interestingly designed, but inconvenient to get to — an “if you build it, they will come” approach — is backwards. Instead, retail is all about making things easy for customers, and the converse is true: “if they come, then you build it” (a nice echo of the aphorism that “retail follows rooftops”).

This strategy kind of mirrors the suburban lifestyle center approach: the arterial is still there to handle circulation, but the inviting environment is off to the side.

A similar approach here in North America was taken on Rue Prince-Arthur in Montreal’s lively Plateau neighborhood, a pedestrian street that links two parallel main streets (St. Laurent and St. Denis).