Walking the Walk


Urban design from the front lines

Kevin Klinkenberg

Using urban design to make our lives more enjoyable and create wealth

This site is for all those interested in the making of cities and towns, and especially the lives of the humans that inhabit them. Kevin Klinkenberg is an architect and urban designer who's practiced from coast-to-coast. 

Saturday interlude: Incubator Retail in Japan

A quick interlude between college football games: Today's Wall Street Journal has a front page article describing one man's efforts at rebuilding in Japan, following the tsunami earlier this year.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203707504577007550569072874.html?mod=WSJ_hp_MIDDLETopStories

What struck me more than anything were the images of his temporary store. See below:

Screen Shot 2011-11-12 at 3.45.25 PM
Screen Shot 2011-11-12 at 3.45.25 PM
Screen Shot 2011-11-12 at 3.47.02 PM
Screen Shot 2011-11-12 at 3.47.02 PM
Screen Shot 2011-11-12 at 3.46.53 PM
Screen Shot 2011-11-12 at 3.46.53 PM
Screen Shot 2011-11-12 at 3.47.11 PM
Screen Shot 2011-11-12 at 3.47.11 PM

Now, this isn't the first time someone has used cargo containers for architecture. In fact, it's quite the rage these days. But this is one of the few times I've seen it done with a touch of grace and urbanity to it, and in an obviously economical manner. The irony of so many "shipping container as architecture" projects being built nowadays is that they are more expensive than conventional construction.

But I digress.

What strikes me when I see clever initiatives like this is, why don't we apply this kind of thinking more often in places that aren't natural disasters? I've written here and here before about the value of cheap spaces for retailing, and how we undervalue simple one-story buildings as a means to rejuvenate our communities or build new ones. The Tactical Urbanism initiative has picked up on this as well, and the planning profession seems to be valuing these smaller projects once again. But too often it seems we think of these in the context of places that are already faring well, instead of using this type of thinking to seed redevelopment. Pair these with a smart business plan, and think of the possibilities. Imagine how many ugly surface parking lots or empty lots could be lined with small structures like this. The benefits are so numerous - cheap, entrepreneurial, pedestrian-friendly, etc.

We used to say in the New Urbanism - "whatever works." And, I still believe many of us feel that way. But certainly within the profession we strayed over the last decade, and favored larger projects that made a big splash. Too many planners insist on 3 story mixed-use buildings, regardless of location or market. I still say - whatever works to get feet on the street. Let's find a way to do more of these small, simple projects.

 
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