Nobody Goes There Anymore, It’s Too Crowded

I think trying to build housing in shopping malls is a potentially promising idea. It’s a reminder that I’ve been meaning for a while to write a post about separating the idea of “walkable urbanism” from the idea of “living in a city.” A city is, of course, a political concept. But walkable urbanism is a geographical and lifestyle concept. In the DC area, walkable urbanism exists in the parts of Arlington County that lie along the Blue and (especially) Orange line corridors as well as near the Silver Spring and Bethesda Metro stations in Montgomery County even though those places are “in the suburbs.” And parts of the city don’t exhibit the features of walkable urbanism. And by the same token, traditionally a great deal of walkable urbanism took place in small towns rather than in cities, and also in small cities (see Douglas Rae’s account of New Haven) and “streetcar suburbs” rather than big cities.

All of which is a throat-clearing way of saying that if we see a big increase in the amount of walkable urbanism available to American families, an awful lot of it will probably exist outside the city limits of the municipalities that form the hubs of our metropolitan area. That will mean, yes, converting existing elements of the build environment rather than simply abandoning everything and trying to get everyone to move willy-nilly into downtown Cleveland. In other words — more housing in malls.

But I wanted to end with the observation that I got this item via Felix Salmon who introduced it thusly:

Do you want to live within easy walking distance of shops, restaurants, and other such amenities? Do you want to live in a condo with a doorman, its own private grounds, a screening room, and similar bells and whistles? Up until now, answering “yes” to such questions meant that you had to live in the city — something which many people don’t like doing (dirt, smells, noise, bad schools, you know the drill) and which in any case is often very expensive.


This is like saying that most Americans don’t like BMWs — after all, they’re so damn expensive. Obviously, some people really do have an extremely strong preference for a sizable yard and driving-oriented lifestyle. But equally obviously, people respond to prices and living in desirable urbanist areas is “often very expensive.” That reflects both the intrinsic appeal that such areas have to many people and the short supply that they’re in. This is one of the reasons why we need to build more communities featuring walkable urbanism.