Walkable Strip (1st Place), 2009 

Cliffside Village, Toronto, Canada; Civic

1st Place Winner of 'CitiesAlive International Design Challenge'

 

The slow, some say inevitable, demise of the North American suburban way of life has been documented and discussed repeatedly since the 1960’s in such works as the book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs and the film “The End of Suburbia” directed by Gregory Greene. Yet several recently published sources claim that by 2030 sixty percent or more of the world’s population will be living in cities, a percentage not likely to be any smaller in North America. As the cities expand, some of the sprawl that was suburbia will inevitably by subsumed by the city and urban densification will quickly follow. Much of what was once suburban sprawl is soon to be part of urban density.

 

Few locations in suburban sprawl are as symbolic of the Modern theme of separation of uses as the strip mall. An island of commercial services generally isolated from the community and sitting in an ocean of asphalt, once seen as essential for the car driven economy.

 

Combined, we find the strip mall a ripe source for a driver of change. An often gray space, devoid of vibrant community life or green space and a source of carbon emissions, the strip mall is nevertheless often an essential community focal point. It is a local source of services and in an area of suburban sprawl it also often serves as the only point of constant interaction, however brief, between residents.

 

This is what we found in our community and what we know exists in communities across North America. Instead of razing these spaces to make room for massive projects of new construction we have envision a sustainable and organic renewal of the strip mall. A vision for a postcarbon society, consisting of mixed uses, expanses of greenery, public spaces and urban agriculture initiatives with a pedestrian and bicycle friendly environment. A renewal, and not a replacement, that reduces carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, promotes an active life style and vibrant community, beautifies, allows for on-site stormwater management and uses sustainable energy sources. This is not a vision restricted to the strip mall of Cliffside Village. Cliffside Village has provided us with the grounds to experiment with a concept that we believe could apply, with context specific modifications, to any strip mall. In doing this we strive to show that as the cities expand and density rises these islands of gray can become islands of green, serving a society based on community instead of the car.

 

[Click Images Below]

Walkable Strip, 2009

Walkable Strip, 2009

Masterplan

Walkable Strip, 2009

Walkable Strip, 2009

Community Allotment Garden

Walkable Strip, 2009

Walkable Strip, 2009

Green over Gray

Walkable Strip, 2009

Walkable Strip, 2009

Around the clock usage

0D

Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

Presentation Board 1

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

Presentation Board 2

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

Presentation Board 3

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

Key Plan

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

Masterplan

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

In Layers

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

In Section

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

Before: Strip Mall Retail

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

After: Strip Mall Retail with new Roof Top Residences

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

Before: Coop housing

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

After: Coop Housing with revitalized Coop Allotment Garden

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Walkable Strip, 2009
Walkable Strip, 2009

Before: Parking Lot

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Though the original design intent behind the strip mall concept was likely to centralize a suburban neighbourhood's commercial services in an easily accessible and convenient location, the result has been the creation of an alienating and often isolated mass of buildings swimming in an asphalt sea of parking with small eddies of dying greenery and trees.

 

What potentially could have been the vibrant center of a community, a pedestrian friendly strip of business and leisure activities that served as the focal point of the surrounding neighbourhoods and created a sense of community has instead become a roadside eyesore, a quick stop on the way home and little more.

 

In considering and selecting the site for this proposal, it is our intention to lift the strip mall out of the mire it has gradually sunk into and make it the vibrant, pedestrian and community friendly environment that it has the potential to be. This potential, we feel, is inherent in every strip mall, making this proposal a viable solution for the revitalization of dilapidated commercial strips throughout North America, with the addition of site specific accommodations

 

Cliffside Plaza resembles an A-typical strip mall with one particular exception that makes it a potentially poignant example of our intentions. Running the length of the plaza and adjacent to it is a series of low income housing units supporting a dull facade and dormer roof that stand as a solid wall of brick separating the residential communities to the east from the strip mall and road to the west.

 

The main problem we are addressing here is how to respond to the expansion of our cities, for as cities begin to envelope the large residential regions that were formally suburbia, the small pockets of commercial spaces that once served these far-flung sprawling low-density areas become opportunities for urban redevelopment and densification. The question is, how do we accomplish this while maintaining a sense of community and a human scale and accomplish this in a fashion that offers a more long-term sustainable solution that builds on the existing infrastructure instead of tearing it down?

 

Two major obstacles to the achievement of our goal were immediately apparent.

 

The first being the existing roadway beside Cliffside Plaza, Kingston Road, coupled with the parking area dedicated to the plaza, and the second being the site's zoning. Kingston Road is a six lane major avenue. This expanse, when added to the parking setback of Cliffside Plaza, which was designed to support more cars than necessary in anticipation of a car based society, forms a massive divide between the far sides of the roadway and between the street side and the strip mall. This scale, designed for the car, had to be reduced to create the pedestrian friendly environment we wanted to promote. Scaling down the roadway and the parking lot also addresses the issue of a post-carbon suburbia. Reducing the number of lanes and parking lots to a minimal, though functional, number promotes reduced use of vehicles and increased use of bicycles and walking. This, coupled with the greening and moulding of spaces, reduces the carbon footprint of the plaza and promotes carbon neutral modes of transport.

 

It is our hypothesis that single-use zoning, such as that of the existing Cliffside Plaza and most strip malls, promotes the isolation of the commercial space and the wasteful use of space dedicated to parking. As such, our proposal recommends a rezoning of the site, allowing for residential units to be constructed over the existing commercial strip, bringing the community into the strip mall and creating a c-existence reminiscent of successful and popular older neighbourhoods often found closer to the downtown core of large cities. Furthermore, the insertion of green and interactive spaces into the fabric of the site promotes new and diverse activities, including farmer's markets, playgrounds, urban farming, cycling etc... This in turn supports the diversity of the community surrounding the mall.

 

These include a version of the "slips" suggested by Chris Hardwicke in his proposal: "Creating Walkable Environments along Suburban Arterial Roads. Case study: Cliffside Neighborhood, Kingston Road, Toronto". This "slips" are a diverse number of multipurpose, green spaces that can be fit into the gaps between businesses in the strip mall and serve to connect the back side of the strip mall with the street side. However, these interventions go beyond the suggestions found in that proposal to include:

 

1) Implementation of green walls and extensive green roofs, including a massive overhauling of the parking between the residential apartments and the strip mall, moving it below grade and planting an extensive green roof atop the parking structure to create a continuous green space for local residents.

 

2) Removal and replacement of an existing drive-through with an outdoor seating area.

 

3)The addition of greenhouses to existing roofs in order to facilitate year-round rooftop harvesting.

 

4)The insertion of a grade level gray water removal and retention system, including porous asphalt, a swale and a bio-retention pond, that both keeps gray water away from the sewage system and provide water for the intensive urban farming lots proposed in the design.

 

5) Solar powered street lighting systems.

 

6) The removal of parking from street level to below grade to make more room for green spaces and urban farming at grade.

 

Combined, the more energy efficient housing and the proposed revisions transform the strip mall into a flourishing and vibrant center for a sustainable community.