By Duo Dick­in­son

The Norwalk Hour - - SUNDAY ARTS & STYLE -

We all saw a year of ex­treme build­ing off Exit 15 of I-95 in Norwalk, cul­mi­nat­ing last year in the SoNo Col­lec­tion. The Col­lec­tion is in­tended to be the an­swer to the over­whelm­ing trend to dig­i­tal shop­ping.

The jewel in the crown of this new-style “des­ti­na­tion mall” is Nord­strom.

Then, af­ter a few months of COVID-19 the Nord­strom moth­er­ship omi­nously closed more than 10 stores and let go 6,000 em­ploy­ees.

Times are chang­ing.

The gen­er­a­tional trend to on­line shop­ping is try­ing to be coun­ter­pointed by any num­ber of at­tempts to recre­ate the “shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence.” The Norwalk ef­fort was to put a plea­sure palace of all-day ex­pe­ri­ences of­fered by all the el­e­ments around “The Col­lec­tion” (no “mall” here!). Whether it was the Mar­itime Aquar­ium, the Lockwood-Matthews Man­sion and the Norwalk River with Oys­ter Shell Park, this was not the sprawl­ing park­ing lot-sur­rounded big box ex­pe­ri­ence — the SoNo Col­lec­tion is in­tended to be full des­ti­na­tion dis­trac­tion, not just re­tail ther­apy.

But in a world built in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury that is fully de­pen­dent on cars and credit cards, all malls were stressed even be­fore COVID-19. Jor­dan Grice of Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia in­ter­viewed Sa­cred Heart Uni­ver­sity’s pro­fes­sor Jose Mendoza, who de­clared that shop­ping malls will be re­tooled by “build­ing the mil­len­nial play­ground.” But like every other as­pect of post-COVID life, things will change be­yond mar­ket­ing.

Like so many oth­ers, the Dan­bury Fair Mall, filled its halls with com­fort­able seat­ing, chil­dren’s play ar­eas and places to sit and eat with a fully WiFi­in­fused in­te­rior. But more, the West­field Trumbull Mall is fully re­tool­ing its es­sen­tial re­al­ity as a clas­sic “shop­ping mall” with “an­chor ten­ants” and a great “shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence.” Last sum­mer the mall in­te­grated the SeaQuest In­ter­ac­tive Aquar­ium into its com­plex. Bet­ter than any Mul­ti­plex Movie House (es­pe­cially in a pan­demic), cre­at­ing en­ter­tain­ment is the magic bul­let of rein­car­na­tion for the Great Amer­i­can Shop­ping Mall.

But it might not be enough.

It is now a cliche to say that Amer­ica is mov­ing to a “walk­a­ble” way of liv­ing. As seen in Norwalk, Stam­ford and New Haven, liv­ing where you work, walk­ing to eat din­ner or buy gro­ceries or see an ex­hibit or show has real value. No shop­ping mall as it ex­ists can com­pete with that, nor can any of­fice park. The iso­lated is­lands of

“ex­pe­ri­ence” and worka­day jobs are still al­most al­ways car-ac­cessed.

In 2020, peo­ple have been forced to stay put, and drive less, even if there wasn’t a value in sus­tain­ably re­ject­ing the car­bon­cre­at­ing au­to­mo­bile. Pre­sciently, the Trumbull mall has worked through­out the year to de­velop and get ap­proval for the cre­ation of hous­ing on the site of the mall it­self. When built, the newly ap­proved hous­ing de­vel­op­ment will give res­i­dents the abil­ity to walk or ride a bike to the mall.

In Au­gust, Trumbull amended its zon­ing or­di­nance at the site of the mall to “cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that is com­fort­able and in­ter­est­ing to lo­cal res­i­dents and vis­i­tors as a place to live, play, shop, work and so­cial­ize.” This lan­guage that is used to cre­ate the new zon­ing dis­trict in Trumbull is al­most the mantra of a “walk­a­ble” re­think­ing of the sub­ur­ban world that has be­come an eco­nomic and so­cial model in many cities and towns.

But shop­ping malls are not the only mid-20th cen­tury sub­ur­ban­cre­ated mall — the “busi­ness park” is also be­ing rethought in the push to cre­ate a “walk­a­ble” world where work is in the neigh­bor­hood or your base­ment. As the post pan­demic pre­dic­tions of the “end of the cor­po­rate of­fice” are now con­ven­tional wis­dom, it’s a good thing to know that the iso­lated car-ser­viced cor­po­rate busi­ness park is be­ing fully re-ex­am­ined as well.

Blog­ger Kevin Zimmerman cites the de­sire of the na­tional real es­tate de­vel­op­ment firm Cald­well Banker Richard El­lis to “fuel a wave of adap­tive repurposin­g and re­use in Fair­field County ... the of­fice-to mul­ti­fam­ily move­ment is still gain­ing steam.”

In Westport, a 1980 42,000square-foot of­fice build­ing has been con­verted to 94 res­i­den­tial units at the 1177 Greens Farm de­vel­op­ment. Ad­di­tion­ally, the for­mer Save the Chil­dren build­ing on Wil­ton Road is now 16 units of hous­ing. Se­nior hous­ing is recre­at­ing an of­fice build­ing on the of­fice park-filled High Ridge Road in Stam­ford as well.

In 1926, real es­tate mogul Harold Sa­muel is cred­ited with coin­ing the Three Rules of Real Es­tate: “Lo­ca­tion. Lo­ca­tion. Lo­ca­tion.” In ar­eas of re­cent de­vel­op­ment, like Fair­field County, per­fectly good build­ings in cen­tral lo­ca­tions are a ripe tar­get for rede­vel­op­ment when needs change, whether in 1926 or to­day.

Of­fice parks and re­tail mails were of­ten dropped be­tween the newly sprawl­ing sub­ur­ban de­vel­op­ments of post-war sub­ur­bia in places like Fair­field County. As the world has grown to sur­round these places with other build­ings, what was re­mote has be­come cen­tral. By mak­ing fully in­te­grated places to “live, play, shop, work and so­cial­ize” cars are be­com­ing less needed, and the dan­ger­ous den­si­ties of in­ner city liv­ing may just be mit­i­gated.

Duo Dick­in­son is a Madi­son-based ar­chi­tect and writer.

Grey Vil­let / Time Life Pic­tures via Getty Im­ages / The LIFE Pic­ture Col­lec­tion via Getty Im­ages

Shop­pers in mid-cen­tury Min­nesota ex­plore the coun­try’s first in­door shop­ping mall.

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Nord­strom sig­nage goes up as con­struc­tion work­ers erect Norwalk’s SoNo Col­lec­tion mall in 2019.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.