As we all explore how shopping centers can evolve their respective roles in the leisure-time industry, we are intrigued with how some simple placemaking techniques can transform even a neighborhood shopping center into a vital community gathering place. Placemaking is well established an important consideration in designing so many private and public gathering places. We recently stopped by Trancas Country Market in Malibu, California and were impressed how so many place-making techniques were evident.
Here are some placemaking sensibilities we believe important, with some comments how this small shopping center satisfies these sensibilities.
- Foster an identity of the place – Like any product, a place with a distinct identity, a reason for being, tends to be more attractive for people. Trancas Country Market has a nicely rustic architecture, and a simple green that provides a wonderful flex space for interstitial moments for shoppers and for community events.
- Provide anchor activities – Anchor activities are necessary in creating a place of interest. The anchor activities can be strongly commercial – such as dining and shopping, or even the “gather and stare” quality of a place. In the case of Trancas Country Market, Vintage Grocers is the primary anchor which considers itself a “classic hometown market” with “thoughtfully sourced foods.” A perfect merchant for a place like Malibu.
- Provide sufficient activities – Destination- quality gathering places have enough for people to do. A palpable “complexity of place” achieved by there being “more than enough” to do may be the essential aspect of placemaking. An interesting design aspect of Trancas Country Market is its layout which defies some of the basic rules for retail space. There are a couple of short small “alleyways” that lead from the green to the back of the center, with an additional small gardening center at the back along with more parking. In a small way, the way the center lays out in a front to back and side-to-side circulation has just a bit of a town square feeling.
- Keep “place memory” in mind – Naming conventions applied to a place are important, a place name and its “feature names” become part of each person’s memory map that is conjured up in a particular person’s mind when a destination is mentioned.
- Event traditions are important – Recurring and special events create a community’s sense of tradition, and regard, for a place. Trancas Country Market is an acknowledge local gathering place. Not for large events but more for the intimate smaller gatherings that make a place feel like part of its host community.
- Provide interesting features – Unique features can be any manner of things – iconic structures, towers, monuments, public art, fountains, etc. There are usually ample opportunities to integrate EASIL features in most destination places. The green at Trancas Country Market certainly provides such an interesting feature, a “pocket park” which is seldom found in a small neighborhood shopping center.
- Make it comfortable – Comfort factors include easy access to restrooms and a pervasive sense of personal security. When people feel secure and are comfortable they will linger if the place holds their interest.
- Allow for seasonal adaptation – A gathering place should reflect the time of year, changing out merchandise offerings on carts, overhead banners, and the like. A green, or other similar pocket parks, are the easiest ways for small and mid-sized shopping centers to adapt to changing day- and week-parts, and the seasons. Caruso (formerly Caruso Affiliated Holdings, LLC), a prolific real estate developer based in Los Angeles, has similarly shown throughout their projects how pocket parks, fountains, tiny interstitial spaces, and the like, all contribute to a welcoming sense of place that is rare in typical shopping centers.
- Worry about the retail edges – Placemaking is enhanced by the strong retail rhythms of adjacent and approach zone retailers and restaurants. An interesting aspect of the pocket park at Trancas Country Market is that the park actually creates more lineal feet of storefronts, than if the center has simply squared off that edge of the center. The result is a more complex and visually interesting edge and series of storefronts.
- Define a human scale to the edges – Architecture is part of placemaking; it becomes the backdrop, the setting, in which the guest experience occurs. All else is “liner” to the architectural edge provided. A human scale is important to people’s sense of a place’s attractiveness. Trancas Country Market is a suburban facility with views of the Pacific Ocean. The storefronts are single story with nicely irregular roof pitches.
- Monetize the place – An important aspect of placemaking is monetization of the place. If the private and public sector “permanent” occupants of a place are making money, the place can be enduring. If the place requires continual subsidies to remain interesting, over the long-term it will likely not succeed as a gathering place. Here, the green at Trancas Country Market is also a winner. Tenants regularly use the green for promotions and product introductions, and of course the center promotes or allows special events that distinguish the shopping center in the eyes of the local community.