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Monday, November 13, 2006

An Architect's View of Better LifeStyle Centers

I am thrilled to share the following guest post from Scott Moore, a.k.a. WiZuM, whose photo of Atlantic Station anchors Atlanta's Atlantic Station - A Lifestyle Center. Scott, a-soon-to-be-architect, is a designer and project manager for an architectural firm in the Atlanta area. He made insightful comments [see Atlanta's Atlantic Station - A Lifestyle Center comments] about how Atlantic Station falls short in terms of fully integrating life/play/work and suggested better examples. I invited him to share these with us.

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center originally uploaded by Wizum.
As I mentioned before, I am an architect-in-training, and have a passion for the built environment. I don't know why, but I do. I have a passion for design, and creating places for people to live, work, play, and worship.

Atlantic Station [AS] originally intrigued me. But, as you can read from my comments to the post, I eventually became disappointed with it once I had a chance to really check the place out. So here are a couple of "lifestyle center" type developments that do a much better job.

Smyrna's Market Village - GA
I live only about a mile from the "Market Village" located in Smyrna, GA and was fortunate enough to actually work on this project's master plan with architect Mike Sizemore, founding principle of Sizemore Group. Unlike what happened with AS, this one was built following the master plan to almost perfection (and that doesn't always happen). What is nice about the Village is that it is very intimate and pedestrian friendly. It doesn't compare in size to AS but it works much better.

Another big difference compared to AS is that there are no department stores or places like that. There are several places to eat, from a Moe's to a nice Italian joint to a sushi restaurant, and many small shops that range in products and things with apartments/townhomes ABOVE the stores. This whole development has a very traditional aesthetic and is part of the City of Smyrna's "downtown" redevelopment [i.e., the "city complex"], which is where City Hall, the city Library, community center, and police station are all located. Since all this has been built the market in the city has been incredible and some wonderful places are being designed and developed right around the Village area. It has acted like a rock being thrown in a pond: the ripple effect is just beginning to really take hold. You can get a visual feel for it here.

The Market Village definitely represents a "New Urbanist" development, representing a collaboration between the city, a private developer, and several architects and builders, with a focus on having housing be within walking distance from the village resources. Also check out the Smyrna Market Village website.

Glenwood Park, GA
Another interesting lifestyle center type development is Glenwood Park which is being developed and funded by former Mindspring Founder Charles Brewer. Since leaving Mindspring, after the Earthlink merger, he has started a residential development company dedicated to "walkable communities" based upon the principals of New Urbanism. In other words, "smart" and "green friendly" urban design. The development just recently opened and is only about 50 - 60 % completed and I don't think any of the commercial or retail space has opened yet. But this development has promise and hopefully will have the same type of "ripple effect" that the Smyrna Market Village has had.

Now, to be clear, these 2 examples are significantly smaller in scale than Atlantic Station and that's an important point. Atlantic Station is much larger than the Market Village and about twice the size of the Greenwood Park development. It has two high rise buildings and a third one under construction. Following those, there are plans for at least two or 3 more high rise buildings to be completed once the whole AS project is 100% done.

From a retail perspective, it comes down to the scale issue again. AS is a huge development and the retail/commercial parts of it are like a outdoor mall, but in a very urban center. Also, the kinds of stores at AS are different from those in Smyrna's Market Village and possibly from what Greenwood will eventually have. AS has national chain stores and franchises where Smyrna & Greenwood have more local retail representation.

Despite the difference in scale, these two examples are still much better places [i.e., think of Ray Oldenburg's 3rd places from his book "The Great, Good Place"] and were better executed in their planning and design.


As a new retail format, lifestyle centers are definitely worth watching. Given that they are about better integrating the various aspects of our living activities, they should represent fascinating opportunities to better integrate shopping experiences into our lives. The flip side is that the traditional shopping experience must be reinvented to fit more holistically into the world of New Urbanism....

To learn more, visit the New Urbanism website or visit Wikipedia, where the entry on New Urbanism says:

"New urbanist neighborhoods are walkable, and are designed to contain a diverse range of housing and jobs. New urbanists support regional planning for open space, appropriate architecture and planning, and the balanced development of jobs and housing. They believe these strategies are the best way to reduce the time people spend in traffic, to increase the supply of affordable housing, and to rein in urban sprawl. Many other issues, such as historic preservation, safe streets, green building, and the renovation of brownfield land are also covered in the Charter of the New Urbanism, the movement's seminal document. Because new urbanist designs include many of the features (like mixed use and emphasis on walkability) which characterized urban areas in the pre-automobile age, the movement is sometimes known as Traditional neighborhood design."

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