August 8th, 2011

News Flash: Bag Lunches Get Too Warm

"In the first study of its kind, researchers in Texas visited nine preschool child-care centers on three separate occasions and measured the temperature of hundreds of sandwiches, yogurts, and other perishable lunch foods brought from home, using a heat-sensing gun.

What they found shocked them: 97% percent of meats, 99% of dairy, and 99% of vegetables were stored at unsafe temperatures. Of the 1,361 perishable foods that were tested, only 22 were at temperatures considered safe."

I'm not sure what to do with this. _Obviously_ this is true, but it's _been_ true forever and, arguably, things are better than they ever have been (refrigeration of lunches is actually sort of an option, and a mylar insulated lunch sack with space for an ice pack has become the standard at Gymboree when doing back-to-school shopping. It wasn't that long ago when I was making my own mylar lunch sacks out of a roll of mylar insulation and electrical tape, because you couldn't buy a small enough cooler to take on a day hike.). And that really is the point at which you _can_ both study and complain about a problem: when a solution is possible but the will is yet lacking to reach for that solution.

But shocking? Really? You find this shocking? I find two days of rioting in Tottenham shocking. I find a right-wing Norwegian bombing the oil ministry and massacring adolescent activists shocking. I find waves of revolution in the Middle East shocking. I find waterboarding and the Patriot Act shocking.

Warm school lunches? Are you kidding me? _YES_ we should fix this. I don't need to be shocked to feel that this is something we should add to the middle-class-package-of-parenting-expectations. (Altho _no_ I am not prepared to sign up for whatever their "safe" temperatures were. I leave baked goods out on the counter for two-three days sometimes and they're just fine.)

I'm going to go back to obsessive research into property management trends now.

What to Do with Inner Ring Malls?

Here's a set of ideas from the tail end of the boom:

The author is quoted extensively in this interview from earlier this year, in the extremely wonderful NYT blog, The New Old Age:

"Failed malls offer an unparalleled opportunity to bring services to suburban neighborhoods, Ms. Dunham-Jones says. “The idea is to demolish a dead mall and build the downtown area a suburb never had,” she said. “Three or four stories of apartments above the retail on the ground floor, providing an option where people can walk to most of their daily needs. And they have more opportunities for social interaction. They get a more urban lifestyle, but in a familiar place.”"

It sounds lovely, if unlikely. The most glaring issue is the idea of "three or four stories" of apartments above the ground floor retail; it just doesn't sound like enough units to justify the expense involved. 6-7+ floor midrise zoning is what got this kind of development moving in Seattle, and even there, it has preferentially happened not in aging neighborhoods, but in neighborhoods that had aged past the move-to-the-nursing home phase, and were being replenished by young couples starting to have children.

Worse, her favorite example is Northgate in Seattle:

"Ms. Dunham-Jones’s favorite example of a retrofitted retail center is the Northgate Mall in northeast Seattle — in this case, it was not a dead mall but a “thriving mall that wanted to expand,” she said, located “in a very suburban, auto-dependent area with a large senior population.”"

Northgate is a _terrible_ example of what she proposes, _not_ because the redevelopment of Northgate was undesirable (altho knowing Seattle, I'm sure you could find someone to take that position), but because Northgate is one of the oldest malls in the country and it never died. Both parts are important. And for all she says it is an auto-dependent area, it is also an area which benefitted from the oldest, most detailed transit development on the north side of the city.

As is typical with this blog, the comments thread is worth reading. Numerous commenters pointed out the same issue with using Northgate as an example. To be fair, "Jim from Baltimore" has an even sillier takeaway, concluding that planning/zoning is counterproductive (Northgate/Seattle _is_ an excellent example of how the planning/zoning process makes everything take longer and cost more -- to good effect). The developer on the Northgate project (Lorig) is local/regional and is used to dealing with Pacific Northwest zoning/regional planning. And having seen a little bit of what passes for zoning in Yankeeland, I feel compelled to point out that as heavyweight as the Seattle process can be, at least it's rational: you can figure out who you need to get permission from and you don't have to go to the governor to move a project forward after you've jumped through all relevant hoops.

Another commenter points to corporations being reluctant to change their strategies. "Mike in San Francisco" is completely incomprehensible: this is about suburban development, not urban, and if Mike looked out at the relevant comparators for his area, he'd be looking at things like San Jose's Santana Row.

The very weirdest of all the comments, however, is "Steve in Los Angeles": "Here in California, this concept has been going strong for several years now. An old defunct mall in Pasadena was transformed into an open air mall and apartments. Great in theory, but where are the grocery stores, the pharmacies, the drug stores, the DMV, the churches, the hospitals, the veterinarians and all the other places that people need on a regular basis?"

He's talking about the Paseo Colorado development which I blogged about. A few minutes on google maps produces: Paseo Colorado has inside it a Gelson's Market (an expensive supermarket, but a supermarket). Inside the Gelson's is a pharmacy (I'm going to assume that a supermarket with a pharmacy has at least a couple aisle of drug store like products, and there is always the internet). Huntington Memorial Hospital is less than a mile and a half away. The DMV is under 3 miles away (what the hell do you need a DMV for if you can't drive three miles? Oh, wait, state id card so you can vote. Maybe you'll have to call a taxi or arrange for paratransit, but hell, if you can avoid to live in the Terraces at Paseo Colorado, you can afford a taxi -- and there are taxi stands in the area). There's a library about a quarter of a mile away. There's a _theological seminary_ nearby, as well as a half dozen churchs within a half mile.

The real problem with Paseo Colorado and other malls + residential _is_ obliquely captured by the rest of Steve's comment:

"Let's call this experiment what it is--a final attempt to squeeze the last bit of money out of elderly people before they die."

Except the Terraces aren't really marketed to the elderly anyway, which is another issue with this retrofitting suburbia as a way to help the aging idea.

Other comments question where the money would come for to do this redevelopment. If the focus _weren't_ on the elderly/aging in place, the answer is obvious (and the basis for Paseo Colorado, Santana Row and other developments asking for and getting quite astonishingly high rents): a wide range of people who have jobs and want to live in a lively, walkable neighborhood with public transit options and/or is close to their job. While the early 2000s instances tend to be for lease variations and there is an ongoing focus on DINKs and singles, I can't help but think that future incarnations -- further out than Santana Row, Paseo Colorado and Northgate, but well within the edge defined by the Big Recession -- will also market to young families.

The policy analysis is kinda poor, but occasionally someone is piping up with examples that match what is in Dunham-Jones book (college opening up in a former mall). Inevitably, someone mentions Nanuet as needing this kind of refreshing (got news for you: it won't happen until more of the current population ages out).

I particularly love the image captured in this phrase: "the 'boomer housing sell-off crisis' will make the dot-com debacle look like a walk in the park." Really? You're harkening back to the early 2000s for a scary crisis? Did you not _notice_ the one that just happened?

I find it utterly amazing that I was completely unaware of this mall + residential trend, and deeply comforting that I'm not the only one missing the point. I knew about Northgate. I saw the massive buildings next to Solomon Pond. I laughed when the Natick condos went to auction. But I _still_ didn't notice the trend until recently. But at least I never operated under the delusion that this would somehow be services provided to aging-in-place elderly. When development is privately funded for profit, no one targets the middle-class elderly.

Other Uses for Dead Malls

So far, I've been focusing on mall redevelopment that is driven by private development looking for a profit. The New Old Age blog post I described in the previous entry was attempting to redirect this stream of activity and money towards public services (aging in place for suburbanites). I find that improbable for a variety of reasons (I'm not even going to touch the moral/idealogical/idealistic aspects of it because there's just no point).

Earlier in my attempts to explore Our Economy of the Future Today, I posted a bunch about changes to lighten regulation of agricultural products grown within cities and suburbs (legalizing some aspects of urban farming). The above URL is about a mall in Cleveland, The Galleria (how many towns used _that_ name for a mall?), which opened in the mid 1980s, thrived in the 1990s, and then fell on hard times in the early 2000s.

"Much of the space that had been occupied by boutiques was soon snatched up by a banking chain called the Dollar Bank."

Thinking this is a mall headed down the payday loan route? Think again:

Dollar Bank's HQ opened at the Galleria in 2008, but development for that started in 2007.

Prior to that (altho the article makes this very obscure): "Then in 2005, Poole decided it was time to try and rehabilitate the mall she’d spent years working in by getting a bit creative. "We installed a curtain in our food court and used it to create an events center,” Poole says. That small step proved to be very effective. “It’s become a vibrant place where people can hold weddings and other events.”" And there's some reason to think that the food court never suffered, altho the shops were vacant. The Galleria is downtown, was part of a downtown revitalization effort, and the food court got solid lunchtime traffic throughout.

So don't think "cheap tent wedding"; think, "using a nice space in the evenings".

"Last year, Poole began working on a more ambitious project to transform the Galleria Mall from a dying retail space into a greenhouse that would not only help educate the city about healthy food, but provide it."

Not so much.

Really cool project, but this is no squatter urban farm in Oakland raising pigs for meat, poultry for eggs and meat and dumpster diving to avoid having to pay for all the feed. This is an educational project and a foodie thing and, honestly, a wtf moment for urban workers.

It's a little sad that an article tried to find parallels between the Galleria in Cleveland, and dead malls being turned into churches. (For the record: the mall become church was older, died when the Galleria was booming, and its tenants included a hardware store. NOT the same.) The total amount of money spent by the church to buy it at auction and to renovate it is almost certainly chump change compared to what goes into making the Galleria what it is today. But then characterizing Belmar in Lakewood, CO as "repurposed to serve as a housing development" defies belief.

The article has some other weird things in it ("While few would ever protest having a hospital or a new water park added to their community" -- try googling NIMBY and either hospital or water park and see what you get), the balance of the article is arguing that a shuttered mall is worse than a no-tax-revenue-creating community center, church or other community-service oriented not-for-profit reuse strategy. While that is true, look at the evidence rallied in support of this thesis:

"He highlights one particular shopping center, the Dixie Square Mall in Chicago, which sat vacant for years. “The roof caved in, homeless people moved in and a lot of crimes happened there,” he said. This hurt property values for the suburban community nearby."

It is moments like this when I truly love google, wikipedia, etc.

Dixie Square Mall opened in 1966 and _closed in 1978_. And has been sitting there ever since. There are a lot of reasons for this, but even a superficial glance at a map suggests that the mall was misplaced from the beginning. The story is quite horrifying and surely did not in any way help the town of Harvey, but suggesting that this could happen anywhere a mall is shuttered is like believing in the boogie man.

Until gas prices spiked high and stayed high enough to focus our collective attention on the impossibilities of living dozens of miles from where we work and shop and attend school and have a good time, figuring out what to do with a dead mall was a Problem. Once we realized we couldn't keep pushing the periphery further out from any meaningful center and accepted we were going to be crowding in on top of each other, dead malls became a Solution. But the developers are acting while the commenters are desperately trying to catch up (I include myself in the latter category, of course).

Oh, and in case it isn't obvious. All those foolish/evil property owners who sat on dead malls for 10-15 years and didn't do anything with them? I'm thinking that over the next 10 years, they're all going to be getting heavy press for their brilliant patience.

(Regarding the placement of the mall/Harvey's woes: north of Harvey is a major switching/container yard and east of Harvey is _another_ major switching/container yard and south of Harvey is yet another substantial rail yard. I don't know the names of any of them. I don't think there's a comparable suburban location anywhere else in the US, outside of Chicago. It's like being on the "wrong side of the tracks", only to the third power.)

Better Off Unemployed

As a sample of his work product:

He has a job running an operation whose statements -- whether in the form of ratings or press releases, op-eds or quotes to the press -- have direct and, honestly, quite predictable effects. And he has not produced those statements in a responsible way, but rather denied responsibility for those predictable effects.

"The market could be reacting to the fact there is a slowdown in economic growth. It could be reacting to what's happening in Europe. It could be what's happening in the U.S. There are multiple factors that…contribute to how the market reacts."

Someone should fire him. The next person might be worse, but at least they'd be different.