Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A mall ripe for a retrofit

The baby and I just got back from a trip to Durham's venerable ol' Northgate Mall, a rusting tribute to the fading allure of suburban ammenities in an environment that could support an urban lifestyle. Northgate Mall, home of businesses with names I love like Mantrap Salon and the SmellGood Cafe, is basically falling apart. Vacant store spaces abound. It's particularly sad because the location is smack dab in the middle of very vibrant neighborhoods, Northgate Park, Duke Park, Walltown, Trinity Park, Colonial Village, and Watts-Hillandale.
So, what should we do with a dying mall on what should be prime real estate? If we're an uncreative and backwards looking town, we should just go open up a new, single-use mall in another location with a more contemporary look. Oh, wait! We did that already. Okay, well let's be creative and open a new, mixed-use development on environmentally sensitive land and let this old mall rot and bring down the surrounding neighborhoods!
Or....we could put a school in Northgate Mall.
Yup, classrooms sprinkled around the Mantraps and Smellgood Cafes. A food court instead of a cafeteria. Kids could learn math by closing the registers at Macy's at the end of the day. A Newt Gingrich-inspired practical education!
Just kidding!
But seriously, a school in Northgate Mall is a great idea. Retrofit a part of the mall to be a seperate school. There is so much asphalt, just turn some of it into outdoor space for the students. Parents and students from Central Durham can walk and bike there on existing roads and sidewalks. No need to clear land or do the insanely expensive work of brining in utilities. The businesses in Northgate Mall would benefit tremendously from having a real community anchor. Northgate Mall could treat the school as an anchor tenant and give them a very favorable deal on the lease. The community would benefit by having a centrally located, mixed-use development. Heck, for good measure put in a grocery store and you'd have yourself one heck of a functional place. The mall is right across from the Walltown Community center, so there is a community gym right there. It is a good urban planning and public health dream waiting to happen!
So does Durham need a new school? If you live near me, or if you have had the (uhhh...) distinct pleasure of being subjected to my ranting in the past few months, you know that central Durham is having a terrible problem with school locations. There are three elementary schools less than a mile away from my house, but we can't get into any of them because they are competitive lottery schools. So, yes, Durham seriously needs to look at where they are putting schools.

reduce, reuse, recycle, RETROFIT.

Read my previous blog post for more about suburban retrofitting. Be sure to watch the TED talk video there, too!

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