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Magazine articles look at retail in walkable communities

The Atlantic, Washingtonian stories examine rise of walkable retail as malls, big-box stores decline

NEW YORK — Are big-box stores and shopping malls in the suburbs giving way to walkable retail? According to a couple of recent magazine articles, that appears to be the trend.

A story in last month's issue of Washingtonian magazine, "The Best of Washington: 62 Reasons to Love Our City," proclaims that "Anti-malls are the new malls" in the 38th place, touting the rise of walkable shopping areas in the suburbs to replace the "80s supermall." Following up on that story, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's sustainable communities program and George Washington University law professor Kaid Benfield wrote in The Atlantic, "Even the suburbs are figuring out that walkable retail, not enclosed malls surrounded by parking lots, is the way to go in the twenty-first century."

A variety of macroeconomic trends are behind the change, as well as changes in urban development, with a growing emphasis on models that stress density, walkability and access to public transit instead of dependence on automobiles. Benfield cites the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md., once a car-dependent suburb that now "feels both urban and urbane, yet still human-scaled. It's a great place to be."

The trend should be familiar to drug stores, supermarkets and mass merchandisers. Walgreens has picked densely populated urban areas for its upscale Well Experience-format stores, while Target has scaled down for its CityTarget locations in such places as Chicago and Seattle, and Walmart has been building more small-format stores.

In an interview for the article "Drug Store 2019," in the July issue of DSN, Seattle-based futurist Glen Hiemstra highlighted the rise of walkable communities and the role it's playing in more and more retailers emphasizing such items as fresh, convenient foods.

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