Salvaging the subject of strip mall soulfulness for a second study, I present a regional shopping center of no great distinction. Much like the suburban structures of the previous article, Eagleridge Shopping Center is unusually coy about its name; the massive sign facing Interstate 25 forces the title to the absolute bottom. Most people probably only know it to be “Eagleridge” because that’s also the name of a road nearby. Far more important are the nationally recognized tenants themselves. Eagleridge sits in the northern outskirts of Pueblo, Colorado—by most observations the more affluent side of town—and it features some of the usual suspects, in terms of the big-name category killers: Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Petsmart, Home Depot, T.J. Maxx, Ross, and some smaller food-oriented chains, such as Ruby Tuesday, Cold Stone Creamery, Burger King. It is completely indistinct from hundreds of other shopping centers scattered throughout the country, except for one small amenity that sets it apart.
If the title of this article didn’t already give it away, does this awkward photo make it obvious? On one side of this sidewalk are the entrances to the stores themselves; on the other side are the hoods to a row of cars. And that is strange—subtly strange. Essentially these vehicles can park right up against the structure; the access lane separates this row of parking spaces from the rest of Eagleridge’s massive lot.
Many years ago, before I had even fully considered a profession that prompted me to look closely at urban development, we drove past a strip mall in the suburbs of Chicago that had a nightclub in it. Boogie Nights, I think it was. If the concept of a strip mall with a nightclub wasn’t hilarious enough, Boogie Nights also had a sign that it offered valet parking. Yes, you could drive to the front of the parking lot and pay someone to take your car two hundred feet to a space that you just as easily could have walked. I’m pretty confident that, typical of most nightclubs, Boogie Nights was not long for this world. Why would people would need valet parking for a destination whose surfeit of easily available spaces renders a valet unnecessary? Clearly in the case of this or any strip mall night club, it enables two major types of signaling: the status of the person handing keys over to the valet, and vibrancy of a sought-after, bustling urban space, which is, of course, typical location for most successful night clubs.
Eagleridge vaguely appropriates these concepts.
Call it vanity parking if you want, it’s a configuration far rarer than one might expect, considering how unremarkable of an effort it is. Usually that access lane abuts the sidewalk, which, thanks to its curb cut, serves as a pedestrian refuge from cars traversing the parking lot. But not at Eagleridge. At the very least, this arrangement endows the handicapped and disabled spaces with an added advantage; while these are usually simply the closest spaces in the elongated row in the lot, on the other side of the access lane, this time they are right there, just a few feet from the entrance to Barnes and Noble. But not all these spaces receive the blue-striped delegation; the management at Eagleridge provided the legally required number of handicapped spaces, and the remainder go to whoever wants them. This shopping center indulges American laziness and unwillingness to walk to an unsurpassed degree.
I can’t help but ask: why haven’t other commercial developers tried this same approach? While this isn’t the sole example, it’s certainly rare, and it’s not a particularly bold or expensive effort per se. My concern is that it might create an impression of compromised safety. The fact that the cars make a 90-degree turn into the spaces prevents this configuration from replicating the standard urban parallel parking.
Perhaps the engineers who designed the parking lot stripes decided parallel parking was too tricky for the resolutely suburban target clientele; after all, parallel parking is rarely necessary in an auto-oriented setting. The focus is convenience. But the fact that these spaces are head-on also prompts the discomfiting situation where the front bumper of a car pulling in can get uncommonly close to pedestrians on that sidewalk. And if a motorist loses control, he or she could easily plow right over that curb cut, onto the sidewalk where the pedestrians are, and then right through storefront glass.
Thankfully the parking wheel stop blocks, like the blue one near the truck’s front wheels in the photo above, prevent this mishap. And besides, most developers don’t exactly engineer their parking lots for a freak situation; no one can perfectly design a road or parking lot to completely safeguard the rare instance where a motorist completely loses control of the car. But the design at Eagleridge at least offers a subtly innovative way of conferring more value onto certain “prestige” parking spaces. Although the property manager may not be able to monetize these rockstar spaces—for all the rockstars who go to Petsmart—they at least help distinguish this shopping center from its similar competitors on the north side of Pueblo. Or those in Colorado Springs just forty miles up the road. And, given the continued implosion of retail and the category-killer chains that lease space at these power centers, it may be wise for Eagleridge to set itself up for a future where, to keep its vacancy rates down, it reorients the buildings into a higher density, mixed-use town center. Why not start with the parking stripes?