06 July 2007

Taking GGP’s Pulse

Things have been rather quiet at the GGP news radar. Most has been quarterly reports and such. In the past, I posted blogs on GGP’s activities at the Natick Collection (and the associated Nouvelle at Natick condos), located in Natick, MA, and the GGP presentation at the mixed use hotel conference back in March 2007 (highlighting the success of the Woodlands Town Center).

In the last two weeks, things have started to pick up. Just today, reports from Salt Lake City show GGP’s intentions to (I guess) raze the Cottonwood Mall (1962 vintage) and develop a mixed use community on the 57 acres. In contrast to the work at Natick, I believe there is some good things happening at Cottonwood (and more importantly, good things that could be translated back here to Columbia). As reported by Mike Gorrell in the Salt Lake Tribune:

General Growth Properties hired the architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. to design the project, citing its urban planning experience in developing 300 new and existing communities in the United States and overseas. The architectural firm, which has offices in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C., has been working with authorities in Louisiana and Mississippi to help communities rebuild after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk said the mall is envisioned to be a community whose internal streets will feature retail at the ground level, and will be oriented to afford pedestrians striking views of Mount Olympus and Twin Peaks.

Retail space will be topped by commercial offices and some higher-density housing units in the center of the new development, with various types of housing - from a few single-family dwellings to town houses and condominiums - flanking existing neighborhoods to the east and south.

More green space around Big Cottonwood Creek will create a parklike atmosphere, she added.

"The creek can be much more than it has been," said Plater-Zyberk, characterizing the project as "retail areas of a past age being revitalized as part of the neighborhood that grew up around them."

Anyone following the planning world knows that Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co is one of the premier new urban planning firms. They are best known locally for their work at the Kentlands in Montgomery County.

Secondly, initial renderings shown on TV-station KSL’s website give the perception of a site in which the pedestrian has priority over the automobile.

As per usual, all in life is not perfect. GGP has no specifics to offer on the proposed project. Again from the Salt Lake Tribune:

General Growth Properties, Inc., the Chicago-based owner of the aging mall on the southeast corner of 4800 South and Highland Drive, on Thursday unveiled long-awaited - but still quite nebulous - plans for Cottonwood Mall that combine retail space, offices and residential units.
The envisioned cost of the project, for instance, was not disclosed. "A lot of money" was as far as Kris Longson, General Growth Properties vice president of development, was willing to go.

Nor did he say whether the new mall would have as much space dedicated to retail as the existing, 45-year-old mall - roughly 730,000 square feet of leasable space. "Retail [space] may be a little less," he offered.

And how much housing will there be? Longson was not certain about that either. "The residential count right now is 500 units," he said, but that could change as artists' renditions are turned into detailed architectural drawings and the company's plan goes through Holladay City's administrative process.

Randy Fitts, Holladay city manager, said General Growth Properties has not submitted any applications for the project, which Longson indicated could begin next year and apparently would involve the demolition of all of the existing mall, except perhaps the Macy's department store on the north end.

There is also no pledge for affordable housing or to incorporate local businesses into the retail scheme, but as an initial offering, its not a bad start at all. In my opinion, it does have the potential to become, at least for some Salt Lake City residents, a much sought after “third place.”

Columbia, Once Again the Prototype (Precursor, Progenitor)

In an interview with New Urban News, GGP vice-president Thomas D’Alesandro IV spoke about downtown Columbia (it has been a while, n’est pas?) I came across his comments via the Planetizen website link “A New Species of Mall Rat Evolving?”

Despite the (what some would think is a) disparaging link title, the actual article provides some insight into the soon to be released plans in downtown Columbia:

Thomas D’Alesandro IV, senior vice president of the Chicago-based company, told a session at CNU in Philadelphia that he foresees “the reinvention of existing malls into mixed-use centers.”

The firm has quietly had Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. work on a plan for redeveloping Utah’s first enclosed shopping mall — the Cottonwood Mall in Holladay, just south of Salt Lake City — into a mixed-use development. That project, whose design has not yet been made public, joins mixed-use redevelopment projects that the company is pursuing in Columbia, Maryland, Natick, Massachusetts, Rock Springs, Wyoming, and elsewhere.

GGP’s acquisitions, and an awareness of changing living patterns and widespread opposition to sprawl, have given the company a growing appreciation of mixed-use development. “We’re looking, going forward, at being a different company,” D’Alesandro told a CNU audience May 19.

D’Alesandro pointed out the significance of his own history and position. “I head development at General Growth,” he said, and “I have never built a mall.” What he has done over the years is orchestrate development of Virginia’s Reston Town Center during a formative period of that project and work as an executive at The Woodlands, a “new town” begun in the 1970s north of Dallas.


In Columbia, where zoning approvals for redevelopment are yet to be secured, “the big idea is to integrate the mall into a larger urban fabric, kind of like the 19th-century urban arcaded streets were in Europe,” D’Alesandro told New Urban News. “The tactics would include walkways and streets connecting the mall to Columbia Town Center’s lakefront district, which abut one another but have never been connected from a pedestrian point of view…. Other sides of the mall would have their own connections to streetscapes.” Parking lots would be replaced by structured parking. Residential, office, and retail space would be added. A hotel may be built, too. The Howard County government had Design Collective, a new urbanist firm in Baltimore, devise a 30-year plan through a public charrette process (Dec. 2005 New Urban News). GGP has since retained Cooper, Robertson & Partners, another new urbanist firm, to create a plan.

“I think Columbia presents an excellent opportunity to develop a protocol for mall conversion into mixed-use town centers that we will be able to study and extend to other properties across our portfolio,” D’Alesandro said. “My belief is that this is going to be a long-term trend extending over at least the next twenty years, so much so that people will become as familiar with a mall conversion protocol as they are with a prototypical new urbanist residential neighborhood…. It will start out slow as people learn the new ‘formulas’ and pick up speed once they have got them down.”


wordbones said...

Nice post Bill!
Thanks for the"investigative blogging."


Jessie Newburn said...

Ditto on wordbones' comment, Bill!

Tom said...

The vision starts to take shape . .
Good job!

Cherie Beck said...

Thanks Bill, for this information. Excellent, as usual, research into relevant topics of interest. I am encouraged by the vision and direction GGP seems to be pointing toward for redevelopment.

You and I have talked briefly about this and to restate it on your blog; we agreed that Columbia can be a prototype for new models of urban living across a number of domains, mall transitioning among them. As the opportunities and challenges we face as Howard County residence are typical of counties across the US.

New models are appealing, not because the existing models are bad, but because the people, the circumstances, the problems, the time and the rich capacity of all the resources found here are calling forth the next models to meet, respond and adapt to who is living here now. What an exciting time to be a part of what is happening in Columbia/Howard County!

Anonymous said...

"New models are appealing, not because the existing models are bad, but because the people, the circumstances, the problems, the time and the rich capacity of all the resources found here are calling forth the next models to meet, respond and adapt to who is living here now. What an exciting time to be a part of what is happening in Columbia/Howard County!"

Cherie, not to be a stickler, but Mr. Santos does object to people claiming to speak for "the people" (implying everyone), as evidenced by his recent posts decrying the Sun's lack of quantifying references and his older post objecting to similar wording in the Coalition's statement. A more accurate reference, therefore, would be "... but because some people,...."

As to "the rich capacity of all the resources found here" you cite, would you care to elaborate? Our transportation resources cannot handle the proposed increased density. Additional school capacity and land for it isn't included in this increased density proposal either to handle the increased population. Investigations are also now looking into if smart growth funding of upgrading sewage treatment plants is actually leading to an increased rate of development that, in turn, is actually introducing more sewage into the Chesapeake Bay. And Baltimore City is now saying they anticipate needing to stop relying solely on its fresh water reservoirs and have to pull water from the Susquehanna River (read Wikipedia's discussion of the Susquehanna's pollution from animal manure, human sewage, etc.) to accomodate regional growth. This area also has some of the highest ground level ozone levels in the country, ozone being harmful, more so to young developing lungs, seniors, and asthmatics. And our region's energy consumption requirements exceed our current capacity to generate electricity via means that do not contribute to this region's less-than-optimal air quality.

You say this is to respond and adapt to who is living here now, but the current population isn't the source of most of the population growth in the region. By far, this region's current population growth is due to migration here, not due to prolifiic native growth.

So, yes, there are circumstances that face us, but to say the people are calling for new models to adapt to who is living here now and to use the rich capacity of resources found here isn't an accurate summary.

From the quoted releases -

"I think Columbia presents an excellent opportunity to develop a protocol for mall conversion into mixed-use town centers that we will be able to study and extend to other properties across our portfolio." A Mall redo? Fine. A mixed-use Mall? Fine, too.

But an arcaded street is a street that is lined by shops. In other words, eliminating Town Center's nature-lined parkways and replacing them with city streets tentacling out from the Mall bearing nothing but sidewalks, city-style drips of a few trees and bushes here and there, and row after row of storefronts.

Are these "streetscapes" really little more than gobbling up the open space to squeeze in more leasing dollars per square foot, replacing Little Patuxent "Parkway" with a narrowed, slower road, replacing a pleasant smooth journey into and through Town Center with one having many more red light obstructions?

If the goal is to borrow European design elements to make the Mall and lakefront areas more pedestrian accessible, then I'd recommend simply adding some commerce-free natural pedestrian overpasses like the land bridge over I-70 in Florida. I believe some other villages in Columbia have pedestrian overpasses in even greater numbers than Town Center.

Cherie said...


While I am agreeable at an attempt to reply to you, I find myself annoyed by the fact you have opinions, yet will not stand behind them with an identity.

I first ask you why?

Second, letting going of my resistance, I choose to engage with you now by asking for confirmation on my understanding of your comments. My interpretation is that your basic objection to my comment post is around the idea of new models. And that new models are not being called for, rather you opine all that is necessary is make improvements to what already exists, but not alter the basic design of Columbia as it now exists.

Is that correct?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your considerate reply. My intent isn't to annoy. I posted anonymously because, simply, I wanted the discussion to be focused on the issues and not distracted by individual egos.

Regarding new models, my belief is that some parties are in favor of considerably changing the center of Columbia, but have not demonstrated a necessity to do so, adequate resource capacities to do so, nor the means by which to do so without negatively impacting Columbia's residents and environment in many ways.

Most of the calls for drastic changes seem centered on the notion of a "need" to make the center of Columbia more "vibrant", yet lack sufficient explanation of the "need" and give little discussion to the range of impacts resulting from this altered state of vibrancy. The proposals for intense development of Town Center also seem to have lopsided outcomes, resulting in extreme benefits for the developers, while unfairly externalizing many current and future costs that the general public will have to bear. I also see Columbia looked at as an isolated system when rationalizing the need for such large-scale changes within, when many of the causes and solutions lie beyond Columbia, be they local, regional, national, or global.

Columbia's economy is doing fine, as are the schools and the community's recreation, culture, and entertainment options. Without full justification of the need for new models, full explanation of the proposed drastic changes' many impacts, and a proposal that fully addresses those items, I see far more sense in fine tuning what Columbia is than in pursuing intense, dense, and large-scale changing of Columbia into something it isn't.

Cherie said...


Your reply is very interesting. Thank you for clarifying on both accounts.

I can infer from your position of posting anonymously a couple different scenarios, either of which I can see as valid. I will say for the record, I am also interested in serious discussions; the translations of ideas about the issues and do not have any interest in ad hominem attacks, personal affronts, or playing the blame game. Posting anonymously actually creates a richer environment for that kind of activity. There is minimum level of trust and respect that is foundational to a meaningful communication, and without it, we create more problems than we solve. Having said that, I am willing to go a couple of rounds with "Anonymous" in the interest of developing mutal trust and respect.

Fair enough?

Your perspective on change and growth I understand. In fact, I am not and advocate of dramatic downtown change, while at the same time, I am completely open to radical redesign. It seems we agree that the "need" for intense change has not be established, yet, nor has the "need" for just fine tuning. And that is exactly why I think new models are being called for; because we don't know what we need.

What is actually happening here, from a big picture point of view, from underneath the surface, from looking to see what is the change that wants to happen here? So far I have heard lots of opinions, lots of noise about it all, lots of good and bad ideas pulling in different directions, creating a log jam of opinion where little to no 'rightaction' (action that takes us toward a superordinate goal rather than adding to the log jam)" flows out of. The very fact that all these opinions exist demonstrates to me the need for new models. How do we design for a wide diversity of thinking, desires, activities- only some of which come to the surface to be reported, noticed or fought about?

Here is a major flip about the time we are living in: we simply must introduce the thinking that the same things that worked in the past will not continue to work in the future by virtue of the fact they worked. It's because Columbia is, in the words of Borat - "a great success", that the conditions have changed, the people are different, the expectations have altered, and new problems have arisen to be solved.

I am an advocate for new models that can handle the complexity of life in 2007; that have better explanatory powers; that help us make sense of the human condition; and that account for the global, national and organizations dynamics and their impact on local communities; and that have the maps to assist in navigating our local issues. New models that reflect the current reality...a reality built from the past, 'whole' information about the present, and offer a compelling vision of the future.

Anonymous said...

"It seems we agree that the "need" for intense change has not be established, yet, nor has the "need" for just fine tuning. And that is exactly why I think new models are being called for; because we don't know what we need."

While I find it hard to follow your logic that if we don't know what we need then we must need something new, are the new models you're proferring the proposals currently being publicized? Or are they an alternative to the recent proposals?

To me, it would make more sense that if we don't know what we need, we should then first put more effort into determining what we truly do and will need.

"the same things that worked in the past will not continue to work in the future by virtue of the fact they worked" is a very general statement. True in some cases, not in others. Yes, we do have some conditions now that did not exist before. Yet, many of the newly arisen problems have stemmed from growth. These new proposals seemingly nonsensically offer substantial additional growth as a cure to alleged, but still poorly defined problems brought about by previous growth and then further compound the problems by not accounting for many of the resulting serious additional impacts.

I will say I am less enamored of the term "new models" than the more general term "planning". I do believe Columbia's region fared much better as a result of Rouse's plan looking 40 years into the future than it would have under less forward-looking plans. To that end, we do have ten year County General Plans that provide guidance, but don't always result in adherence or desired goals being achieved. The longer the plan, it seems, the better the outcome. We can and should do better.

Any new models, if necessary, should include 'wholeness', but not just in information of the present. Acceptable future visions should include a concerted and complete understanding of the past, a thorough treatment of all present realities, and a whole vision for our stewardship of our home's future. Current proposals definitely cannot be described as having those attributes. Instead, current proposals take a nearsighted and incomplete view both back and forward and, counter to your assertions, do in many instances offer past solutions that aren't the best cures to future problems. The most prevalent clear sight the current proposals do provide is a roadmap for intense development.

As an example, I'll cite this region being inhabited by Native Americans for about 13,500 years prior to colonization. In just 1% of that time following thereafter, 1700 to about 1840, immigrants managed to deplete local timber, mostly via overconsumption to fuel local iron foundries. Having consumed all the timber, the foundries ran out of fuel and closed. The deforested land incurred considerable erosion, resulting in the Patapsco River no longer being navigable to Elkridge (which had been, for a period, Maryland's second busiest port after Annapolis). Obviously, the erosion also significantly polluted the Bay. Very very few trees dating back prior to this time are left in the County as a result. Very negative outcomes.

Similar overuse and overconsumption continues today. The Bay is a continuous example - some species nearly wiped out due to loss of habitat, overfishing, and pollution, a pittance of seagrasses left, and continuously increasing amounts of stormwater runoff and sewage being put into it. The Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna is holding huge amounts of silt and nearing its capacity to hold more, preventing it from protecting the Bay from ecosystem-destroying amounts of silt being deposited in it. Such devastation could even occur long before its capacity is reached, needing just the next hurricane to scour millions of tons of silt from behind the Dam into the Bay. The Potomac, too, has significant amounts of soil heading for the Bay, much of it from coal mining, blasting the tops of mountains and then pushing the debris off into streambeds.

Equivalent or worse environmental devastation is occurring landside, too, and efforts to slow forest and habitat loss regularly fall short of goals. Columbia's lakes and ponds needing to be dredged serve as an example of how we, too, not only need to improve our runoff and land practices, but also that we should proceed cautiously when considering adding a whole lot more nonpermeable surfaces (roofs, paved roads, etc.).

Don't the superordinate goals you mention demand accounting for all the things that will be be lost in pursuit of such radical redesigns?

We may be thinking about a 30-year vision, with some even rationalizing foregoing planning completely that far ahead, but we should really be thinking further, about ongoing sustainability.

Cherie said...


My apologies for the long delay in responding. Between cable outages and vacation, access to the internet has been limited.

I think we have a language gap and a scope gap between how we are thinking about this topic, and yet I see some alignment to focus on as well.

When I use the words new models, I am not making any reference to the development proposals currently in play. In fact, if you would clarify the proposals you refer to it would help me understand your comments more fully. The new models I speak about come from more complex thinking applied to solving these issues. The models are insights in to what motivates us, how we thinking, how we organize ourselves and make decisions, and ultimately what action gets to what ends.

Here is a list to consider I see is moving toward these "new models" written by my friend and mentor (but no family relation) Dr. Don Beck:

"One of the stated goals of the 1999 State of the World FORUM is to launch the search for the paradigm that can best handle the complexity of conditions that confront human life on this planet. Conceptual revelations take hold when the new paradigm explains more variables, accounts for more contingencies, and solves more problems than the one it will ultimately replace. But, how can any of us know when we have detected such an operating system or conceptual framework? It might help to consider just what this new arrangement must provide that the previous worldview models failed to accomplish. Consider this possible check-list:

Any new paradigm will need to be an open system rather than a closed state since conditions constantly change.
Any new paradigm must be consistent with current research into the deepest functions within the human brain.
Any new paradigm must subsume all previous paradigms as being legitimate for different times and circumstances.
Any new paradigm must be able to penetrate all areas of human life – biology, psychology, spirituality etc.
Any new paradigm must accommodate the full texture of human cultural differences as they evolve over time.
Any new paradigm must contain an effective mix of political and economic models calibrated to stages of emergence.
Any new paradigm should be able to anticipate different realities, future visions and contain its own sunset clause.
Any new paradigm must address multiple bottom-lines on issues regarding standards of living and the quality of life.
Any new paradigm should contain the DNA-like codes to reveal its assumptions in a clear, understandable manner.
Any new paradigm should be equally relevant to individuals, organizational groupings, and to society-at-large.

I think the issues confronting Columbia and Howard County are small enough in scale, yet large enough in impact that we can design new templates that can be applied across the county structure of the US as a nation, and in that, we might fare better in taking action that solves more of our global challenges. The "think globally, act locally" idea will become more prevalent as global forces bear down on our local lifestyles. I am (in conjunction with JessieNewburn ) working through a contextual frame of "Living Locally" as a beginning to gather, understand, connect and take action on the aspects that shape a future of our choice.

It's a processes, and it will not come without it's losses, challenges, failures and huge success and personal fulfillment. We are thinking now in terms of not only sustainability, but also resilience (including possible wild card events) and emergence. Expending energy, at this point, on a "plan" for the next 30 years seems quite naive to me. I'm interested in visionary leadership that can operate in these new models or paradigms and can inspire and organize the natural motivations of its citizenry.