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July 8, 2020  

The U.S. Has An Affordable Housing Problem. Are Dead Shopping Malls the Solution?

July 8, 2020

You’ve probably seen them: photos of malls that seemed to be thriving just a few years ago but which now stand lifeless — along with their many acres of parking — except for the odd tree growing up where a sunglasses kiosk used to be. These are the fossils of the “retail apocalypse,” the long trend (now accelerated by COVID-19) that has seen the shuttering of thousands of brick-and-mortar retail stores over the last 20 years.

Cities, planners, architects, developers, and residents alike have wondered what can be done, if anything, with America’s growing stock of abandoned malls. One idea gaining traction — including offers of federal assistance — is to retrofit dying mall sites into something new: apartments. Each week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, takes a news story that touches the Strong Towns conversations and she “upzones” it, examining it in light of the Strong Towns approach to growing stronger and more financially resilient cities. This week, Abby and her regular cohost, Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn, look at a recent article by Patrick Sisson in Bloomberg CityLab, entitled "The Dying Mall’s New Lease on Life: Apartments.”

Together, Abby and Chuck discuss plans by the Trump administration to help convert old malls into affordable housing. Is this a good use of federal stimulus funds? They talk about the problems with top-down approaches to affordable housing, the “psychology of previous investment” (a phrase coined by our friend James Howard Kunstler), and why the U.S. keeps pumping money into “Big.” They also look at an example of someone who is trying to redevelop an old mall site from the bottom-up, but then ask: Can that approach scale?

Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about becoming a surprise boat owner. And Abby recommends Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhoodthe new book by Colin Woodard.

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