New Urbanist Shopping Mall

On a trip last autumn through Massachusetts, I Googled/Binged my way through the internet looking for new urbanist communities to visit. The only one I found was Mashpee Common, on Cape Cod. So we entered the address into the GPS in case we were nearby.

Most new urbanist communities fit a similar template, of a quaint village town square and faux historic — or at least traditional architecture —  buildings outlining the shopping district. See previous stories here on Tradition, Fl; Garrison Village, On; Coburg, On;  and Celebration, Fl. These shopping “downtowns” tend to be small, as the new town around them has to grow over time to supply the shoppers. And, more importantly, we [generally] don’t shop anymore for groceries in six little specialty shops, and it is hard to fit a Loblaws Superstore into a traditional downtown (see Richmond Road …) due to its large footprint, and larger parking lot requirements. So the new urbanist towns tend to have a more-conventional, contemporary motorist-centric mall nearby. The most successful downtown in the above list is Celebration, Fl.

One of the features of new urbanist towns is their traditional architecture. But most of Cape Cod has strict development controls, regulating all housing and most commercial structures to the cape cod style and colour palette. When everything already looks historic or at least traditional, how different could Mashpee Common be?

It turns out to be totally opposite to what we expected. Due to the housing market collapse in 2008, the builder hasn’t built any housing at all, except for some apartments above the stores.

oct 2013 165


oct 2013 166

Living above the store should add some after-hours life. But like Sparks Street Mall here, there were so few homes relative to the amount of commercial space, it can’t make much difference. Note the above apartments are entered off the narrow alleyway, that opens onto a square and another street. That white house (above) is probably the same building as the red brick one, but with a different façade and nice 3D touch of the dormer cut into the building envelope. (There were also some offices — dentist, lawyer, accountant —  as shown in the picture below)

Mashpee Common is a large outdoor shopping centre carefully arranged to replicate a traditional downtown streetscape.

oct 2013 158

oct 2013 156


There were some broad, and some narrow, alleyways with commercial businesses on them too, so the result wasn’t too auto dominated.

oct 2013 159


Above: Architectural focus points gave some presence to particular points, and helped in creating mental maps of the area. There was a mix of chain stores and one-off local shops. Cape Cod is very touristy, but the mall didn’t feel like a tourist trap. It was more local-oriented than Sparks Street is.

oct 2013 154


I think the building above is to evoke either a roundhouse or a stables, converted to shops. The adjcent buildings had an industrial feel to them, converted to shops. There was also a traditional brick school-house style building on one of the side streets.

oct 2013 162


The street plan had a hierarchy, with taller buildings (3 stories) fronting a traditional main street with curbside parking. As one moved away from main street, the buildings and shops became smaller, gaps between the buildings a bit more common, and a more relaxed feel. This side street had a definite sea-side village look.

In addition to on-street parking, there were medium size parking clusters arranged around the periphery. These lots were in scale with the downtown feel. They may also be expansion space, or intended for higher density housing over parking structures (high rises are rare outside of metro- Boston itself, apartments tend to be in low rise structures).

The final result, the overall look and feel of the place, was quite “normal” to me, which makes it a success. Not perfect, but damn good. You can take traditional early twentieth century mainstreets and replicate them successfully in the suburbs if you do it well enough. I wonder how much new-urbanist housing would need to surround it to make a self-sufficient neighbourhood?

I wonder if many more people would like Barrhaven, or Riverside South, if there were some traditional street plans and a traditional-feeling main street?

Last fall I also visited Arnprior, and was very impressed by its main street and surrounding walkable neighbourhoods. A huge improvement over Carleton Place, I could picture traditionalists like myself living in ‘prior but not the latter. As for Ottawa’s suburbs, the occasional traditional block doesn’t make for walkable neighbourhood (there are too many too-big spaces to make walking nice or efficient, too much land given over to roads and setbacks, too many huge parking lots and drive through Timmy schools). A million garage doors doesn’t foster a community.

oct 2013 152


If you want to check out Mashpee Common a bit more, try!q=Mashpee+Commons%2C+Market+Street%2C+Mashpee%2C+MA&data=!1m4!1m3!1d3402!2d-70. and browse through the streets via streetview. Alas, only the main streets in Mashpee Common work on streetview, so you won’t be able to virtually tour the alleyways and fun corners that make a place into a place.


2 thoughts on “New Urbanist Shopping Mall

  1. Let’s not romanticize living above restaurants too much. For nearly 10 years I lived above the Milano’s pizzeria on the corner of Bank & Florence, and it was nice, but my window was right next to the vent for the Ging Sing Chinese restaurant, and the noise and smells would keep me awake a lot of nights. My friend still lives above the diner between Florence and Gladstone, and the old buildings are not well sound proofed, and the noise from the restaurants tends to wake him up

Comments are closed.