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Faux Town Centers
Photo: Craig Toocheck
The breeze ruffled the graceful grasses and lavender plants while insects sang. We sat on a park bench enjoying the full moon and the movement of people strolling by.

Across from our seat was a restaurant with an extensive outdoor dining area. In the center of the square a patio-like area contained a number of little holes through which jets of water spurted in random sequences. Lit from below with colored lights, the dancing jets attracted children who joyously hopped and laughed as they played tag with the water. We weren’t the only ones who smiled as we watched the children play.

We were in Easton Town Center, minutes away from the Columbus, Ohio, international airport. Yet the setting seemed like a small town, until one looks beyond the square and walks down the side streets. Barnes and Noble, Cheesecake Factory—to name just one of the restaurants large and small, Pottery Barn, Abercrombie and Fitch, Bombay, and so forth. It seems as though a mall has been expanded and designed as an open air market.

The attention to detail includes electronic signs that track the amount of available parking spaces in parking areas. There are always at least two parking area signs together to give the shopper or diner a choice. When a lot is full, one does not waste time cruising around looking for parking.

Hotels are placed around the outer perimeter, though one has to look closely for the hotel names since they are designed to look more residential than commercial cookie cutter-like.

Town Center Shopping Areas

We were experiencing a trend. Enclosed malls are passé, despite the convenience of climate-control no matter the sloppy weather or frigid/broiling temperatures outside. A number of “town center” shopping areas have popped up around the country. More than 50 more are under development.

One media report described this trend as “faux town centers.” As we relaxed on the park bench and watched the children playing in the fountain, my husband and I talked about the synergy that we were observing. People laughed, chatted, and strolled. In one way, this was a clever marketing scheme that mingled upper scale stores with some interactive elements.

On the other hand, what were old town centers but gathering places where local merchants set up shops to present wares that residents needed. Which came first, the settlers or the merchants? Town squares presented space for open-air concerts and other gatherings. People who lived on farms looked forward to trips to town, both for social interaction and the opportunity to shop.

Look around your community. Where do people gather? How does development take place? Is random development more natural than highly planned “town centers”?

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Norma Sahlin. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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