Community Context and Strip Mall Retail: Public Response to Roadside Landscapes

By Kathleen Wolf
Seattle, WA (January 13, 2008)- Kathy Wolf’s latest research about how trees support the success of retail districts focuses on shopping plazas and mini-malls. A ubiquitous land use across the country, thousands of small shopping plazas are reaching the end of their lifespan and present a prime opportunity for redevelopment. As these shopping areas are redeveloped, the University of Washington researcher offers a convincing argument for additional investment in landscaping. Similar to patterns found among main street retailers, Wolf found that consumers are willing to pay 8.8% more for good and services in well landscaped malls.

Strip malls (aka mini-malls) are a common land use, historically promoted by U.S. zoning practices that concentrate retail and commercial development in a narrow band along urban arterials and major streets. Mini-malls are an entry-level retail niche offering opportunity for independent, start-up businesses that serve a limited market range. More recently, communities have begun to call into the question land uses that enable efficient ingress and egress of vehicles in retail and commercial districts, but gave little attention to multi-modal mobility. Some communities are redeveloping small mall zones based on “complete street” principles, expanding landscape plantings, and redeveloping the character of a business district.
The study assessed public response to one element of small mall (re)development- landscape and vegetation options. A series of prior studies indicate that consumer behavior is positively associated with city trees (the urban forest) on multiple cognitive and behavioral dimensions.
Using mail surveys that depicted varied roadside treatments, residents of three major cities in the Pacific Northwest were asked to indicate their preferences and perceptions regarding proposed changes. Survey stimulus materials addressed concepts of visual quality, retail perceptions, patronage behavior, wayfinding, and willingness-to-pay for goods and services.
Combined econometrics and psychometrics indicated that respondents prefer landscaped roadsides, and report positive retail behavior, such as willingness to pay 8.8% more for goods and services in well landscaped malls. Redevelopment and roadside management guidelines are proposed based on the research results, with implications for the economics of local communities.
Related Resources:
Community Context and Strip Mall Retail: Public Response to the Roadside Landscape
Research on Human Dimensions of Urban Greening