Tuesday, September 3, 2013

First look at Highstreet Lifestyle Centre in Abbotsford

If Main Street, U.S.A. and a power centre had a baby, they would produce an urban lifestyle centre. Urban lifestyle centres are the latest trend in shopping mall design that tries to recreate a town centre complete with main street. Urban lifestyle centres are a response to the increasing demand of consumer who are rediscovering the pleasure of shopping in downtowns and along main streets, and urban living in general.

Highstreet in Abbotsford is an urban lifestyle centre that I wrote a post about when it was first proposed in 2010. Now that Highstreet is partially open, I decided to stop by the mall, look around, and take some pictures.

Now for an auto-oriented shopping centre, Highstreet gets some things right. Because most of the parking is enclosed and the majority of the mall is built on top of the parking, Highstreet uses around 50% less land than a traditional power centre. This means that the site is less sprawled. The developers of Highstreet, Shape Properties, are also working toward LEED certification which is good news. Other than that though, Highstreet is no better at creating an accessible or sustainable community than any other auto-oriented shopping mall.

Even though Highstreet has a faux-main street complete with a “public square” and playground, it is missing one of the key ingredients of a real accessible town centre, housing options. In fact, as the pictures show, Highstreet completely turns its back towards the street and Abbotsford. This makes sense as Abbotsford decided that 600,000 square feet of retail should be surrounded by nothing more than single-family housing.

While the Highstreet website using words like pedestrian-friendly, it is only pedestrian-friendly if you happen to drive to Highstreet. Is that really pedestrian-friendly at all? The mall’s main entrance is a roundabout exit off the Mt. Lehman interchange at Highway 1. You can complete avoid going into Abbotsford by shopping at Highstreet!

I actually have no problem with large-format retail or even lifestyle centres in general. There are plenty of good examples of both these forms of retail that integrate into communities, and are surrounded or include a mix of housing types. The mixing of housing and retail is what builds actual accessible and pedestrian-friendly communities.

Highstreet could have been such a place if the City of Abbotsford allowed higher-density housing around the lifestyle centre, Highstreet had a residential component, and the mall didn’t turn its back to the street. Unfortunately, Highstreet is just a twist on your typical power centre that draw people away from accessible town centres to auto-oriented shopping at the edge of town.

No comments: