I read recently read that Sears was filing for bankruptcy and it made me think that the company waited too long to liquidate their real estate. Online retailing has decimated many brick and mortar businesses as, simultaneously, companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple have started to open or acquire brick and mortar operations.
The post WWII phenomenon of shopping malls, most prevalent in the suburbs of the U.S., creates an opportunity to provide affordable and workforce housing in well located properties if conceived of properly, that is, as a public private partnership with municipalities that desire such housing and are willing to commit public dollars to attract private capital to the ventures. The problem with affordable/workforce housing is that it is not profitable to construct such housing, in general, so certain public incentives have to be proffered. Providing housing for lower and middle income employees has always been problematic and during the beginning of the industrial revolution resulted in often squalid conditions for rank and file workers in areas known euphemistically as “company towns.”
Back in the period from 2005-2008, I worked on dozens of “dead” class B and C malls in secondary and tertiary locations throughout America that were prime for redevelopment. At that time, through an entity called Symphony Property Group, my associates and I were looking to develop “urban villages” where workforce housing was an important component in the program mix. The problem with affordable housing, and to a somewhat lesser extent, workforce housing, is their construction is not as profitable as high end condominium development so most substantial sponsors shy away from such projects especially in non-primary MSAs. With the increasing devastation from natural weather events like wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other choice natural weapons of mass destruction, nature has made many areas like large swaths of Florida, the Carolinas and Louisiana virtually uninhabitable for right thinking humans from a sustainable and resiliency perspective.
In the past decade or so, these so called dead shopping malls have often been repurposed into power centers with solely big box retailers, rather than the mix of specialty retailers alongside the big box retailers like Sears. What I am proposing is to take these predominantly 40 to 60 acre sites and repurpose them into true urban villages with very little or no big box retailers and use the land more for community development that lets individuals be in close proximity to the work, school, healthcare and entertainment environments they require for a high quality existence. This design would be more along the lines of medieval European villages but including shared mobility and housing concepts that have been developed over the past twenty years or so to create interesting communities that are fun to live in and have a strong community component.
As Joaquin Matias and I said in the book, A Call to Action: How to Save Millions of Lives, we believe, along with Klaus Jacob, that planned relocation communications (Plan R) make a lot more sense than having the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rebuild areas to only existing zoning and construction codes; there is a new normal that mandates a different approach that allows communities to be more self-sufficient and self-reliant. Also, the conceptual design of these communities could encompass a handling of the refugee situation. The population in the U.S. is rapidly aging and we need younger people to manage the demographic shift in the U.S. There are so many people around the planet that have their basic needs unmet and the U.S. is full of vast tracts of land that are totally undeveloped, especially in the western section of the country. Water management is key to developing these areas and the recent death of Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, is unfortunate given the many thousands of acres he purchased throughout the western U.S.; these land parcels could be great catalysts to managing population and human capital needs for the U.S. for generations to come. Perhaps his executors will realize the value of the holdings from more than just a financial perspective.
It makes me think that the MeToo movement is much preferred to the Trump Agenda that I am terming Me, Me, Me; having a narcissist in the White House is highly inappropriate and the Trump base does not realize that they are being played and they will realize too late that they have will have nothing to show for their allegiance. As I have advocated in previous blog posts, it is time to move toward matriarchy rather than male dominated societies; we have had enough bravado from people like Brett Kavanagh to make the general populace nauseous. The conservative notion that white men are being discriminated against is truly fake news. Even the term fake news is fake like the Emperor who has no clothes.
Along with former President Obama and other political thinkers, I believe the electoral college is obsolete and that one vote, one person is more realistic in today’s computer and data driven world; we need majority voting not arcane representation like the Senate/House of Representatives situation we currently employ.
The need to start building truly self-sustaining and highly resilient communities is paramount, in my opinion, to all efforts and requires the impact investment community to realize that smart city growth is not really the answer but rather community based self-sustaining development that recognizes both the power of the individual and the need for community, simultaneously. As Robert Fripp of King Crimson termed himself thirty plus years ago — a highly intelligent mobile unit (when he was touring with just his guitar, a small amplifier and pedal effects) — is preferable to a monolithic lumbering city.
The problem is that the majority of people cannot achieve becoming a highly intelligent mobile unit; most people need community and community services to survive. The balance between self-sufficiency and community is delicate and must be achieved through thoughtful concept design, planning, and eventually construction. My writings about the future lead me to believe that our children and their children will have a very difficult time achieving emotional, financial and a high quality of life success without forethought that leads to the ability to manage widespread natural disasters in a human fashion. Humanity, in my opinion, means three things — friendliness, compassion and happiness. Rather than relying on special interest groups, politicians should be required to be responsive to the silent majority that former President Nixon so eloquently referred to. If we got rid of the current advertising based system of politics it would go a long way to leveling the playing field between the haves and the have nots.
The paradigm of Plan Relocation communities can be as diverse as re-adaptation of existing places like dead shopping malls or construction of brand new communities on vast land tracts located throughout the western section of the U.S. The main parameters required are: 1) an elevation of ideally 300 feet or higher above sea level, 2) ability to self produce and maintain clean water, air, food and energy and 3) creating a true democracy based upon the freedom of individual rights (including the right to worship for ALL religion practitioners), representative government based upon the needs of the majority and not just special interest groups and a safety net for underprivileged people. I believe these are the tenets that truly will Make America Great Again and not some isolationist Trumpian delusion. We have to stop worrying about profit and focus on survival.
In time for the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, my next blog post will focus on my continued reading of Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 masterpiece Democracy in America.