If you really love the mall, now you can live there!
March 11, 2013 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Shopping mall reused as micro-apartments.

With the economy in a downturn, an increasing number of shopping malls around the country lie empty. One of the nations oldest, The Arcade Providence, is being converted into micro-apartments and retail. The tiny apartments average 400 sq ft, but residents can just walk outside to get to restaurants and stores.
posted by Joh (87 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's one in Charlotte that they're converting to a movie studio. Paul Blart II here we come!!!
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:27 AM on March 11, 2013


They're not there to shop. They're not there to work. They're just there.
posted by logicpunk at 10:30 AM on March 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


Dreamworks Interactive used to have their offices inside an converted mall here in LA. I love architectural re-use, I think that working around the unexpected makes for a more interesting and pleasant environment than something specifically designed, which is usually uniform, efficient, and dull rectangles.
posted by Joh at 10:32 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Those are kind of great, though no stove seems like too big of a sacrifice, even when I was in my early 20s and rarely cooked.

I've been thinking the next big thing in architecture has to be someone that figures out how to repurpose big-box stores and malls left vacant by the overgrowth of the 2005 easy credit boom. Whoever figures out how to turn a 200,000 sq ft former PetSmart into a nice livable apartment complex that people would want to live in will be a gazillionaire.
posted by mathowie at 10:33 AM on March 11, 2013 [19 favorites]


Here in DC, a former roller rink is being converted into apartments that won't have windows, and I somehow still won't be able to afford.

(Also, 500 sq ft seems more in the range of the size of a normal studio apartment, while $500/mo for a 250 sq ft unit seems pretty expensive for Providence. These micro-lofts are a shitty compromise, and a really poor value.)
posted by schmod at 10:34 AM on March 11, 2013


I stopped reading at "make due".
posted by ooga_booga at 10:38 AM on March 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


So, I do think this is an interesting idea to reconfigure empty spaces. However, if these apartments aren't going to have a stove, (which is a total dealbreaker to me), why do they have a giant fridge and a dishwasher?
posted by florencetnoa at 10:40 AM on March 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Interesting. There's hardly any rental housing in downtown Milwaukee and there's a barely-used mall. It would be awesome to have a 24 hour flow of people; right now the downtown streets are fairly dead, especially during the week. I can see some of these being rented by businesspeople from Chicago; I work with a guy who stays up here four nights a week and goes home to Chicago on the weekends. It would also be a prime location for our many parades and festivals. If I were single and I worked downtown, I would absolutely live in the mall.
posted by desjardins at 10:41 AM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I stopped reading at "make due".

Excellent. That mistake certainly invalidated the information contained in that piece. So good move there.

On another more serious note, this is exactly how architectural landmarks that have no present-day use should be re-used, as closely in line with the original vision of the architects as possible. This type of reuse will save many apparently obsolete but architecturally significant structures from the wrecking ball. It's too bad we can't save them all.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:43 AM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would think the main difficulties would be lack of windows and then re-routing plumbing. Most of the malls I've been in have dedicated restroom areas and I wouldn't expect plumbing in most of the stores. I'm not quite sure how this would be liveable.
posted by jillithd at 10:43 AM on March 11, 2013


I hope those shower stalls are bigger and better put together than they look. I lived in a similar-sized apartment for a while and if you bent over in the shower at all, your butt or your head would knock the door open and get water everywhere.

There's something very American about our big suburban shopping centers with a faux-urban aesthetic being converted into even more of an approximation of an urban space but without all the messiness that implies.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:43 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


...no stove seems like too big of a sacrifice, even when I was in my early 20s and rarely cooked.

Dude, the food court is right there.

...a 200,000 sq ft former PetSmart into a nice livable apartment complex...

"What do you mean no dogs!?"

I've always thought all these half empty malls were such a waste, but for whatever reason the management companies often don't seem too interested in any new ideas (or even business sometimes).
posted by ODiV at 10:45 AM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really wish big box stores were required to set aside funds to knock their shitty concrete boxes down when they were done with them.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:46 AM on March 11, 2013 [32 favorites]


Location, as well as being historically and architecturally interesting are what make this work, I think. As others have noted, more modern iterations of the mall (or big box stores) won't seem very adaptable to this use - they're large, square, industrial looking, with few windows and frankly poor air circulation systems, and are usually situated in the suburbs.
posted by LN at 10:47 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


mathowie: "I've been thinking the next big thing in architecture has to be someone that figures out how to repurpose big-box stores and malls left vacant by the overgrowth of the 2005 easy credit boom."

I don't think we built many enclosed malls during the 2005 boom?

Part of the big problem with suburban/big-box development is that it's pretty difficult for anything to be reused for something other than its original purpose, without being more expensive than tearing the thing down and starting from scratch. Suburban houses also can't really be easily upconverted to commercial or office space.

Really, a lot of Post-WWII architecture has extremely limited potential for reuse, especially when you consider the urban planning that accompanied much of that architecture. Buildings that were constructed in a more traditional "urban" format have a lot more potential.

The parts of a Big Box store that you'd be able to keep (walls, roof) are arguably some of the cheapest parts of the whole structure. Even at that, you'd still need to make heavy modifications to the walls to add windows, and probably the roof as well. All of the electrical, HVAC, plumbing, glazing, interior spaces, etc would also need to be redone, as the requirements for residential spaces are much different. Also, don't forget about structural elements to support additional floors inside the building.

Pretty much the best bet would be to tear the whole thing down, reuse the foundation, some of the steel, maybe the facade, and then hope that the residents don't want a basement or walkable access to anything.

I love the idea of adaptive reuse, but the execution is always so far inferior to the concept when it comes to malls, big box stores, and many newer buildings in suburban settings. There are too many "gotchas" that circumvent the problems that the idea is trying to solve. It's nowhere near cheap enough to counteract the downsides, and it usually ends up being cheaper to just build something new from scratch.

If you somehow did manage to economically refit a Big Box space into residences, there'd still be a very high risk of turning the place into a version of Pruitt-Igoe, without the benefit of having structures that were designed to be used as housing. The potential for a rapid downhill slide into becoming a very scary and dangerous slum seems like it would be incredibly high.

Half-empty malls are indeed enormous indoor spaces. However, at the end of the day, they're little more than huge walls and a roof. You need a whole lot more than that to support a habitable space. This sort of thinking seems to echo "Hey. The Superdome is pretty big. Let's put all the people in there."
posted by schmod at 10:51 AM on March 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


They're recreating the mixed-use patterns that the mall (and mall-culture, and car-centric design, etc.) destroyed.

Interesting. One of the difficulties in re-using large box stores or malls is that they were generally created as standalone objects, reliant on car transportation to bring people in. Any re-use or repurposing seemed like it had to feed into the original idea - people drive to this place, then drive away.

But creating new mixed-use arrangements inside the shell of an existing single-use structure seems like it could work - if you can get over living in the mall. Include some recreation spaces, and people can live, work and play in the same building!

Perhaps we'll call it a Hive.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:55 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


9 Dead Malls That Thrive In The Afterlife
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:00 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think we built many enclosed malls during the 2005 boom?

Yeah, I don't mean malls, I mean standalone (but very huge, on the order of a size of a Costco) big box stores that you see lining the boulevards of many cities that were overbuilt on cheap credit for a city that can't support such a monstrosity.

I went to Colorado Springs a couple years ago and I remember that city was often used as an example in early 2000s essays about the threat of urban sprawl, and seeing it in 2011, it was illuminating how the whole town was spread over dozens of miles of land and how big every single store was as a result. Even things like a pharmacy store like Rite Aid was in a building that could hold 2-3 grocery stores in the town where I live. In 2011 when I was there, half of them had FOR LEASE signs on them and I instantly thought that this canary-in-the-coal-mine town for sprawl was also one for the impending economy bubble pop and we really need to figure out how to make giant warehouse sized spaces into something more useful for a lot of people or we're going to end up with a really depressing downton in every city in the US.
posted by mathowie at 11:02 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This made me curious about my old mall in South Jersey. It was pretty run down when I was a teenager right around 2000, and a couple years ago I heard they were floating the idea of converting the mall into new campus space for the community college.

They're recreating the mixed-use patterns that the mall (and mall-culture, and car-centric design, etc.) destroyed.

Exactly what they did in my hometown, it seems, down to moving municipal offices to the redeveloped site. These "town center" things always bother me a little bit, though, and I can't quite put my finger on why. I think part of it is that it feels like a cargo cult development to me - it resembles a real town in only the most superficial ways, I guess, and while the "Main Street" aspect is promoted very heavily the community supporting it doesn't exist.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:03 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'll stop threadsitting, but I should add one final note: The Arcade Providence is not the sort of building that most of us would call a "Shopping Mall."

It was built in 1928, faces and interacts directly with Providence's street grid, has interesting architectural elements and many exterior windows, and was not built to accommodate shoppers traveling by car.

By that same measure, SF's Ferry Building, DC's Eastern Market, Boston's Quincy Market, or London's Borough Market are all "Malls." The Arcade Providence is an old-school indoor marketplace, very few of which still remain in the US (although they're definitely making a very big comeback right now).

It's a very different structure, and has a lot more redeeming value for preservation and reuse than a post-WWII shopping center would, not least of all because it's in the middle of a busy city.*

[*Providence still has way too much surface parking, but that's a topic for another day. Coincidentally, I would also use this as an argument to leave Michigan Central Station, to rot. It's a gorgeous structure, but the thing's in the middle of bloody nowhere. Even out of the context of Detroit's overall decline, it's not at all surprising that the building could never find a tenant.]
posted by schmod at 11:03 AM on March 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


while $500/mo for a 250 sq ft unit seems pretty expensive for Providence.

$500/month if you don't need to park:

Q: Is there parking available at the Arcade for residents?
A: Parking is available to Arcade Providence residents at the Arcade Garage of $250/mo.

The top-tier monthly parking pass in downtown Santa Monica (where parking is virtually non-existent) is under $200/month. What are they going to do with all the parking spaces?

Perhaps we'll call it a Hive.

They don't allow bees in here:

"Unfortunately, no pets of any kind will be permitted to live in the Arcade Providence. No dogs, cats, fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects or any living pets are allowed in the building."

I'm all for mixed-use and live/work spaces, but this seems a strange way to do it.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:06 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh man, I just checked out the website and the only landmarks listed on the map on the "Directions" page are two other malls.

New Jersey, man.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:09 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


backseatpilot: "These "town center" things always bother me a little bit, though, and I can't quite put my finger on why. I think part of it is that it feels like a cargo cult development to me - it resembles a real town in only the most superficial ways, I guess, and while the "Main Street" aspect is promoted very heavily the community supporting it doesn't exist."

You're not wrong, and many of these developments are far, far too superficial (and car-dependent, so really not meaningfully different from the suburban sprawl that they claim to be replacing). However, don't forget that many "old fashioned" downtowns and planned communities were constructed in the exact same way.

It's funny to look at old newspapers, and see the exact same development panic that surrounds new developments today. However, the articles in those old papers are complaining about some of the city's most beloved neighborhoods today. (Bay windows and planned blocks of Greek-Revival rowhouses were apparently a scourge that were going to destroy DC in the 1890s.)

My personal mantra is that a "good building" or development is one that's built to maximize the amount of natural light, and minimize/eliminate the amount of driving that its tenants/residents need to do. With these two requirements in mind, the rest of the elements that make for a good community more or less fall into place.
posted by schmod at 11:10 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I lived about 3 blocks away (on the same street!) when I lived in PVD - the no stove is rough, but there's no lack of food. There's even a 24/hr small grocery a two minute walk from there that has excellent salads and a full deli.

I can't think about this too long as I miss the hell out of the PVD and the food is better than it has any right to be. I got by without cooking very much - this is definitely a neighborhood where you can eat well (and fairly cheaply) without cooking.
posted by sonika at 11:10 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


schmod's comment clarifies the parking situation a bit, but it still seems out of whack to me. It's more than half the cost of the apartment itself.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:10 AM on March 11, 2013


Also, yeah, you would never look at this building and think "mall." It looks more like a library or a courthouse from the outside. And on the inside, it's just a central hall surrounded by spaces for stores.
posted by sonika at 11:13 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking the next big thing in architecture has to be someone that figures out how to repurpose big-box stores and malls left vacant by the overgrowth of the 2005 easy credit boom.

Artists' studios and performance spaces.

The high ceilings in the big box stores would DEFINITELY be useful to various theater/performance groups, even if you split them up into a bunch of varying-sized venues. And the little store-lets in malls could be artist's studios for people doing smaller works, and the central area could be gallery space.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also also, parking in PVD is expensive. We used to rent out our unused parking space downtown for $150/mo and most garages in the area are at least $200. It's a really car dependent city. The public transit is largely a joke.
posted by sonika at 11:15 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This may sound like a nightmarish existence for a grown-up - but if I had seen something like this in 1999, back when I had just graduated college, I would have totally wanted to live there. My own place for $550, with a food court and movie theater just downstairs? Hells to the yes!

Unless of course I could hear that annoying mall music through the walls of my apartment. Then I would probably snap and go on a shooting spree within the first week.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:20 AM on March 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well - maybe not apartments, but this Texas town that turned an abandoned Walmart into a library makes me happy ;-)
posted by jkaczor at 11:34 AM on March 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


This place has a theme song.
posted by JHarris at 11:43 AM on March 11, 2013


Cool idea, but just looking at those floorplans make me feel super claustrophobic.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2013


I realized most of my house is actually stuff-storage.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:48 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow, that library is awesome!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:48 AM on March 11, 2013


You don't need a stove, at least for dinner, when the Haven Brothers Diner is one block away.
posted by otters walk among us at 11:50 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I look at these and I just see fire traps. No way I'd live in a place without direct egress. How is that even legal?
posted by fshgrl at 11:54 AM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was in Providence recently and it was astonishing how hazardous being a pedestrian was. There were plentiful walk signals, but they didn't change, even if you pushed button. Sidewalks would just stop and you'd have to cross the same street multiple times in 400 yards. I'm not sure how that's relevant, aside from that it'd be high on my list of reasons not to live in downtown Providence. But I also like having a stove.

I look at these and I just see fire traps. No way I'd live in a place without direct egress. How is that even legal?

The floor plan looks like a normal apartment building?
posted by hoyland at 11:58 AM on March 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


the man of twists and turns: "Perhaps we'll call it a Hive"

The Emperor protects.
posted by Gin and Comics at 12:01 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Columbus, Ohio did this 25+ years ago - The Continent. It was interesting, at least until the business owners decided to kill each other.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:04 PM on March 11, 2013


Joh: "The tiny apartments average 400 sq ft, but residents can just walk outside to get to restaurants and stores."

From the developer's site:
A trend in cities across the globe, the micro-lofts at the arcade providence offer residents small, attractive living spaces in the center of downtown. These efficiently designed lofts provide a unique opportunity to live affordably in a thriving, urban environment.
There's an awful lot to unpack in that statement considering it's just 2 sentences.
posted by boo_radley at 12:04 PM on March 11, 2013


look at these and I just see fire traps. No way I'd live in a place without direct egress. How is that even legal?

The floor plan looks like a normal apartment building?


Perhaps she's referring to the apartments in the former rink, the ones that have skylights instead of windows? That does seem a little scary once you think about it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:08 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this is a pretty neat idea. I've always gotten a kick out of juxtapositions between public and private space, like the little model apartments at Ikea (especially the ones that don't open directly onto the main showroom). You open your front door, and you're at the mall. Not sure if I'd want to live in one though, and the novelty would wear off in about two days.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:11 PM on March 11, 2013


Yes, I want to live at the Mall.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:12 PM on March 11, 2013


Yes I was looking at the DC apartments, sorry.
posted by fshgrl at 12:12 PM on March 11, 2013


However, if these apartments aren't going to have a stove, (which is a total dealbreaker to me), why do they have a giant fridge and a dishwasher?

I actually find them attractive, and there's more storage than might appear at first glance. But I can't get over the fact that there's a dishwasher but no stove or cooktop. Why is the space where a stove would fit being used for a dishwasher? It doesn't make sense. And many people in the UK and Europe manage perfectly well with a smaller fridge.
posted by jokeefe at 12:14 PM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Idea: Replace one or two apartments on each floor with a commercial grade kitchen shared by a group of tenants.
posted by cubby at 12:16 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whoever figures out how to turn a 200,000 sq ft former PetSmart into a nice livable apartment complex that people would want to live in will be a gazillionaire.

As schmod's already pointed out in some detail, the big limitation here is that big boxes are not built to last long enough to be worth incorporating into a more durable multi-use residential complex. In urbanist circles, it's taken pretty much as a given that big boxes won't last more than 20-25 years as structures.

That said, there's still lots of room in the built suburban environment for shorter-term repurposing. Retrofitting Suburbia by Georgia Tech architecture prof and CNU president Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson is a fantastic primer on this stuff, and it splits the difference between wonk's guide and pretty coffee table book very elegantly.
posted by gompa at 12:16 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your personal take on this), I suspect all of the abandoned box stores of the world can't be similarly re-purposed for living space--at least, not on a cost-effective basis for long. A relative of mine used to work as a management-level contractor on new construction for one of the big box retailers and he once told me something about how they plan, design, and budget the long-term maintenance plans for these buildings.

Basically, as he explained it, they design the buildings themselves for functional obsolescence outside of a given, planned maintenance window: so when, say, Mega-Lo Mart or whatever initially designs one of these monstrosities, it does so with a time-limited maintenance window in mind.

Suppose a new Mega-Lo Mart location is part of the business plan for the next 10 years. At the point of construction, that retail building would be designed to be maintainable for 10 years at a predictable, controllable cost. After that 10-year window expires, by design, maintenance on the building will no longer be affordable and the building will either have to be completely renovated or it will become cost-prohibitive to maintain. There's some support for my relative's claims over here. It's kind of like the big box retailers salt the earth when they leave their fields behind.
"A typical Wal-Mart is only expected to last five years. After that, they expect to do a 'consolidation,' which is really closing the store," Dunham-Jones said. "Planned obsolescence is built into the model."
posted by saulgoodman at 12:17 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also what gompa said...
posted by saulgoodman at 12:18 PM on March 11, 2013


Oh, yeah. That Wal-Mart Library is awesome. I definitely don't want to poo-poo awesome projects like that one.

If you can make a big-box retrofit work, that's really freaking awesome. I do think that the spaces have a lot of potential for non-residential uses.

That library probably cost a lot to build and operate, but it works because it takes advantage of the big box's inherent characteristics very well. In that particular instance, the project was a slam dunk and deserves the heaps of praise that it's gotten.

I could see such buildings being used as civic and light-industrial spaces very effectively. A plethora of cheap, empty space is one of the best incubators for small business that you can find. Get some education and job training programs into those empty boxes, and you've got the second key ingredient for a thriving small business economy.
posted by schmod at 12:30 PM on March 11, 2013


I've been trying to go the other way and get some businesses to move into my house. Maybe a Thai restaurant in the kitchen, a little coffee shop in the living room...
Memail me with any proposals.
posted by orme at 12:32 PM on March 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I spent a year in Toronto while editing the Ryerson student paper, just out of school, living in an 18" x 9" basement apartment with no windows and ceilings that were exactly 6' high. It came with a mini-sink and a bar fridge. My kitchen arsenal was what I bought myself: a microwave, two-burner hotplate and toaster oven, all crammed onto about five square feet of counter.

I cooked like a motherfucker. I baked cookies and baked little lasagnas and roasted small chickens in the toaster oven. I stir-fried and made omelets and pan-fried breaded stuff on the hot plate.

If you're motivated, you can do a lot with a bit of counter space and some cheap-ass appliances. I'd do just fine in one of these spaces, assuming there isn't some sort of weird-assed rule that I can't bring in any kitchen micro-appliances and may only use the microwave.
posted by Shepherd at 12:36 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hope those shower stalls are bigger and better put together than they look.

I wouldn't hold my breath. Compare the size of it with the toilet right next to it, and now go stand next to your toilet. That shower is coffin sized. I lived in a place (oddly charged as much for a much smaller town, college town though, so that could be why), that had almost that exact sized shower, and it was hell. It was like it was made for a Japanese person, a small Japanese person. Hated it. :P

What's funny to me is that if i look at Japanese apartments like that size, they seem less cramped and with a better culture to go with it. They tend to spend more time out of the apartment, socializing, eating, bathing. Americans don't live that way, public baths especially would cause heads to explode, but it's part of what makes tiny apartments there less confining. I have no idea what this city is like, but everywhere i've lived, if i needed to get something, it's quite a trip, in a car. This change seems odd to me. Sure some will flock to it, but i don't get it.

That Walmart library though, that is awesome.
posted by usagizero at 12:42 PM on March 11, 2013


How long until we see storage units turned into apartments, Snowcrash style? Actually I suppose storage units are pretty low down the list of things that will end up being abandoned, since housing is getting denser and people are still shopping for "stuff" all the time. Maybe that's the ideal conversion for a big box store - into storage units. No windows or emergency egress needed?
posted by Joh at 12:49 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've never seen a Wal-Mart close after 5 or even 10 years. Actually the only closed Wal-Mart I've seen was one in Nashville, a few blocks away from a larger, newer one.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:51 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


boo_radley, I may be misunderstanding your comment, but when I said residents could step outside for shops and restaurants, I meant outside their apartment and into the mall. The first floor is staying as stores and restaurants, only the second and third floors will be residential.
posted by Joh at 12:52 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


living in an 18" x 9" basement apartment

Small, but you could at least fit Stonehenge in there.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:53 PM on March 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


If I lived there I'd have a Magic Eye poster on the wall. You know, the sailboat one.
posted by azpenguin at 12:57 PM on March 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Someone said hive? I guess that makes sense, we see things close to this being used by lots of want-to-party-but-don't-live-in-the-city white collar types in Vancouver. Hopefully the building social dynamic won't resemble the Game of Drones.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:03 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I heard an interview on Q awhile ago with Julia Christensen, who wrote a book called Big Box Reuse. Here's her website, which seems to mostly be broken links. Apparently these stores will often not let other companies move in to their empty spaces, because competition, or something. And the cities hate this because they spent a lot building roads and infrastructure. I heard this awhile ago though so I don't really remember.

In my hometown, (half) an old rink was converted into a squash court with super high ceilings. My dad always thought it would be fun to put a climbing wall in there too. And an elementary school was converted into fancy apartments.
posted by carolr at 1:04 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


They tend to spend more time out of the apartment, socializing, eating, bathing. Americans don't live that way

Apart from the bathing, I think they do, somewhat, in New York. This was an adjustment my husband and I had a hard time making, but if we'd stuck it out, I think we could have enjoyed living that way (especially if we'd been able to go to all digital for books and music). But you'd definitely need to enjoy that lifestyle to enjoy the Providence apartments.
posted by immlass at 1:21 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


My studio apartment is 380 sq feet, and has a stove and oven (no dishwasher though), so I can't see why one of the larger units at 450sqft can't have a stove. I even have a bathtub rather than a shower stall. Somebody's comment further up about Providence not being particularly walkable makes me wonder if this conversion will ultimately be livable though - I've got a tiny place, but I live in one of NYC's outer boroughs - it's normal for us to rarely entertain at home, and to have a good chunk of our social life exist outside the home.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 1:26 PM on March 11, 2013


I've never seen a Wal-Mart close after 5 or even 10 years. Actually the only closed Wal-Mart I've seen was one in Nashville, a few blocks away from a larger, newer one.

It seems like Florida's got one on every other corner (although I appreciate that's not a scientific impression; according the actual numbers, Wal Mart has anywhere from "350 to 400 [vacant stores for sale] from year to year." No idea what the cumulative numbers are, once properties that have been sold or quit-deeded to some third-party are taken into account). And it's a common enough problem in places like Denver that city managers there are having to deal with it. Their "build them to last only so long" strategy has long been criticized for its environmental impacts. Here's another story from NPR about how quickly Wal Mart (at least) churns through buildings (ostensibly, in these cases, they left the old locations after 5 years or so because "they outgrew them"). I have no reason to doubt my relative knew what he was talking about, as he's worked construction for decades; he's also an arch-conservative who definitely has no axe to grind with the big box retailers, so I don't have any reason to doubt his claims.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:29 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Americans don't live that way, public baths especially would cause heads to explode

I don't know about that. I take more showers at the gym than I do at home.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:33 PM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


As an introverted semi-shut-in the idea of living in such a tiny space is terrifying. Yeah, I get that you're supposed to utilize more public spaces when you live in such density, but for some of us public spaces will just never be comfortable enough to substitute for real privacy. And that's why I could never live in NYC.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:35 PM on March 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Re: the parking costs:

For whatever it's worth, in the discussions that we're having about parking minimums in DC, the going rate for building a new parking space is about $30,000 per space in an elevated structure, and $50,000/space for a below-grade structure.

This is in DC, and I think that the figures only includes nominal land costs. I'd imagine that things somewhat cheaper in Providence, but Providence may have geological or water table issues that DC doesn't have, so that might swing things back in the other direction.

$250/month for a covered parking space isn't at all outrageous. It might even be subsidized. Concrete construction is expensive.
posted by schmod at 2:20 PM on March 11, 2013


I have always liked the mall design for large open public spaces. I would love to live in a community with a shared promenade for the residents.

It seems to be a precursor for our future arcologys.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:24 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This seems like a good idea, but as people have pointed out, it seems to be only really viable in this kind of building, as opposed to the modern mall/big box.

I think we'll start to see real innovation when the economy REALLY starts to bottom out, and dead malls and stores will have to be converted to efficient living space out of necessity, instead of an overpriced novelty.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 2:28 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


"And many people in the UK and Europe manage perfectly well with a smaller fridge."

I bet they actually have a nice selection of them to choose from. It is difficult to find good small fridges here -- the basic assumption is that you want a month's worth of food at all times, so the fridges most commonly found are behemoths.

I was looking for a fridge that was short and shallow to fit the fridge niche in my old house, and there really aren't very many good ones to choose from. Some cheap ones that aren't meant for heavy use, I think.

I ended up with one of these, which fits perfectly. And other than the lack of a good freezer, I don't need anything bigger than this. (I use a separate freezer anyway.) I live in a city -- I don't need to stock food as if I live 50 miles from the nearest supermarket. But using an 80 year old fridge does have its risks.
posted by litlnemo at 2:45 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


micro-living opportunities

For one's micro-life, I suppose. That being said, if I did not have a full family but were once again a 22-year-old underemployed overeducated singleton, I might well look at such a thing.

Although it hasn't yet come to this in my part of the world, there is a mall in the downtown core of my hometown that failed right out of the gate in 1990 and which has changed hands several times. The latest owner -- a numbered company -- bought it for less than a quarter of the cost to build it twenty years earlier and has announced plans to change the focus from the current mixture of a few retailers, some city staff and some offices to a mix of creative and high-tech tenants. The building last changed hands two years ago, but there is little sign of change there.

I suspect that this mall is the greatest author if its own misfortune: it opened in 1990 literally adjacent with and connected to an existing mall that had dominated downtown for two decades, and my recollection is that pretty much all of the tenants were the same stores that were already in place in the existing mall. I suspect that the head offices of these various retailers learned that there was a new mall in this city and so plugged in their stores as they did with all the other widely-separated malls in town. Of course, the stores in the new mall were operating in direct competition with other outlets of the same retailer literally a few metres away, and no doubt both old and new outlets suffered, which led to head offices closing down one or both stores. Unemployment, empty storefronts, a dead core... good times. Thanks, developers!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:53 PM on March 11, 2013


Great post. It will be interesting to see how the reuse of commercial space and micro apartments continue to develop in the next decade or so. The idea of not having a stove makes me feel irrationally panicky for some reason. With no stove, I'd have to know going in that I was only doing this for x amount of months or years. With a stove I'd feel very differently, though. Not sure I'd want to live in a mall per se–or this mall, necessarily–but, I've been reading a lot about very small, cheap 'vertical' apartments lately. Something like this would enable my SO and I to pay ourselves back after some bad years, financially. Mainly, it would give me peace of mind of knowing that, even if everything falls apart again, I could still afford my apartment. We already do a lot of our living outside of our home, as it is (but we'd need to radically change how we feel about our belongings).
posted by marimeko at 2:59 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I heard an interview on Q awhile ago with Julia Christensen, who wrote a book called Big Box Reuse.

Read through this book a few years ago. Cool stuff. Large spaces that can be had for cheap are hard to pass up, especially for low revenue purposes. Also, it pointed out that the Spam Museum and official Hormel offices now reside in a former K-Mart. I hope the building lasts as long as the Spam would.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:26 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


These "micro apartments" are 2-4 times as large as some of the tiny houses you see out there that fit on a trailer. Those are often under 200sqft.

I imagine the no stoves thing is directly related to those apartments that have skylights and not windows. They don't want to start fires in the building. Although I'm sure you can easily start a fire with a toaster oven/microwave/hot plate.

Room 641-A: "No dogs, cats, fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects or any living pets are allowed in the building."

Rats! There go my Sea Monkeys!
posted by IndigoRain at 3:45 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I couldn't live in a place without a stove. I had a tiny apartment in Guelph in a 150-year-old ramshackle building. It was around 300 sq ft, had no central heat (just a gas fireplace in the living room), but still managed to cram in a bedroom, living room, tiny eat-in kitchen with a proper stove, bathroom with a full-sized tub, and a storage closet. No dishwasher though, so I guess there's that.
posted by fimbulvetr at 4:04 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I'm good to go with my dead pets?
posted by saul wright at 4:29 PM on March 11, 2013


If they would have options for single parent households or elderly and disabled populations, this concept could be very good. Probably the best tenants for this sort of place would be elderly singles or couples, who are sick to to death of cooking.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:24 PM on March 11, 2013


I'm still really confused about the dishwasher. If you're not going to do any cooking, what's so hard about doing the few dishes you might generate? It seems like a few extra square feet of storage would be much more practical, and if you're the kind of person who would consider lack of a dishwasher a deal-breaker you'd probably also consider a stove a requirement. A microwave would make much more sense.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:55 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't need a stove but I need a dishwasher is modern America in a nutshell.
posted by saul wright at 6:17 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Smaller is better for me. We deliberately moved in to a smaller house closer to town rather than live in the suburbs and commuter hell.
posted by arcticseal at 6:22 PM on March 11, 2013


The U of Alberta in Edmonton has a student housing complex combined with a mall..

It's designed like an H - the two lower legs are services and parking, the crossbar is the mall floor, the uprights are retail/university services, and the 2nd & 3rd floors are apartments. It's a bit noisy, but it's got it's own flavour. The closest thing I can think of is a small side street in an old European town with apartments over shops. In the middle of winter in Edmonton, you can walk down the mall and watch the scantily-clad locals frolicking and holding hands over their lattes - it's better than Vegas.
posted by sneebler at 6:39 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This happened a decade ago in Asheville's Grove Arcade. Originally opened in the 1920's as an arcade mall in downtown Asheville, during WWII it was used as a federal building, and afterward housed the National Climactic Data Center. In the 1980's, interest grew in restoring it to its original grandeur, and in 2002, it reopened with retail, restaurant, and other business spaces on the street level, and (lovelier and pricier than the Providence micro-) apartments on the upper floors.
posted by greta simone at 7:29 PM on March 11, 2013


And there are places deliberately designed this way, like Annapolis Towne Centre[sic]. Why visit historic and beautiful DTA when you can have the unified working/shopping/dining/living "lifestyle community" of your dreams?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:37 PM on March 11, 2013


An old, long-closed K-Mart in Lackawanna, NY, transitioned into a charter school maybe a decade ago. I have never been inside, but a cousin went there for elementary school and she turned out all right.

The only downside is that the city used to plow a ton of snow up in that parking lot during the winter. It made for the best sledding. Christmas 2001 it got so high we could climb to the top of the lampposts.
posted by troika at 9:10 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh hey, I work in an office that's in the basement of a dead mall (the deadmall report from 2008 fails to mention the several thousand square feet we have on the lower level, though the construction stuff implying further development uhhh is still there)

Riverfront Plaza is adjacent to a vibrant 19th century college town downtown area, and flopped in the 80s/90s- it actually works amazingly well as office space, especially since the other half of the building is already a hotel. The only gripe I have is that there's no way I can walk downtown and back on a half hour lunch break- I hauled ass once and got a coffee, but I couldn't really enjoy it.
posted by maus at 9:51 PM on March 11, 2013


In International Falls, the local paper moved into the defunct Pamida store after a fire in their previous location.
posted by jillithd at 6:16 AM on March 12, 2013


I have seen tiny houses on the web that have a small stove and a small dishwasher, so it certainly could fit. I still think the lack of stove is due to fire hazard. But are electric and induction stoves really as dangerous as flame-based gas stoves?
posted by IndigoRain at 3:14 PM on March 12, 2013


I think an installed electric stove would be much less of a fire hazard than any kind of plug in hotplate/toaster oven combination.
posted by Iax at 7:37 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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