Rezoning Urban Retail Strips to Create Neighborhood Centers

Zoning Practice — April 2011

By Tom Smith


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Planners have argued for an overhaul of urban neighborhood retail for decades. The old pattern of linear commercial strips strung along miles and miles of major and minor arterials is simply not working. Still, most cities and inner-ring suburbs cling to this linear pattern of retail zoning in hopes that the small businesses that previously populated these strips will somehow be reinvented.

The worsening state of commercial real estate and the continuing problem of low rents and underused properties support arguments for a major rezoning of these strips. In light of these realities, many cities and inner-ring suburbs need to adopt plans and make zoning changes that encourage the use of strips for housing, churches, schools, and other institutions, and for parks and open spaces. Instead of focusing on long, linear retail strips, planners should turn their attention to drafting plans and zoning codes for neighborhood centers.

This issue of Zoning Practice makes a case for planning new neighborhood retail and activity centers anchored by housing, institutions, and places of employment rather than the traditional anchors of department stores or supermarkets.


Page Count
Date Published
April 1, 2011
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American Planning Association

About the Author

Tom Smith