How Ailing Strip Malls Could Be a Green Fix for U.S. Housing Crisis


An abandoned strip mall in Casa Grande, Arizona. Jim Parkin / Alamy Stock Photo

From e360: The U.S. housing shortage is so severe that demand outstrips supply by a stunning 3.8 million homes⁠, according to Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage dealer. The shortage exacerbates homelessness, income inequality, and even climate destabilization, as greenhouse gas emissions increase while workers drive longer and longer distances between jobs and residences.

Peter Calthorpe, the heralded California-based urban planner, believes he knows how to lessen the housing and environmental crises at the same time. For decades, he has campaigned for more densely populated cities, rapid public transit, and an end to sprawl and reliance on cars, all tenets of the movement he cofounded, called New Urbanism. His books, including The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl in 2001, as Metropolis magazine puts it, “define the recent history⁠ of urban design in its most vital and prescient manifestations.”

Now Calthorpe sees an opportunity in the economic wreckage left behind by the 2008 Great Recession. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he notes that for most working families the pop of the housing bubble marked the end of “the American dream of the single-family home in a cul-de-sac and a couple of cars.” Since then, many tens of thousands⁠ of acres of commercial strip malls have fallen vacant or underutilized as consumers have relied increasingly on online purchases. As Calthorpe sees it, that’s land that could be occupied by millions of units of workforce housing, bringing workers close to their jobs, revitalizing streets and cities, and cutting carbon emissions in half.

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A history of auto travel in Grand Lake


The Model T, pictured here, brought tourists to Grand Lake and the Cottage Court, a motel with carports attached to its rooms. Meg Soyars/For Sky-Hi News

From Sky-Hi News: Grand Lake, Colorado — On May 29, I joined the Grand Lake Historical Society’s Walking Tour to explore the hidden history of the most well-known town in our county. At the end of our tour through the town, we stopped at the Smith-Eslick Cottage Court on Vine Street.

The museum holds much of Grand Lake’s history, including the impact of automobile tourism on the town’s growth. Around 1915, the Smith-Eslick family built the Cottage Court, which has the distinction of being the oldest original motel structure in the entire U.S. The Court was named after three generations of the same family who owned and operated it, welcoming visitors and making sure their stay was comfortable. The Cottage Court originally had carports and was geared to a new type of traveler in those days — ones with automobiles.

Museum docent Elin Capps gave us a tour of the Cottage Court, which featured four, rustic bark-sided cabins separated by carports.

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America’s last Howard Johnson’s restaurant has closed


Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in Lake George, New York in a 2015 photo. Mike Groll/AP

From CNN: New York  — The last surviving Howard Johnson’s restaurant has closed.

Open for most of the past 70 years, the restaurant was located in Lake George, New York, a popular summer vacation spot near the Adirondack Mountains. The restaurant closed its doors in recent weeks and the property is up for lease, according to a local affiliate.

“Lake George is officially dead,” a Howard Johnson’s fan wrote on Facebook, adding several pictures of the abandoned restaurant. “Cobwebs on the door. Right before Memorial Day rush up here.”

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‘Ghost signs’ open window to past lives of Colorado Springs buildings


The Cheyenne Hotel, now Phantom Canyon Brewing Co., in downtown Colorado Springs. Parker Seibold, The Gazette

From The Gazette: Ongoing renovations at the former Subway shop at Tejon and Bijou streets downtown uncovered a sign for the historic Barthels — and unlocked memories for longtime residents who fondly recall the high school hangout and family gathering spot.

The building is being converted into Dos Dos, a Dos Santos Tacos spinoff. But for now, the sign partially hidden behind a construction fence offers a trip down memory lane, a peek at a past life for the building.

On many other downtown Colorado Springs buildings, signs remain that also offer a window into the past. Some are prominent, others easy to miss. Many are what’s known as “ghost signs” — old, hand-painted advertising signs that have remained even as those businesses they advertise are long gone. Here’s a look at some of those buildings and their histories.

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Then and now: Here’s what Etobicoke looked like in the ’50s and ’60s


Evan’s Shopping Centre, ca. 1956/Etobicoke Clerk’s Dept. City of Toronto Archives

From DailyHive: To say that Etobicoke experienced a population boom after the ’50s and ’60s is an understatement. Two decades after the Second World War, the population jumped from a mere 40,000 to a massive suburb with more than 200,000 residents. Of course, this influx of people meant a high demand for houses, shops, offices, schools, and, naturally, more roads to get people to these places.

And, like most North American suburbs, Etobicoke was designed to be very much a car-dependent place.

“The car was king,” according to the online exhibit Etobicoke: A Modern Suburb by the City of Toronto. And this is evident in the number of gas stations, the size of the parking lots outside shopping malls, and the homes with big driveways and garages. There were also car dealerships and colourful motels, ideal stops for out-of-town drivers.

Here are some photos from the Etobicoke Clerk’s Department that offer a unique glimpse of everyday life in Etobicoke during the ’50s and the ’60s and what they look like today.

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‘A hole in the ground’ and other quirky curiosities mean money and pride for small Kansas towns


The World’s Largest Ball of Twine keeps growing as visitors to Cawker City wind their own pieces of string. It now weighs more than five Ford F-150 trucks. David Condos/Kansas News Service

From HPPR: CAWKER CITY, Kansas — For small towns with dwindling populations and shrinking tax bases, luring travelers to stop and spend a few dollars is a matter of community survival. Some turn to quirky roadside tourist attractions. And the community pride these offbeat sites generate can be just as valuable as the money they bring in.

One day in 1973, The Wall Street Journal published a review of Kansas tourist attractions.

It was not kind.

“Kansas is trying to promote tourism,” the Journal noted, “but it really doesn’t have a heck of a lot to promote.”

The column singled out the godfathers of Kansas roadside tourism — the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, the World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well in Greensburg and the folk art town of Lucas — for particular ridicule, with pause breaks in the spots where the Journal expected its audience to chuckle at Kansas’ expense.

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