Starwood Urban is based in Washington DC and invests in urban
retail and mixed-use property. We take buildings that are in need
of tender loving care, renovate and bring in new tenants.
There's a lot of discussion about density. The community resists
density. But we did a poll for the Coral Gables project and there
was majority support for a dense project provided the community
got something for it: nice architecture and vibrancy. People are
not against density per se, they are against density if there's
no reason for it.
The great cities of the world are the dense places. Seven of
our Top 10 tourist attractions are cities. People do like these
dense urban environments.
Desirable places encourage density and dis-incentivise sprawl.
If you offer people something that has close locational value,
that is close to something, next to a destination, it becomes
acceptable, people will make the trade-off. Density is a hurdle
that can be overcome.
Typical suburban density is an average population of 1,000 within
a five-minute walk. But that's not enough to support any kind
of retail environment. So you have to think about the kind of
population density you are dealing with. Even Manhattan with it's
dense population, even that's not enough to support retail outlets
- none of these places could survive without tourists.
I define retail places simply as "urban" if the cars are parked
out back or "suburban" if the cars are parked in front. "Shopping"
is a social or leisure activity, it's about commodities; "purchasing"
is about merchandise.
Different kinds of retail venues include "suburban purchasing"
- very efficient at distributing merchandise at a cheap price;
margins for developers are quite thin. "Suburban shopping" is
about encouraging leisure activity.
We focus on the places that have a mix of uses: some dining,
some entertainment, essentially retail. Urban retail is more about
leisure and entertainment.
Retail public spaces are usually terrible retail places. Same
with tourist plazas. So we built a database of great urban places:
how wide are the streets, what do the trees look like, what do
the sidewalks look like?
Retail streets tend to be fairly simple: three or four blocks
long, straight, one or two lanes of traffic. Size matters - and
smaller is better for great urban shopping streets.
If you can create just the right kind of place, you can create
an urban environment that becomes its own destination and you
don't need to do a lot of over-the-top things.
We want everyone to feel that they own it. We never put our name
on everything. A lot of communities get over-wrought over signage
and totally control it to the point where the tenant has absolutely
This is an edited version of a speech given to the Cities For The New Economy Leadership Summit at the Marriott Hotel, Surfers Paradise, 23-24 April 2001.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.