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Willie Weir : April 4th, 2011

Folsom, California shopping center stands as monument to car culture

I gasped in horror. No. That’s not true. I just hung my head in disappointment. Really? This is progress?

I was standing in an enormous parking lot in Folsom, California. I had a speaking engagement at the REI located at the Folsom Gateway shopping center.

A real estate website states, “Folsom Gateway II is one of Northern California’s premiere regional shopping centers.” And later offers this highlight, “Highly visible, prime retail location on the Highway 50 Freeway, viewed by 200,000 vehicles daily.”

Notice how the above description gives vehicles the gift of sight.

And that is appropriate. Because cars, not people, appear to have been the focus of this development.

Cars get the prime real estate. The entire middle of the complex–big box stores on one end of the parking lot–fast food and chain restaurants on the other. The distance between the retail and food is so great, that people get in their cars and drive across the parking lot from one to the other.

The shopping complex has followed building code, I’m sure. There are sidewalks and bike lanes and even a few little benches for people to sit. But they were all empty. The scale is so huge, so spread out, that humans find it daunting.

Does anyone really want to walk the mile and a half along the edge of the big box buildings to the Starbucks? (It’s much closer in your car).

If someone was to consider walking, the intersections are so wide that I imagined rest stations halfway across with water and snacks to prepare pedestrians for the second half of their journey.

The parking lots are clean, with lovely new banners that one would find at the entrance of a Renaissance or County Fair. But no jugglers, musicians or food booths await your arrival. In reality, the banners just dress up a an ugly, ocean of asphalt.

Premiere? Is this the best we can do?

If our goal is to increase the rates of obesity and diabetes. If we want to encourage people to stay in their cars. To walk less. To spend as little time outdoors as possible. Then this truly is a premiere example of how we should move forward.

4 comments to Folsom, California shopping center stands as monument to car culture

  • Martha Kight

    I am with you, Willie. As car-bound as I am, I am not glad of that fact… I work less than half a mile from that ugly sea of asphalt, and it makes me sad and tired to see it displayed so proudly… that which was once part of the beauty of California… it seems the goal is to pave over and put money-making buildings on as many square feet of our beautiful land as possible. Our poor state – being swallowed by money.

  • Kathi Davi

    Sad but true. I’m a resident of Folsom but will not defend this suburban design. I will only defend myself. I’m happy to say that when faced with the parking lot sprawl, I will park in the middle of the lot and walk to all of the businesses I need to patronize. Sadly, it’s not about preventing obesity and diabetes, it’s about making a buck!

  • Kathi,

    I agree with you.

    Somewhere along the line, we allowed “making a buck” to trump “making a community”. There are plenty of places in the world where retail establishments make tons of money in shopping areas that are people friendly. It is as simple as designing for humans instead of cars.

    So many of us remember walking and biking to school. That slowly eroded as we got used to using our cars for everything. It was gradual. But slowly, distances got further. Parking lots became more important than sidewalks.

    The California (Sacramento) that I grew up in is mostly paved over. Look at all the parking lots and just imagine even half of them as parks … or farmland. As our population grows, we’ll have to make tough decisions about how we use the precise land we have left.

    I hope we favor people, farmland, parks, and nature over parking lots.

  • Joe S

    I agree with you 1000%. Compare the pedestrian-friendly U Village with a suburban shopping mall like the one in Woodinville. The former has a European feel to it, with its central hub of shopping, restaurants, and play and sitting areas. The latter is the more traditional, ghastly strip of shops placed around the edges of a vast parking lot. Nothing friendly about going from shop to shop there.

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