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Jack Gosnell: The New American Dream

Retail opportunities are out there, but don't expect the same old thing. This time around, development decisions will be based on factors other than an infinite supply of cheap land.
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Jack Gosnell

Recently I heard a well-respected expert on retail development express the opinion that the economy will, as always following a downturn, bounce back and resume its natural course. The expert gleefully predicted that the good old days would soon return—which for him meant more maddening suburban single-family explosion, punctuated by grocery-anchored or big box developments along the mind-bending expanse of six-lane divided boulevards that head infinitely northward.

But is that really what we want? It seems to me that young people I meet today are dreaming a different American dream than they were a decade ago. I don’t hear them longing for suburban home ownership or begging for the chance to wander through another retail shopping center the size of a football field. I don’t see them celebrating the idea of commuting great distances along our clogged arteries. As far as I can tell, the suburban lifestyle has nothing to do with their dreams.

I believe that this recovery will head in a different direction. We will see growth along DART lines and a migration to urban centers, a focus on sustainability, and sensible development. Our growth will be slower and the stakes for failure immense. Walkability will bring people and services closer together in community.

The market is cranking to a start; retail sales are up, credit card spending is up, the stock market is up. But I’m still seeing many qualified intelligent young people pleading for work, start-up retailers gripping to find capital, and financing only nominally available—and only to the privileged. I’m seeing landlords who have funded the retail expansion for the past two years tapped out, and retailers unable to finance improvements.

So, upside opportunities are out there, but don’t expect the same old thing. This time around, retail development will be based on factors other than an infinite supply of cheap land.

Jack Gosnell heads up UCR Urban for United Commercial Realty. Contact him at [email protected].

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