Storefront Chicago

If cities are their streets, and streets are their uses, what do the profound changes in urban retail mean for the future of our cities? This project focuses on the current status and future prospects of small-scaled, walkable, and neighborhood-serving retail. Neighborhood-based retail used to play an active role in the life of urban neighborhoods. In the era of big box formula retail and e-commerce, is neighborhood-based retail still viable?

Papers related to this project:

Talen, Emily and Jeong, Hyesun. 2018. Street Rules: Does Zoning Support Main Street? Urban Design International. 

This paper investigates the relationship between zoning and “main street.” We define “main street” as a normative ideal: streets composed of blocks that have small, locally owned businesses in walkable contexts. In an urban setting, such main streets would ideally have essential services mixed with amenities, local ownership of businesses, some residences (i.e., apartments over stores), and pedestrian quality. The simultaneous presence of these characteristics has been significantly challenged in recent decades by online shopping, corporate retailing, and auto-oriented urbanism. Little research has sought to understand the role of zoning in this predicament. We use the City of Chicago to analyze how main streets are zoned and whether zoning supports main street qualities. First, we identify the zoning districts and rules that would be best aligned with main street as an ideal. Second, we classify the blocks of Chicago to identify those that might be considered examples of main street. Third, we assess whether these two dimensions—main street-supportive zoning and main street qualities—are, in fact, aligned. Our analysis shows that Chicago’s main street blocks are not zoned in a particularly supportive way. More than two-thirds of the blocks exemplifying main street qualities have zoning designations that potentially compromise their essential characteristics. Specifically, the majority of blocks with main street qualities are zoned for automobile-oriented shopping centers or single-family housing. We argue that zoning should recognize and support main streets in a more specific and concerted way.

Talen, Emily and Hyesun Jeong. 2018. Does the Classic American Main Street Still Exist? An Exploratory Look. Journal of Urban Design.    

The classic American main street ‒ walkable, well-serviced and supportive of mom and pop stores ‒ has been struggling for decades. This paper attempts to quantify the degree to which the American main street, or some aspects of it, still hangs on. It presents an exploratory, large sample look at the degree to which the blocks of one US city, Chicago, actually conform to idealized main street principles. The paper offers both an empirical and a methodological contribution: what metrics might be used to capture main street principles, and how does a large city like Chicago stack up to these stated norms? Eight variables are operationalized at the block level. While the metrics here do not reflect absolute consensus about what is important in an urban neighbourhood's commercial core, they do cover three dominant narratives: servicing, opportunity and quality. The paper finds that the overlap in these three dimensions is weak.

Talen, Emily and Jeong, Hyesun. 2019. What is the value of ‘main street’? Framing and testing the arguments. Cities, 92, 208–218. 

•This paper defines and then quantitatively analyzes the American main street.

•The analysis is a quantified assessment of whether assumptions about the value of main street retail can be supported.

•The paper presents a literature summary of the causes of main street decline.

•A conceptual framework posits three main street qualities: density, diversity and stability.

•Using proxy variables for each category, 7,000 blocks in the City of Chicago are analyzed.

•The data provides support for the three qualities of main street retail.

•The conclusion presents some policy options for sustaining main street retail.