Sizing Open Spaces: How Wide is Too Wide?

Written by  //  October 23, 2012  //  Posts, Retail Design  //  1 Comment

Cover Photo Credit: Steve Rosset

Getting the right width for open spaces in retail areas can be challenging.  Too wide and the space can feel open and barren, too narrow and it feels congested and chaotic. Building heights impact appropriate proportions, as do the types of movement and uses occurring in open spaces. Even local climatic factors can influence what the right proportions are. The best open spaces in retail environments can be found in older urban areas in Europe, while many built more recently in the Middle East and Asia are far too expansive. The true metric of success is whether shoppers can visually identify the retailers surrounding an open space, and then traverse the area with minimal interference.

In the US, town centre / lifestyle centre developers have attempted to incorporate open spaces with varying degrees of success. From the perspective of retail, it is important to measure not the dimensions of the open space itself, but the actual distance from storefront to storefront. Linear open spaces, such as medians, tend to be narrower than square-shaped open spaces. Streets, sidewalks, and parking all add to the effective distance that a customer must travel to reach the stores opposite them.

The Grove, LA

East-West: 90 m / 295 ft   –   North-South: 40 m / 131 ft
*Note the interior of the Grove is not open to private vehicle traffic.

The Market Street at the Woodlands, Houston

East-West: 69 m / 226 ft   –   North-South: 66 m / 217 ft

Santana Row, San Jose

East-West: 37 m / 121 ft

Birkdale Village, North Carolina

East-West: 53 m / 174 ft

Americana at Brand, Glendale

East-West: 67 m / 220 ft   –   North-South: 102 m / 335 ft

Southside Works, Pittsburgh

East-West: 78 m / 256 ft   –   North-South: 60 m / 197 ft


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Reurbanist is a multi-disciplinary firm that blends land use economics with urban planning and economic development. At its core, Reurbanist believes that great urban places that are compelling and vibrant must find success at both a fiscal and social level. Stronger cities and urban destinations translate into improved job growth, municipal tax revenue, and a higher quality of life for residents.

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