Monday, October 01, 2007

Bayshore Town Center: Still a Place for Cars

Having made a few trips up there, I figure it's time to throw out my two bits' worth on Bay Shore Town Center.

Bayshore Town Center

Let me start by saying that, whatever gripes I and others may have, they've really achieved something remarkable here. It's a brand new Main Street, something we haven't built in America in five decades. It does a lot of things right: streetside parking, sidewalks, lots of visual and functional connections between inside and outside, public spaces, mixed uses, a welcoming and inviting atmosphere. There may have been some tactical and strategic blunders along the way, but the people who built this thing were striving to make something a cut above the usual suburban drek of our times, and I really appreciate that.

Bayshore Town Center

That said, I have some gripes. Some are easily fixed. Others... well, like I said, this sort of thing hasn't been done for fifty years, so maybe it's inevitable that it'll take a few tries to work out the kinks.

Make no mistake about this place: pedestrian-oriented or not, parking is still king. Parking lots, curbside parking, parking garages, and more parking lots surround and suffuse the place. There is an assumption in place that 100% of customers will arrive by automobile. You can see it in any number of ways.

For example: where the hell are the bike racks?! I surveyed the entire complex and, after much searching, located a grand total of three bike racks in the entire place. One's next to Alterra Coffee, one's kind of tucked off to the side by the central plaza, and one is a battered relic outside the entrance to Trader Joe's, which itself is rather detached from the pedestrian action to the east. Only this last one seems to be placed with the idea that customers using a store might arrive by bicycle.

Bayshore Town Center

Bayshore Town Center

The sidewalks ought to be lined with small M-racks, or the loops that simply bolt onto parking meters. Every major store ought to have a longer set of M-racks. Kohl's certainly has the room for it:

Bayshore Town Center

In a complex that's overflowing with parking, the lack of consideration for bicyclists is appalling. This problem could be fixed with relative ease.

For a "town center" based around a Main Street concept, the complex is a bit disconnected from the actual main commercial artery of Whitefish Bay, Silver Spring Drive. To get from Silver Spring to the heart of BSTC requires navigating a winding road past a minefield of parking lot and garage entrances. It's intimidating on a bike and not much fun in a car.

Bayshore Town Center

Winding roads, in fact, seem to be commonplace. It's largely an artifact of working around randomly placed existing buildings. Whatever the cause, it slows traffic down to a pedestrian pace (in such intimate quarters, that's a good thing), and it gives the commercial portions of the complex a bit of charm they might otherwise lack. To claim the place is without any sense of the past is not really accurate -- the whole thing is very much shaped by the existing mall buildings that have gone up over the past few decades.

Bayshore Town Center

On the east side, Bayshore Town Center remains as oblivious as ever to its residential neighbors, facing them with vast parking lots and the backsides of the mall's older buildings. The new exit to the east doesn't even align with the street across from it.

Bayshore Town Center

Probably the intention was to have the new street on axis with the central plaza, but a more respectful approach to the existing street grid would have been to align the road with the older street, then curve it as required to bring it onto the desired axis. At the outer edge of the complex, nobody is going to be awe-struck by the axial view past a hundred yards of parking lots.

Bayshore Town Center

On the west side, the Center pays proper homage to the nearby roaring interstate -- by turning its back to it, showing little besides parking lots and garages. This is the proper place to load up the sea of parking -- not where the mall abutts an older suburban neighborhood.

Bayshore Town Center

As others have mentioned, the architecture is largely forgettable -- a mishmash of contemporary commercial (acceptable, not especially interesting) and historical pastiche (corny, depressing), with the sole exception of a snazzy Modernist steakhouse, clad with a stunning contrast of polished flat-cut black stone panels, and random ashlar stone.

Bayshore Town Center

Bayshore Town Center

It's not as though the same red brick and EFIS that clad most of the buildings couldn't have been used to more memorable effect. It could have. But the designers or the owners wanted something that would conjure up vague images of an ambiguous historical past, and weren't willing to pay the considerable amounts of money it would take to do it right. That's the thing about contemporary architecture: it's good design adapted to today's building technologies. Do it right and it can be (relatively) affordable and good looking! Try and reproduce.... whatever it is they're trying to reproduce here without using the real materials, the real techniques, the real craftsmanship that went into the original, and you're going to end up with buildings that look like soggy cardboard.

Bayshore Town Center

And finally, at times it seems the architects didn't quite leave themselves enough room for all the ugly necessities:

Bayshore Town Center

There's also a lack of benches or other places to simply linger, outside of the central plaza.

So. There's lessons for next time. Meanwhile, the revived Bayshore seems to be doing a good business. You go there and you'll find people wandering the sidewalks, mingling, travelling on foot, even if only for a little while. Given that this is the closet thing we've had to urban expansion in the northern 'burbs, it's hard to find fault with that.


Dave said...

I'd agree that it is nicer than your standard mall, but it is still a mall not a main street. And as you say it really is still about the automobile.

Steveo said...

I've had mixed emotions about BSTC since it was proposed. The bottom line really is that it's better than anything else we have. It beats the heck out of Southridge for "feel" and selection of retailers.

The architecture really isn't unique if you break apart the various facades. It could have been better, but again, it's better than what we have.

At some point bloggers such as yourself must get a dose of practicality though... Bike racks? How many people will ride their bikes to go grocery or clothes shopping? It seems to me that they're placed properly in this development.

I do agree that in all malls and individual stores there is little or no thought to places to sit. That I think is directly the result of "sales per square foot" accounting practices.

Anonymous said...

While Bayshore is generally a good place to go when you need to do mall shopping.... it just seems to me simply an extravagant development catering to north shore residents to terrified to go down to the city. Why create a new downtown when you're so close to a major metropolitan area? We here in the city struggle to keep stores open, and yet 10-15 miles away they've created a "fake" downtown... without all the "headaches" of real city living.

Not to mention, that mall is quite pleasant in the summer and fall... but in the cold Milwaukee winter-- you start to wonder why you're walking outside to shop the typical selection of mall stores.

Certainly a nice place, but I do find it a bit strange to see all the folks from Fox Point strolling around Bayshore as if they've finally found a city they can call their own.

Anonymous said...

Even though the preliminary drawings and renderings looked interesting, I knew that no amount of money could fix Bayshore Mall.
Now I know that I was right. This is a cookie cutter mall from the southwest that was poorly done.The layout and architectural style doesnt fit and has nothing to do with Milwaukee. I noticed someone mentioned Southridge mall earlier, which is a far superior mall. Southridge is still unmolested, but this soon may change. Even Northridge beats Bayshore in 2007. Bayshore mall is a teardown, level it, build houses (on the grid). Its ironic that Fox point was mentioned, these people dont even have sidewalks. They are so anti-Milwaukee. Fox Point has a different bread of person. They dont even see the point of going downtown. So sad if the North shore folks think Bayshore mall is their new downtown.

Robert Powers said...

Steveo --

Heh, of all the things in my wish list, bike racks are surely the simplest, easiest, cheapest and most obvious one. It's an unrealistic demand at all.

I rode my bike up there, almost every time I went. What about kids in the adjoining neighborhoods? What about the steady stream of bikers on Lake Drive? This is such an incredibly easy need to meet. With millions being spent on parking garages, a few thousand can be spared to provide proper bike parking.

Anonymous said...

I actually really like the new mall. I think its a huge step up from what the old place was. No more expanses of sun baked surface lots, more trees, narrow streets. I like the project. No, its not perfect, but its a hell of a lot better than what was. As I understand it the final plan entails townhouses on Lydell Avenue to kind of block out all the commercial stuff from residential Whitefish Bay

Sara said...

This isn't a brand new concept. Easton Town Center ( was built in Columbus, OH in the late 90s. People had no idea what to expect. It's taken off like you wouldn't believe - and thus, Bayshore, by the same folks, was designed.

atomhammer said...

I grew up in Fox Point. Most of those mean statements are true. However, I remember getting hired as a teen by Fox Point to sit in an orange truck at the dump and basically CARD all those rich republicrats in the northshore who love their anti-social, lily-white suburbs, and loved driving MILES to dump their garbage in our dump, yet can't be bothered to part with any of their millions to pay for all the things people in Fox Point paid for. We were sorrounded by places like Glendale, Bayside, River Hills, etc. Yet we were the only folks to have a dump, library, fire dept, municipal pool. These folks want services but don't want to pay for it. Sometimes when I look at the malls, it seems like they want a downtown's amenities, and think they can just outsource it to a mall company. I agree that the new mall is an improvement, but it DOES almost look like they designed it so it could more efficiently annhialate Silver Spring's pretty little market atmosphere by the lake. That, and Milwaukee's unending march AWAY from mass transit makes me worry when I see these developments go up. Is there some sort of grassroots way to force them to pony up some pennies for bike racks? Like, maybe threaten a boycott, or a demo or something?

Kerry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kerry said...

I used to live on Bay Ridge, just one block from Bayshore. I watched with interest the development going up. It is a lot better than the old mall that was there, however I was dismayed at the final result. The final architectural result I find to be tacky and fake. With a bit more consideration I believe the place could have been so much more.

Still, it was fun walking to Bar Louie for a pint, very convenient for the people in Whitefish Bay who have had no bar nearby before.

I now live in Naperville in Illinois. Suddenly you realize that this "revolutionary" town concept is not very revolutionary after all. I find that there are many places that look near identical to Bayshore in our area - either new or undergoing redevelopment. I suspect that in 10 years all these revolutionary Town Centers will look run down as the quality was never in the original construction and they will all be boringly the same.

I have found a real town center. Naperville has a real town center that has developed over a 100 years. It is refreshing, as I know of no place in Wisconsin like it. Developers would do well to come to Naperville for inspiration on how to create a town center rather than continue to put up these fake carbon copy clones for what they think a town center should look like.

Anonymous said...

So many Truisms...
Port Washington has a lovely "down town" center, as it has been a real town for the past 100+ years. It's really a shame that they didn't look there for inspiration.
It's also true that the design is a cookie-cutter one, and similar ones are all over suburban America: Rockville Town Center, MD and Provo Town Center, UT to name a few.
Milwaukee has so much historical charm, it's a shame developers don't want to continue that tradition.