Big box development has a bad reputation. There are many examples of how the multinational low cost end of the commercial retail market has dominated suburban fringe hubs, decimating small businesses and killing the public life of once thriving community centers. But what if the big box model could actual contribute to the vibrancy of a city centre? What if it could actually help sustain local economies?
A few summers ago I visited the small coastal town of Sorrento, located on the Mornington Peninsula just south of the Australian city of Melbourne. The town centre is one main street, perpendicular to the beach and is similar to most small towns of regional Australia with a one to two storey scaled street edge, large shop fronts protected by deep street awnings and flanked by lines of on street parking punctuated by mature deciduous trees.
Here the holiday vibe of the beach has spread to the main street with visitors and locals alike sauntering slowly along the footpaths, eating ice creams and stopping to look in the windows of the shops.
This is a slightly unique beach town community as many of it’s rate payers do not live here all year round, instead they reside in Melbourne and escape to the coast on long weekends and during summer holidays. One sign of this unusual regional community is the large percentage of high end sports cars, sedans and four wheel drives parked in the the main street. The other is the unusual presence of multinational high end fashion stores dotted along the shopping strip. The presence of such chains is almost unnoticeable as their facades have none of the slick architectural devices employed in the CBD, instead they sit in the same large windowed, low awning, pitched roof forms as their neighbouring local fashion shops and small craft stores. Here the needs of the two distinct communities, the permanent locals and the transient tourists, sit comfortably side by side.