Sears was not the first nor the last casualty of the beginning of the end of the mall-based, automobile-dependent, suburban model of development. It was simply the biggest so far.
This is related to the fact that the millennial generation (the 20-something cohort) are not interested in the mall-based, suburban-based, auto-dependent lifestyle. Nobody wants to admit there is a permanent shift in the buying habits of the age group with the highest propensity to spend.
Retailers who rely on consumers with vehicles are in for a shock, the younger generation is not driving as much and, as such, unless there are convenient transportation choices for them, that planned shopping trip may never occur and the product or service will be bought online.
This generation (and increasingly other generations) reserves their automobile usage for big box stores and suppliers of perishables, such as Costco and Superstore, stocking up as needed. Ever notice the long line-ups of cars on weekends in the West Shore near these retailers? These two big retailers are one stop locations and offer products that cannot easily be bought online.
We are witnessing the end of the suburban model of development in favour of higher density compact communities, where people can choose their mode of travel for shopping. Kudos to those municipalities that incorporated these basic demographic and economic facts into their city planning.
More decision makers are starting to realize the impact that these demographic facts will have on shaping demand for urban planning and corresponding requisite transportation planning. The millennial generation sees the car as only one of the choices of a multi-modal transportation system. They want to be able to choose to drive rather than be forced to drive to conduct their daily activities.
We are very likely to see the proliferation of mixed commercial/residential higher density corridors as the replacement to the mall based infrastructure. The dependence on the car as the sole means of transportation will be replaced by a model where the car is only one of the means of transportation.
Toronto’s Queen Street had mixed commercial/residential development and street cars in the early 1900s before the car age, and we are likely to see the return of this model of development across North America. Commercial on the bottom two to three floors and a few floors of residential above.