Transforming ghost-boxes: From abandonment to engaging community individuality
Since the 1960s, big-box stores have defined retail shopping for American suburbs. However, these megastores are becoming abandoned at alarming rates due to economic decline and expansion. Large retailers, such as Wal-Mart, are contributing to the presence of empty big-boxes across the country. Big-box reuse is becoming more common. Communities still need to address the problem of these vacancies. The abandonment of big-boxes in the suburbs affects communities because the empty stores cause blight, reduced property values, loss in tax revenue, and decreases social capital. As these big-boxes become abandoned, the communities need to find a solution to reuse them that will be beneficial. Big-boxes are created for one purpose – retail. When these megastores leave their old store to build a new superstore, there are legal constraints preventing competing retailers from purchasing the property, which leads to issues for the city because it can sits empty for years. The superstores are usually built near the old structure, leaving the city and its community to find a solution for the unused space. This paper will look at several case studies on communities that have found an alternative use for these “ghost-boxes”. How can big-box stores be re-adapted for community needs? The growing presence of empty big-box stores across the U.S. is affecting communities. As designers we need to address the scale and complexity of the problem to create better community engagement through public connections. Beginning with a former big-box in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, an active community of about 60,000 people explores the possibilities of redesigning a big-box building to a library. The building is transformed into an enjoyable place where people can interact. It also creates a place for the surrounding neighborhoods to connect with one another. The ghost-boxes provide design challenges to break the typical structure, such as, bringing in natural light that would welcome the public. These challenges offer an alternative to the windowless, concrete, one-story structure of a typical big-box store. This type of project would encourage the community to grow and be an example for other communities such as Austin, Minnesota and Olathe, Missouri.