Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Re-Greening of Suburbia: How an Old Shopping Mall May Soon be Home to World's Largest Green Roof

by Nomad

The Hills Green RoofOne development proposal in California would see the world's largest green roof. It will provide an example of how green thinking will change the urban and suburban landscape.

The story of the shopping mall in some ways represents the story of mid-century America. A product of the automobile loving suburban culture of the 1960s, the mall as a cultural icon, critics say, is an idea that has passed its prime.
Many large-scale malls today have become less and less economically sustainable. In some areas of the country, malls are experiencing higher vacancies, being repurposed and are even being demolished.

The question is what is going to come next? 
In California, one developer is offering a possible answer.

The Sad Tale of Vallco
One example of the decline of the neighborhood mall is Vallco Shopping Mall in Cupertino, California. Having started as a business park in the 1960s, the mall became a regional shopping center on the edge of the city in the mid-1970s. Troubles began around the late 1980s and million dollar expansions only forestalled the inevitable.
By the 1990s, the mall had become passé and, like many problematic shopping centers, the selection of stores in Vallco simply didn't reflect the tastes and affluence of the average neighborhood shopper.

By 2006, Vallco had the lowest occupancy rate of any mall in the area, at just 24 percent. As most of us know by instinct, the more unleased real estate there is inside a mall, the fewer shoppers will come. Fewer shoppers means less revenue leading to a downward spiral.
In the Vallco case, a varieties of remedies were attempted, from expanding the parking areas, to adding cineplex theatres. The crash of 2008 was, however, the final blow and the two owners of the complex filed for bankruptcy in September 2008.

After a series of business maneuvers, Sand Hill Property Co. completed purchase of the entire mall for a total of US$ 320 million in November 2014. Until that point in its 30-year history, the entire mall had not been in the hands of one owner.  As one source explains:
Single ownership of the mall is a game-changer for the center, allowing a smoother path toward redevelopment by eliminating other parties with differing agendas.
This presented the new owners with an opportunity to overhaul the entire mall, instead of piecemeal renovations or partial solutions. 

Green Roof project  California

The Hills
The Hills Green Roof projectWhat Sand Hill has proposed for the derelict mall is now attracting a lot of attention and praise from urbanists and supporters of the green movement.  

In August of 2015, Sand Hill unveiled its $3 billion plans to convert the mall into "a retail, office, and residential development based on a street grid."
The Hills, as it will be called, will be covered with the world's largest green roof. The green areas of some 30 acres will form part of a city park as well as a nature preserve and source of local produce.

The resulting street-crossing expanse is set to include miles of walking trails, vineyards, orchards, playgrounds and an amphitheater. Additionally, the proposal will include the creation of nearly 1,000 apartments consisting of 680 market-rate apartments, 80 affordable apartments and 40 apartments for seniors.

On top of this, (not literally) will be over a million square feet of office space. Entertainment facilities will incorporate many of the past Vallco Mall amenities such as a cinema, gym, shopping center and ice rink.

There's even a school to be build as part of the proposal. After conferring with local school representatives about the possible negative impacts on traffic and Cupertino's schools. Sand Hill announced that it would contribute $40 million worth of amenities and funding to the Cupertino Union School District and Fremont Union High School District.
If the project is approved by the city, Sand Hill would spend more than $20 million for construction of a 700-student elementary school at the former Nan Allen School site near the Portal neighborhood. The company also would replace all portable classrooms at Collins Elementary School with permanent ones, improve and expand athletic fields at the Collins and Nan Allen sites, and create a $1 million endowment for the 8th grade Yosemite Science Program.
But there was more in the proposal for local residents to like. Sand Hill plans to privately fund a community shuttle service. This service would bring help limit automobile congestion. Most of the parking will, in any case, be constructed underground to better green use of the land. 
  
Rafael Viñoly Architects and OLIN Landscape Architects have been selected as chief designers of the project. Despite a rather unfortunate architecture anomaly (the notorious magnifying glass effect) the Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly has a forty-plus year career comprised of a long list of honors, awards and positions such as a International Fellow with The Royal Institute of British Architects. His past projects have been considered some of the most interesting and futuristic and sometimes controversial.
He is considered "at the forefront of contemporary architecture" with works spanning the planet in major cities from Tokyo to Tucson, from Seoul, to San Francisco and from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi.

Reed Moulds, Sand Hill managing director who is leading the redevelopment effort, told the San Jose Mercury:
"There will be nothing like it when we are done. We believe its community focus will make this a remarkable place to live, work, dine, play, learn and recreate."
First, as with any such a massive construction project, Sand Hill must begin environmental review for The Hills. Because California in the midst of a severe (and long-standing) drought, the developers plan to work alongside local water agencies and providers "to extend recycled water to the site for irrigation, heating, and cooling systems." 
Moreover, the green space would feature native and drought tolerant plants in order to lessen water usage.

The plans being discussed go further than simply an urban revitalization project. If the architects achieve their vision, The Hills could represent the future, a mix of the closeness of an urban life, the amenities of a suburbia without the car and the traffic or home maintenance issues, and the green landscape of the country.  


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