Inside Eden Center: What a Strip Mall Can Be

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There are two pool halls in here, a couple of travel agencies, a bunch of restaurants and delis, barbers, and lots of other shops. The pool hall was loud and full of cigarette smoke around lunchtime on a weekday. The whole place was full of people of all ages, and it easily mixes commerce with socializing.

Yes, it feels a little bit discordant, maybe a little bit chaotic. It isn’t the way Americans are generally accustomed to doing their shopping, particularly white Americans in the suburbs. But it’s a time-tested, deeply human, and really cool way to order commerce.

It brings to mind Chuck Marohn’s comparison of American suburbia—“orderly but dumb”—to traditional urbanism: “chaotic but smart.” The desire to impose “order” invisibly stifles so much opportunity, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

What’s been done here, essentially, is that a series of small indoor malls have been retrofitted into the structure of the strip plaza. Most of these businesses are quite small, smaller than the average strip mall space. What that means is that the number of productive enterprises in the plaza has been increased, without taking up more floor space or requiring more parking. Take a look at the official map:

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