Complaints are coming in regularly about homeless activities around the Stater Bros. shopping center, in San Clemente. Within a couple of days, the OCSD sheriff’s blotter showed disturbances, lewdness and aggressive behavior towards shoppers. This struck me as very odd, and I wanted to investigate what was happening. What I found were three fundamentally flawed issues in the center’s urban design. Could this be contributing to the site’s security problem?
- The center’s geographical situation.
The center sits in a geographically tough position and does nothing to account for it. Drivers going south down Camino De Los Mares from the freeway will see the 76 gas station, but it wraps around the corner and people basically miss the center that sits back and out of view.
- Vacant restaurant next to the 76 station.
From the opposite direction, they have just passed the Ocean View Plaza on the left and Krikorian Premier Theaters on the right and see a vacant building on the right corner, a Stater Bros. sign, a vacant detached restaurant, the 76 gas station, but not the shopping center. The shopping center is essentially invisible to drivers.
- The parking lot is a mess.
So now you’ve entered the center’s parking lot. It is full of cars, but it lacks organization and intuition.
The parking stalls are all pointed in the other direction. The stalls on the left are turned the opposite direction also. There are no one-way arrows on the asphalt to guide drivers, and it makes no sense to have a one-way aisle along one of the center’s main entrance arteries. Drivers coming from the opposite direction will find parking stalls tilted in their direction on the right, until rounding the corner, and will find the stalls in front of Stater Bros. turned the other direction.
Effective shopping centers place objects like planters or walkways in their parking lots to create organization. The 76 station entrance also adds to the perception of sprawl and needs organization to delineate between the two.
None of this is desirable.
- The center is not inviting.
Units in the shopping center sit under a dark, uninviting overhang. By sitting in close proximity to the parking stalls, shoppers are mainly seeing business signs and are unable to see the inside of businesses at eye level, hindered by shadows too. That is further compounded by uphill entrances to the center with the shops sitting in a trough.
While urban design cannot totally explain the state of a shopping center’s security, it does play a major role in the probability of a retail business’s success. By maintaining a center that is unseen, disorganized and uninviting, the property managers are essentially inviting the consequences that come with it. In this case, it is a high volume of homeless activity and disturbances to shoppers. This in turn will discourage the likelihood of attracting more businesses to the center. The site is in a position to fail.
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