There’s a new trend coming to a parking lot near you: housing. For generations, we’ve overbuilt our malls and shopping centers with oceans of unused parking spaces – part of an overcautious policy to ensure every station wagon had its berth on Black Friday. For most of the year, a significant proportion of these lots go unused. Just look at a Google satellite view of a big-box parking lot anywhere in America.

Final rendering of the Town Center at The Downs in Scarborough, the site of the former Scarborough Downs racetrack off Route 1. Mixed-use development at The Downs and in downtown Freeport will be the focus of a free Greater Portland Council of Governments event Tuesday at Freeport Town Hall. The Downs photo

As online shopping traffic has spiked, retail foot traffic is down. Towns are starting to look at this idle land for another desperate demand: housing. The introduction of new housing to retail districts is not a novel idea – we’ve been doing it for centuries before the advent of the strip mall.

Turns out, housing next to retail leads to increased customer foot traffic, more demand for a greater variety of goods and services and higher tax returns for the town. What’s more, this concentration of density makes the numbers work for public transit, allowing for more frequent travel options for both residents and patrons (reducing the need for more parking spaces).

It’s the new, old trend in urban development. Come hear how Freeport is reinventing its downtown by converting excess parking into a livable neighborhood. We’ll also hear why the developers of Scarborough Downs sought the same balance of retail and residential to make their project work. The coffee’s on us next Tuesday, Oct. 25 at Freeport Town Hall starting at 9 a.m. Free and open to the public.

Robert O’Brien
senior economic development manager, Greater Portland Council of Governments

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