The Evolution of Today's Lifestyle & Its Impact on Shopping Centers & Housing
Recently I attended a very interesting symposium sponsored by the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. The focus was on the current status of malls and shopping centers and how they relate to our current lifestyle. In attendance were representatives from all the premiere malls and centers on the South Shore. Simon Mall, (Braintree) has malls all over the world and spoke in detail about the changes being made to build malls that suit today's lifestyle. In addition there were representatives from various planning boards to educate everyone on the zoning challenges in many South Shore communities. I've outlined below some of the more interesting points and challenges from the discussion.
The South Shore has the oldest demographic in Massachusetts other than the Cape. We are years behind the North Shore in attracting younger home buyers. The main reason is lack of affordable housing due to zoning limitations. Many South Shore communities are hesitant to change zoning laws to allow for more cluster housing/apartment complexes because they fear they will be a drain on the local school system. In reality this is not the case. Typically, it is a younger demographic without children or seniors looking to downsize that wanting a more affordable housing option.
The concern is that if we do not make changes to start attracting younger buyers, our economy will be seriously impacted. Young people are consumers and add tax revenue to the economy. As we age we consume less - downsize.
Millennials want convenience. They want to be able to walk to shopping restaurants etc...Mixed use centers close to public transportation are the future. Malls are trying to re-invent themselves - the new formula is to have a great grocery store as the anchor, a gym and more restaurant offerings. Malls or mixed use centers where you can go to the gym, grocery shop, meet a friend for lunch, shop retail and possibly stop in and see your eye doctor!
To attract these younger buyers, communities need apartments, condos or both within or next to these centers. On the South Shore we've had the train for a while, so we need to make the most of that and start development near those stations. The challenge is changing zoning to accommodate this. Plymouth is making that change by not issuing permits to cluster style housing in rural areas and moving the cluster style housing closer to the areas of commerce; there by maintaining the rural feel of those areas and make zoning changes to accommodate more cluster housing in more appropriate locations.
The company that purchased the Hanover Mall would like to develop a mixed use center. Their plans include an upscale grocer, a gym, retail, office space and housing, but unfortunately the current zoning does not accommodate this.
In order to ensure that our communities are thriving with rosy economic futures, we need to make sure our local governments are focused on creating housing that speaks to our current and future lifestyle needs.
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