A Placemaking Journal

Black Friday: Get your gorilla on

We’re happy when we go for a run. We’re even more happy when we go for a run in a gorilla suit — at least according to Roko Belic, director of the award-winning documentary, HAPPY. That’s because some change is gonna do ya good. Which is one of the many reasons that we placemakers advocate for immersive urban environments, and not the monoculture of suburbia. And why we go as far as to argue that these sorts of diverse, character-rich neighbourhoods actually make us happier.

While millions of people now agree with the preceding paragraph, the challenge now is agreeing on just how diverse we’re willing for places to be. For instance, most would agree on the value of mixing the uses of some buildings, with office and dwellings over or beside shopfronts, but we don’t always agree on scale.

Provided you’re one of the people who celebrate the holidays by purchasing some gifts (utilitarian or otherwise), where did you go last week for Black Friday? Big box stores for some value shopping? Mid-range stores of regional retailers? Or the intensely-local markets of tiny retail? Or maybe you are saving it up for Cyber Monday.

A couple weeks ago, we talked about how fulfilling artisanal manufacturing connected to walkable storefronts can be. Allowing this sort of patterns and uses can make us nimble on a number of fronts, with people living and working in the same building, but also when the experience of the acquisition is so high, extra consumption is less tempting.

Roko Belic would call that the hedonic treadmill: goods don’t make us appreciably happier in the long term, because we adapt to having them. HAPPY scientists found that experiences, on the other hand, have a more lasting impact on our wellbeing.

And that immersive experience of urbanism that connects us to each other is what we’re after. In the land of the big box here in North America, developers usually want retail to have a 60’ deep floor plate, at a minimum. Context-sensitive urban designers frequently try to get developers to consider a 30’ deep floor plate, to mix up the scale a bit. But in Venice, we find that 6’ works quite well.

So it should come as no surprise that the US has 20 SF of retail per person. That’s massive in comparison to other countries; the next closest are Sweden at 3.3 and the UK at 2.5 SF of retail per person.

It’s true, the aspirational Venetian images below (click ’em for larger views) will not translate to a place that is not already immensely walkable, but in places that are, consider getting your gorilla on. Pop-up retail in North America hints that you just might get happy.















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