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Masterplanning a successful main street

I had a discussion with a friend of mine over the weekend about what it takes to masterplan a successful retail main street. We talked about street networks, storefront sizes, the impact of Toronto’s PATH on ground level experiences, and a bunch of other things. Ultimately, we both agreed that this is really not an easy feat to accomplish. More often than not, we screw it up. Many of the most cherished retail spines in this city rely on buildings that were primarily built during a different era. They’re old stock.

All of this got me wondering:

Some people responded by saying it doesn’t exist. Hmm. Is our track record that bad? Let’s dig a bit deeper and expand the scope of this question. What are some of the best retail streets around the world that comprise of buildings that were all or mostly built in the last 50 years? I would love to hear from you. Please leave any responses and/or thoughts in the comment section below. I plan to look at this topic in more detail and share specific examples in the coming weeks.


  1. Daan

    One Dutch example that comes to mind (not ‘the best’ but definetely interesting) is Sjoerd Soeters’ plan for Mariënburg in Nijmegen (Dutch city with a history dating back to the Roman empire). Located in a very central part of the city that used to be rather fragmented. Urban plan and execution in the 1990s. See: (website is in Dutch but google will translate it for you).


  2. Valerie McIlroy

    Vancouver’s Kitsilano 4th Street maybe a good example.Very little vacancy w/ commercial / residential zoning for the most part.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. am

    I’m curious, why does the age of the building stock matter?

    What if it was the familiarity and reassuring presence of older buildings that was a major contributor to long-term retail success? I wouldn’t be surprised if evolutionary psychology had something about this… My empirical observations tell me that the best retail-oriented neighbourhoods are a mix of old and new, well-integrated into the urban fabric, in a way that the new is not screaming for attention.

    I honestly can’t think of an all-new retail main street that ticks all your boxes, Brandon. The closest thing we’d have in Toronto are the shops at don mills, but it still feels too much like a mall. I grew up in a city where the density (about twice that of Toronto) allowed almost every street to contain some retail. Obviously, the larger arteries had more, but there wasn’t such a clear distinction between residential and retail (virtually all buildings were low to mid-rise apartment buildings).


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