Lots of big cities have started shipping container business villages. I love the idea. But many of them are making a huge mistake that I don’t want to see small towns copy.
The Big Mistake: Ignoring the street
My friend Carlos Moreno of Tulsa, Oklahoma, pointed this out. Here’s a picture of the Boxyard in Tulsa, taken from the street corner:
Notice how they’ve put the blank wall to the street! They did it so they could create a central courtyard that faces the other street.
It’s not just in Tulsa. I’ve seen the same layout at the Container Park in Las Vegas, where the whole thing is fenced off to create a self-contained village and courtyard with blank walls facing all the surrounding streets. It’s good that the interior space is welcoming, but it shuts off the activity from the sidewalks.
A courtyard is nice, but you know what’s nicer? Not blanking out an entire section of your downtown. Most small towns don’t have a lot of street frontage to waste this way!
The Better Solution: Line up the containers just like regular buildings
If you decide to use shipping containers, storage sheds or other alternatives to fill in an empty stretch of your downtown, line them up right on the sidewalk like regular downtown buildings. Here’s an example seen in Cleveland, Ohio:
Bonus: Build your courtyard around back
You can still build a courtyard or plaza space behind your containers or sheds. Design it so there are hallways or walkways that lead from the street side to the new plaza behind. You can even sneak in another row of containers around the plaza for even more businesses, if you have demand for it. Or maybe use some space for parking if you have to.
As a bonus, this adds life and activity to your alley side, which is the next frontier for expanding your downtown.
The Tulsa Boxyard layout already includes some passageways that allow people in from the street that got the blank-wall treatment. They could make a few simple changes to address the street with street-side entrances and windows.
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