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Big Boxes Reborn

This story from the St. Louis Post Dispatch examines what happens to big boxes if you can't find another retailer to move in. This is something we touched on in a package of stories last May. In a climate where it seems another round of closings is announced each day, it makes for timely reading.

She's one of a growing number of architects and planners studying ways to reuse such spaces, often in nonretail ways.

Creative reuse, of course, is not a new idea. Cities have been doing it for centuries. Warehouses are now loft condos. Factories become restaurants. Hundred-year-old brick homes get carved up into apartments, and then reassembled as grand homes a generation later.

But, too often, the auto-centric world of suburban retail has been seen differently, Dunham-Jones said.

"Culturally, we have expected our suburbs to remain frozen in whatever form they were birthed in," she said. "The reality is the suburbs, too, are changing. Nothing really ever does stay the same."

Artist Julia Christensen spent seven years traveling the country, studying those changes. Particularly, she visited old Wal-Marts and Kmarts that have been put to new use, often by nonprofit organizations and community groups that wanted lots of cheap space and good road access.

Christensen found schools, libraries and health clinics. And churches, lots of them. Wal-Mart has said at least 16 of its stores have been turned into churches since 2002. "Temples of consumption" turned into, well, temples.

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