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BAM! goes the Food Court

Food — good food — has soared to superstar status, and where we eat had better be well-designed. Celebrity chefs, 24-hour cable stations and Martha Stewart's freedom have created a foodie culture that is chipping away at a traditional American dining ethos that values convenience over quality; speed over enjoyment. If we had our way, every pizza- and burger-based food court in the country would be demolished and in its place would be clusters of markets and food venues — some convenience-focused, some with linen tablecloths — that emphasize freshness, presentation and preparation.

Sign of the Times

The world's population is constantly in motion, and nowhere is this more evident than in the demographics of this country's first- and second-tier cities. A large influx of immigrant populations is changing the cultural landscape, and the design of commercial and residential developments is starting to respond to these shifts. America has always been the great melting pot, and besides, we rather enjoy the way other cultures influence the way we shop, dine and communicate. Variety is the spice of life. Bring it on.

I Value iValue

Fifteen years ago, teenagers lived for music: for a well-stocked record collection kept in alphabetical order and acquired through the sweat and toil of some menial job in the neighborhood. Music had value, whether it was pressed into vinyl or taped on a wonky cassette that melted in the front seat of the car. Not anymore. While the passion is still there, the value proposition has flip-flopped almost overnight. Ask any teenager: Music is free and that's the way it should be. It's just a few megs of digital information that bounces from IP address to IP address. Sure, most kids don't mind dropping 300 bucks on a trendy MP3 player that will almost certainly be obsolete in a few weeks, but paying a few bucks for the latest Arctic Monkeys CD? Ain't going to happen.

You Are Now Free to Move Around the Mall

Time was, travel had a dash of romance and intrigue to it. Ah yes, the train scene from An Affair to Remember or Bogart and Bergman on the tarmac in Casablanca. After 9/11, though, travel regressed to undignified body searches, surly flight attendants, really lousy food and waiting. Mostly, waiting. Where's the sense of arrival? Where's the excitement of going someplace new? Well, fear not intrepid travelers, retail is here to save the day. Falling somewhere between the mall and the High Street, transit-oriented retail both enriches the travel experience and creates a civic hub for the surrounding neighborhood. Whether you forgot to pack some expensive electronic device, or that perfect outfit, or you'd just like to sit down and have a good meal at a name restaurant, your next big shopping destination may have a control tower attached to it.

Think Outside the Park

Hey, we're all for those throwback ballparks, where ghosts of games past walk among Internet-ready bleachers and real grass. What sports fan isn't? But even as stadiums have grown cooler, there's still little for a family to do before and after the game. Now that every city on the planet gets that stadiums are better in urban locales than in sprawl-infected suburbs, the next nut to crack is how to tap in to a stadium's regenerative powers. Sure, they're economic engines, but what's the formula? The big trick, of course, is knitting these behemoths into the city fabric so that they spark multi-use, sustainable development. It's not single-use, mall-type thinking, but city building in the Robert Moses tradition: equal measure urban planning and retail smarts.

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