Posted: by

Developers in D.C. are proposing a “pop-up” restaurant on a vacant U Street lot that would be constructed out of shipping containers and there are a lot of good questions about whether this is a good or bad thing. Online commenters wonder whether this is cool urbanism or just a descent into third world, make-do architecture.

Looking at other examples, in London and New York, it seems these are a retail opportunity for branding,  and by-the-way, an urban pheonmenon. London’s very cool Shoreditch box park describes itself as “low-cost, low-risk, unique, and flexible,” meant to draw tenants like local artists and artisanal manufacturers.

boxes full of nothing you really need

At New York’s Dekalb Market, tenants are a roster of hipster cliches from an excessive number of bakeries to dog apparel. But tenants at Shoreditch also include some mainstream retailers like Levi’s and Oakley, and that ultimate example of suburban blandess–Dockers–a company clearly looking to introduce themselves to a new market in a very particular way.

And the branding works for the retail development as well. Would shoppers and residents be as excited if the box parks included very quotidien uses like auto repair and dry cleaners? And what about institutional or resdential uses? Would you live in one if your actual home hadn’t been lost in a natural disaster?

Another box park is proposed at D.C.’s Nationals Stadium, where every square foot must be monetized to make the franchise profitable. A new, cool look may attract shoppers beyond baseball fans. One online commenter made a pitch for a kids play-space so parents can kick back before the game.

First it was malls, then reconstructed main streets, now it’s box parks, anythign to keep the retail experience fresh. Or you could just stay home and shop online!


2 Responses to “Branding or Building a Neighborhood?”

  1. gk

    To answer your question, cool urbanism or descent into the 3rd world. I think context is everything and because of DC’s truncated economy, the container solution (not pop-ups generally) is more the latter. Dc has no port, hence no containers. In other cities to see stacks of real containers is commonplace, a symbol of the city’s muscle. New York has them (if you count New Jersey or Brooklyn), Baltimore has them, Miami has them. As the last example would prove you don’t necessarily have to have northeastern grit to qualify for containers. in any of these cities a pop-up village of containers would come across as clever adaptation of industrial infrastructure. Somehow in DC I think they would come across as FEMA trailers.

    What would be an appropriate solution in DC?

  2. claudia

    I think my point is that these are about style, which by definition transcends “appropriate solutions.” Spike heels are not an appropriate solution to foot protection while wlaking, but they are stylish and style is why we buy things.