J. Christensen
The MIT Press | 0262033798 | 2008 | PDF | 220 pages | 10 Mb

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America is becoming a container landscape of big boxes connected by highways. When a big box store upsizes to an even bigger box "supercenter" down the road, it leaves behind more than the vacant shell of a retail operation; it leaves behind a changed landscape that can't be changed back. Acres of land have been paved around it. Highway exits lead to it; local roads end at it. With thousands of empty big box stores spread across America, these sites have become a dominant feature of the American landscape.

In Big Box Reuse, Julia Christensen shows us how ten communities have addressed this problem, turning vacated Wal-Marts and Kmarts into something else: a church, a library, a school, a medical center, a courthouse, a recreation center, a museum, and other civic-minded structures. In each case, what was once a place to shop has become a center of community life.

Christensen crisscrossed America identifying these projects, then photographed, videotaped, and interviewed the people involved. The first-person accounts and color photographs of Big Box Reuse reveal the hidden stories behind the transformation of these facades into gateways of community life. Whether a big box store becomes a "Senior Resource Center" or a museum devoted to Spam (the kind that comes in a can), each renovation displays a community's resourcefulness and creativity—but it also raises questions about how big box buildings affect the lives of communities. What does it mean for us and for the future of America if the spaces of commerce built by a few monolithic corporations become the sites where education, medicine, religion, and culture are dispensed wholesale to the populace?


Part I CENTER 12
1. The Nelson County Justice Center 18
2. The RPM Indoor Raceway 36
3. The Centralia Senior Resource Center 58

4. The Charter School 80
5. The Head Start Early Childhood Center 100

6. The Spam Museum 122
7. The Lebanon-Laclede County Library 144
8. The Calvary Chapel 170

Part IV FUTURE 192
9. The St. Bernard Health Center 196
10. The Peddler’s Mall 214

Notes 229


"Christensen has seen the future."
—Joel Garreau, Washington Post

"It is a smart book, one that speaks to the zeitgeist: the ultimate form of recycling, after all, is recycling of place. But more than that, it is an enthusiastic book. True to form, Big Box Reuse is a book for many collections."
—Foreword Magazine, Aimee Houser

"... the stories [Christensen] tells of suburban revitalization provide strong evidence that suburbs and small towns are evolving in startling new ways. Big Box Reuse gives that phenomenon welcome and serious attention."
—Steven Litt, Cleveland Plain Dealer

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