Amazon’s stunning acquisition last week of Whole Foods signaled an inflection point in the development of retail, notably the $800 billion supermarket sector. The massive shift of retail to the web is beginning to claw into the last remaining bastions of physical space. In the last year alone, 50,000 positions were lost in the retail sector, and as many as 6 million jobs could be vulnerable nationwide in the long term. Store closings are running at a rate higher than during the Great Recession.
Yet, there’s an opportunity opening for cities and regions to take advantage of new space for churches, colleges, warehouse space and, most importantly, housing. Nationally, an estimated 15 percent of all mall space will need to find new uses within the next decade. As many as 275 malls, according to Credit Suisse, will close in the next five years — roughly a quarter of the total. America already has four to five times as much retail space per capita as countries such as the United Kingdom or Japan.
The infill opportunity
The biggest opportunity for Southern California lies in the production of new housing, which would help to make up for providing less than half the needed supply for the past decade. To date, misguided state policy has created a raft of poor outcomes — rising prices, low inventory, declining affordability, the second-lowest homeownership rate in the nation — in effect, chasing middle-class, younger families out of the state.
State policy has made things worse by putting ever more regulatory burdens on housing, particularly for those who build single-family homes on the peripheral areas, where lower-cost residences have historically been built. But the state’s policy of pushing “infill” development has also foundered, as the price of new apartments has shot up, in part due to the limited land for developments.
These policies understandably upset residents of many urban neighborhoods, who feel that developers are seeking carte blanche to…