Re-envisioning the Suburban Mall


A large family of “greyfield” sites exist that traditionally served as shopping alternatives to downtown and neighborhood commercial districts. They catered to our nation’s automobile and suburban growth. While mostly vacant now, these sites still enjoy critical mass and close-in locations, ready for their next iteration of growth. We recently laid the groundwork with our friends at County Corp in Dayton for one such site.

Forest Park has been vacant for a better part of the last twenty years. It is a large site with an uncertain market context. To overcome its challenges and uncover its potential, the YARD approach was used to tailor the following:


We were able to connect with hundreds of people traditionally left out of the planning process by bringing the action to the community on site, tapping into online resources such as social media and surveys, and by turning the large meetings such as the final unveiling into public events in interesting on-site spaces not traditionally visited by community members.

Scenario and Story

We used our scenario and story testing process with the community so that they could actively participate in decisions about what the site’s new story was to become and how the development emphasis might be oriented to celebrating that story. Four divergent scenarios were explored and used to arrive at the consensus direction.

Demand Discovery

The current perception of the site is one of crime and disinvestment. Virtually none of the community stakeholders have even accessed the world class network of trails that stretch over 300 miles throughout the state. To correct these perceptions then, it is time to tell a new story through targeted programming that gets people experiencing the site in new ways. One of the few remaining buildings on site, the Post Office, is set to become a community hub and site development office. Monthly open streets events along Riverside Drive will showcase the site’s proximity to Downtown Dayton and to the trail network.


Our work is predicated on simultaneously addressing both supply (time-intensive buildings, streets, parks, etc.) and demand (low-hanging reasons, stories, and actions that bring people together). Our recommendations demonstrate how, with one hand owners work toward the supply side while, with the other, they can actively get people to the site in new ways.

Work Plan

A project as large and complex as Forest Park can be overwhelming. To aid in filtering the big vision down into manageable chunks, the Action Plan includes a live Work Plan that lives online for project leaders and stakeholders to build specific work tasks into their quarterly workflow. We spend most of our time helping our partners figure out the first 3 years/12 quarters. Vision plans typically fall short on what to do in this critical time. It is amazing what can be done in three years.

The Forest Park effort included Montgomery County, Harrison Township, and several team partners: MKSK, Greenstreet, Calfee Zoning, LJB, and BLDG.