Urbanism Next
University of OregonUniversity of Oregon

Sense of Place

When new technologies allow people to live, work, and shop anywhere, what happens to the identity of places?


What is driving change?

Change in Congestion

Transportation network companies (TNCs) are already contributing to increased congestion in urban areas and autonomous vehicles (AVs) are predicted to exacerbate the problem. The increase in congestion could put pressure on street design to facilitate increased travel speeds. In mitigating for this congestion, streets will continue to be a battleground of competing strategies, especially as on-street parking needs are potentially reduced, freeing up usable space in the right-of-way.

Reduction of Brick-and-Mortar Stores

As a larger share of retail shifts to e-commerce, the number of stores could diminish and locations that are marginal today could no longer be viable. This could impact the vitality of urban areas with less people on the street and less storefronts that help generate street-level activity.

Increasing Interest in Experiential Retail

With the current trend in retail of expanded interest in the experiential aspect of shopping (as opposed to a sole focus on the object to be purchased), the design of urban areas becomes more important. Urban design helps define the identity and vitality of an area and can become a critical draw as quality of experience becomes more central.

Future Changes

What Could Happen?

  • Parking could give way to uses that support placemaking. Whether full-block surface lots, stacked concrete garages, or lots that sit between buildings and streets, parking often acts as a deterrent to providing a desirable identity for places. Once thought of as necessary for supporting businesses, a decline in parking demand could result in these spaces being converted into shops, housing, public spaces, or other types of uses that help create a more cohesive sense of place.
  • Increased density could increase vitality. With the reduction of parking needs, the density of development could increase and cities could become more compact. This could increase the activity and vitality of areas—even suburban areas—thus, increasing opportunities for creating a strong sense of place.
  • Empty storefronts fronts could create challenges for community identity and sense of place. Shopping districts and malls may shift from community amenities to burdens as these large spaces experience decreasing use and store closures. Whether redeveloped into housing or e-commerce supportive uses such as warehousing, the ability for shopping districts to help establish a sense of place may no longer be a widespread strategy available to designers and developers.
Pike Place Market in Seattle at night

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash


  • Parking is already transforming into places. Underutilized parking lots and structures have been transformed into housing, offices, or used as locations for pop-up shops, local festivals, and food trucks pods. The successes of these types of ventures across many communities and settings indicates a desire to engage with places and express local culture, and empty parking lots or underutilized parking garages provide an ideal opportunity for these uses.
  • Stores are closing. Big box chains that were previously fixtures of the retail landscape have closed at a rapid rate, and smaller stores are also struggling to compete with online retailers. Restaurants are also seeing a shift from customers dining in to an increasing number ordering take out to be delivered by courier network services such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Postmates. All of this reduces the vitality of areas that used to rely on restaurants and retail for activity.

Quick facts

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What to do

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Not sure where to start? Below are four What to Do pages that we think are especially relevant to Sense of Place:

More about what to do »


Policies, pilots, and approaches

Communication tools

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