Google StreetView is probably the best thing that ever happened to any urban-planning nerd. For example, take my recent discovery of the Ikea in Melbourne, Australia:
Part of a mall called Victoria Gardens, the street frontage is dominated by a parking structure, but is nonetheless pedestrian-friendly (even including a sheltered walkway!) and a bike lane rolls right in front. Contrast this with the Ikea in Minneapolis:
Located in the crotch of two freeways, this Ikea has a wide moat of parking and then a double-deck of parking. But pedestrians would be lucky to get that far, because first they have to deal with six lanes of traffic (most of which think they are already on the freeway) and intermittent sidewalks.
It was surprising to me to discover an urban Ikea, as the other Ikeas I’ve known have all been auto-oriented big boxes – and that includes the Ikea in Oslo, Norway, which we frequented for its affordable food (a hot dog for less than $5!). My knowledge of Ikea history is not extensive enough to know whether Ikea Melbourne was an experiment in urbanism that Ikea hasn’t pursued further or whether Ikea Melbourne represents the future of Ikea – I hope it’s the latter, as I’ve always taken with a grain of salt my girlfriend’s insistence that Ikea is a mega-corporation with a conscience.