June 24, 2004

Decline of the Traditional Mall

"These days, you either go [shopping] for the experience... or you go to Wal-Mart for the discount. The regional mall is boring without bargains."

So urban planner William Fulton, a senior scholar at the University of Southern California School of Policy, Planning and Development, told the Los Angeles Times, in an article Moving the Mall Outdoors.

"Developers are tearing down or reconfiguring covered malls from Raleigh, N.C., to Columbus, Ohio, making room for outdoor centers that mix traditional retailers with big-box stores, high-density housing, stadium-style theaters, grocery stores and restaurants," the article notes.

"Many people live in communities where there's not a main street where they can walk, window shop and meet people," Ellen Greenberg, director of research for Congress for the New Urbanism, told the Times. "What we're learning is people value that and miss it, which is why it's being imitated in these lifestyle centers."

More enclosed malls have shut down than have opened in the past few years, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Simon Property Group, America's largest mall owner, is currently building five new outdoor shopping centers -- and no new enclosed malls.

Congress for the New Urbanism says there are at least 140 declining malls in the U.S., with another 250 at risk. "Agency officials say declining shopping centers, which the agency calls 'greyfields,' should be transformed into developments mixing residential, retail, office and civic space in a pedestrian-friendly setting woven into the community."

Let's hope the Natick Mall expansion gets the pedestrian-friendly setting and woven into the community (i.e. pedestrian-friendly access to the center) parts right.

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