January 16, 2005

‘Lifestyle Centers’ vs. Conventional Malls

In places outside the Framingham/Natick "Golden Triangle," strip malls, enclosed malls and "big-box" chains are falling out of favor, replaced instead with pedestrian-friendly development that has more of the look and feel of a traditional town center.

CNN/Money recently ran a piece, Not a mall, it's a lifestyle center, explaining the difference:

It's got Ann Taylor, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and a Barnes & Noble, just like a regular suburban mall.

But take a closer look and you'll see leather lounge chairs in place of hard plastic benches, and natural sunshine instead of fluorescent tube lighting. Rather than a maze of escalators, you'll find tree-lined streets and beautifully designed stress-relieving fountains. There may even be a day-spa next to the Starbucks.

I've said it before but it bears repeating. Just like our local computer industry, where minicomputer companies hopped on a key trend and grabbed business away from old mainframe computer companies, only to miss the next key trend toward desktop computing; many of our local planners and developers took advantage of the trend toward malls and away from downtown business districts in the '60s and '70s, but are flat-out missing the next critically important trend, toward pedestrian-friendly developments with a sense of place.

"A sluggish environment for old-fashioned mall development is driving the trend" toward lifestyle centers, the CNN/Money piece notes. But apparently not in Natick (Natick Mall expansion) or Framingham (Lowe's), where what worked 35 years ago is good enough for us. Sigh.

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