March 5, 2005

Another Mall To Get Outdoor ‘Lifestyle Center’ Renovation

Here in the "Golden Triangle" west of Boston, the proposed Natick Mall expansion is planned as a more-of-the-same-old enclosed shopping mall experience, sited in a particularly pedestrian unappealing way surrounded, of course, by a vast sea of asphalt. Even existing retailers in the space are complaining that the plan to build a separate addition is pedestrian-hostile, offering a potentially dangerous and certainly off-putting way of getting from the new to old shopping areas.

Elsewhere in America, though, the big trend is away from enclosed malls in favor of so-called "lifestyle centers" -- an open-air shopping experience that tries to create a town-square-like "sense of place" and ambiance that encourages strolling and lingering.

Owners of Virginia's Spotsylvania Mall, for example, are mulling renovation plans that call for an open-air addition with "new shops, as well as restaurants, a hotel and an 18-screen movie theater," according to the Free Lance-Star. (There's a major movie theater right next to the Natick Mall, down Flutie Pass. It is within walking distance. NO ONE would walk there from the mall because of the dangerous road crossings and hideously unappealing route.)

Another new lifestyle center planned for Arkansas has already attracted Saks as an anchor tennant, says the Benton County Record. "Pleasant Crossing ... is being planned as an open-air village with pedestrian-friendly shops and restaurants surrounding a 7-acre lake."

Why are we still getting mid-20th-century plans here?


  1. "Elsewhere in America, though, the big trend is away from enclosed malls in favor of so-called 'lifestyle centers' – an open-air shopping experience that tries to create a town-square-like 'sense of place' and ambiance that encourages strolling and lingering"

    Hmm, you mean like the old Shoppers' World? :-).

  2. Back to the future indeed. Actually, if the same sort of footprint of the old Shoppers World had been kept when it was redone, but developers had updated the stores and architecture and included outdoor cafe seating ... it would be a lot nicer than what's there now!

  3. The sad thing is that a generation is coming of age that only knows bad design, and has never lived
    in a walkable environment. I was complaining to my daughter yesterday about the glum walk through the
    parking lot at Shoppers' World to reach the stores, and she couldn't imagine why there was anything
    wrong with it or how it could be improved. This led to a long story (to her bemusement) from me about growing up in
    Quincy in the 1970s and being able to walk absolutely everywhere ... stores, eating places, school, movies, bowling
    alley, playing fields ... the entire adolescent universe.

  4. with all the congestion happening around and the rapid urbanization happening in cities all over the world, i think retail experiences like this is a breath of fresh air. a lot of developers in my country are also in the phase of an outdoor oriented lifestlye in their endeavors.

  5. Interesting how this discussion happened two years ago, and the talk about lifestyle center was the topic of discussion by General Growth at last week's Natick Planning Board meeting. Seems Natick planners aren't up to speed on what a modern day mall is supposted to be like. A town official asked what sort of design the current Shoppers World is, and the spokesperson for General Growth said "it's a strip mall". Natick planner, ever more interested in boosting his town's esteem asked "what should Shoppers World do to be more like a lifestyle center, more like Natick" and the rep responded "get a sense of place, the way it was before they changed it". In other words, they had the right style, and ruined it.
    Of course Natick planners didn't seem to get the underlying message, that the Natick Mall as currently being built, is already passe, not up to par in the world of shopping malls, so the rte 9 main st look has become a necessary update.

  6. Yes, I agree completely, the old Shoppers World had the right basic style and ruined it. I still believe they should have updated what was there, making more outdoor seating for restaurants and incorporating the internal courtyard better into the "streetscape" when walking from store to store. In addition, had they moved the mall up to the sidewalk on at least one side - say, the Rte. 30 side - it could have been the anchor for a walkable pedestrian boulevard retail center. What an opportunity lost.

    In driving by the mall construction on Speen Street today, I see that one of the new stores will be fairly close to that street. They should definitely create a streetscape there, and a walkable area so people at the nearby hotels and hopefully offices can walk down there. One hotel is within a 10-minute walk without crossing streets, at least that ought to get a good walking path.

    But yes, I agree the Natick Mall renovation as initially conceived is focused largely on retail trends of decades ago. Adding housing is new, but the basic layout and concept is otherwise, in my opinion, very mid 20th century.