Malls aren't by definition bad for a neighborhood's walkability and sense of place. It's just that most malls are poorly implemented -- stand-alone, sterile environments surrounded by a sea of asphalt. If you want to see how a mall integrates well into its surroundings, head to east Cambridge (near the Lechmere green line and Kendall Square red line T stops) and check out the CambridgeSide Galleria.
It's not the only local mall I've seen that's simply a big city block you can walk to; the failed Lafayette Place in downtown Boston, for one, offered that as well (that "never worked as a retail mall, perhaps because of its uninviting design and lack of windows," the Boston Business Journal once observed). The Galleria in Cambridge features big windows fronting to the street, making it look from some street angles like a block of stores designed to attract passers-by.
But what makes it special is its location along the Charles. There's a lovely walking area on one side of the mall, with an outdoor seating area adjacent to the food court. How many malls encourage you to buy your food, walk outside, sit at a table and watch the passers-by, with river cruise boats and a sizable fountain as backdrop? It's an exceedingly appealing and pleasant walking environment, with human-scaled nearby access to offices - all with large windows fronting the walkways, which is a major plus for walker appeal -- and residences.
As the mall's Web site boasts, MIT is within walking distance , the Museum of Science and Boston Duck Tours are housed across the street and Charles River Boat Company tours depart daily from outside the mall. A visit to the mall, they say, "can combine great shopping, delicious dining with a wonderful Boston touring experience all in one day." They clearly aim to be integrated into the community, not only with words and location, but design and siting.
It's not only possible and safe to walk there from the surrounding neighborhood; it's attractive and appealing, both going there & back and walking around it. Which is a lot more than you can say about the Natick Mall. Why?