"In 20 years, lifestyle centers will be the failed malls," predicts Eric Fredericks at Walkable Neighborhoods. Why? He believes "they are no different from regular malls. The key to successful lifestyle centers is to integrate with the existing neighborhoods, or to incorporate the right balance of housing and activities for residents to make it sustainable."
I couldn't agree more about the importance of integrating "lifestyle centers" into the surrounding neighborhood, so nearby office workers as well as residents can walk there. That's the crucial component in creating a community with sense of place instead of soul-less suburban sprawl.
Outdoor malls are nothing new. In fact, we had outdoor malls before the indoor enclosed ones - locally, open-air Shoppers World was built before the enclosed Natick Mall. The key to "lifestyle centers" is that there's supposed to be attention paid to making an attractive pedestrian streetscape and ambiance, instead of simply having open-air space for getting from one indoor location to another.
By definition, a walkable streetscape should include a way to walk to and from various destinations - the "park once, walk-to-multiple locations" ambiance I believe suburbs should be striving for. It's an admirable but long-range project to get more suburbanites out of their cars altogether so they go from home to work & shopping by foot, bike or public transit. But it's a much easier task to have them park at one mall and let them then walk to nearby stores, hotels and restaurants. You don't have to change density patterns much, but rather re-think how buildings and parking are designed and sited.
I'd add that it's equally important to integrate enclosed malls with the surrounding neighborhood. That's been done successfully in malls like CambridgeSide Galleria, on a city block, where the food court includes both indoor and outdoor sitting, and the outdoor seats are along a very nice walkway with waterview; as well as Copley Place in Boston, where it's at least reasonably possible and appealing to walk between the mall and neighboring Back Bay retail district. It's how malls and local business districts can not only co-exist, but enhance each other; and it's how you make a livable, pleasant streetscape. And it's why I'm so disappointed with current plans for the Natick Mall expansion, where new condos may be well integrated with enclosed shops, but residents will be effectively cut off from the surrounding community unless they get in their cars. They won't be able to walk to nearby office buildings and other destinations such as the cinema. What a missed opportunity to improve the Golden Triangle.