November 27, 2005

The Key To Successful Lifestyle Centers

"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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Sharon. When I first heard the term "lifestyle centers" I thought that times might actually be changing. They have been popping up all over the Midwest coined as "saviors" to the dying regional malls. I was excited until I actually visited a few and saw (and made input) on a some that were proposed. Unfortunately my ideas of connecting to the existing neighborhoods, incorporating mixed-uses & housing with the development, and enhanced pedestrian design features were pretty much laughed off at one mall. The only reason these lifestyle centers are successful now is because they are new. Most of the time they are just shifting the geographical location of where money is being spent. Five years down the road, the money shifts to the next new mall.

    You're right that "lifestyle centers" have existed forever, we just referred to them as outdoor malls. One of my favorite malls growing up was a mall called Oakbrook Terrace in the suburbs of Chicago. I remember liking it because it had a "cool" design and it was outside. I wonder if I visited it today if I would still like it. A lot of top ped people in the world actually like malls because many mall designers understand the needs and wants of pedestrians and shoppers very well. Most malls get a total overhaul every 5-10 years (at least internally) to keep it fresh and up with the times. Plus, they get very detail oriented in the design and layout so they can maximize both profit and pleasure for the shoppers.

    An interesting lifestyle center is Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio. Les Wexner wanted to design his own town, complete with shopping, movie theaters, restaurants, housing, office space, hotels, hardware stores (big box), car dealerships, etc. You name it, it is at Easton. Wexner owns stores such as Victoria's Secret, the Limited, Bath & Body Works, Express, and so on. He lives in a nearby suburb of Columbus. He even financed his own freeway interchange off of the I-270 beltway! I want to stress that this is all from what I've heard and seen from visiting there, I could have some of the details wrong. At any rate, while some things are definitely cool to see there, ultimately it is no different from anywhere else America - it just doesn't have a roof. It's not very walkable, things are still located at a suburban scale. The housing and office space is pretty separated from retail. The positives - the aesthetics of the design are pretty good and it is a pleasant place to have a coffee or a beer and people watch!

    Maybe someday we can design and build our own town centers and not have to rely on the current private market to build us places we enjoy ;)