The indoor shopping mall turns 60 this year, but an Atlantic Cities article questions whether it’s dying:
At the mall’s peak popularity, in 1990, America opened 19 of them. But we haven’t cut the ribbon on a new one since 2006, for reasons that go beyond the recession.
Not a single new mall in the whole of the USA opened since 2006. That’s quite amazing. And by the sounds of it many of the existing malls are struggling to survive too:
By Dunham-Jones’ count, today about a third of our existing malls are “dead” or dying. That’s not to say they’re mostly vacant. But they have dreadful sales per square foot. High-end dress stores have moved out, and tattoo parlors have replaced them – “things,” Dunham-Jones says, “that would normally be considered way too déclassé for a mall.”
About a third of our malls are still thriving, and those are the biggest, newest ones. But America is no longer building many new highways, which means we’ve stopped creating prime new locations for mall development. Some of the earliest amenities of the enclosed mall – air-conditioning! – no longer impress us. And the demographics of suburbia have changed dramatically. Malls draw the largest share of their customers from teenagers, and the baby boomers who largely populate suburbia no longer have teenagers at home.
So what’s replacing these malls? Well, often it seems that we’re seeing something of a return to traditional style “main street” shopping, but within more mixed-use developments known as “lifestyle centres”. The article goes on:
… the suburban mall of Gruen’s plan appears to be victim of more than just the recession. Dunham-Jones, who has tracked this trend in her book Retrofitting Suburbia, estimates that more than 40 malls nationwide have been targeted for significant redevelopment. And she can count 29 that have already been repurposed, or that have construction underway.
In 2010, Columbus, Ohio, tore down the dead mall in its downtown for a park. Voorhees, New Jersey, demolished half of its dead mall, built a new main street and relocated its city hall into the remaining building. In Denver, eight of the area’s 13 regional malls now have plans for redevelopment. One of them, in suburban Lakewood, was converted from a 100-acre super block into 22 walkable blocks with retail and residences.
“It’s the downtown that Lakewood never had before,” Dunham-Jones says. Ironically, this is what Gruen had been aiming for. “Except that now it’s open-air.”
Americans haven’t particularly outgrown the consumer impulse that Gruen detected. We still love to flock to dense agglomerations of Body Shops and Cinnabuns and Brookstones. But now those places look increasingly like open-air “lifestyle centers,” with condos above or offices next door. Some of these places are just the old mall in a new Main Street disguise. But when you add residences, and cut Gruen’s mega-block into what actually looks like a downtown street grid, that begins to change things.
“You’ve got to get a mix of uses, but the connectivity is probably even more important,” Dunham-Jones says. “The uses will come and go over time, but if you can establish a walkable network of streets, that’s when you’re really going to establish a ripple effect in changing suburban patterns.”
Of course the City Rail Link project means that Westfield’s downtown shopping mall will need to be demolished. This is great as the mall is a pretty hideous building on one of Auckland’s best pieces of land. But elsewhere in Auckland it doesn’t really seem as though we’re following the USA’s trend. Within the land few years we’ve seen Sylvia Park and Albany malls open, two of Auckland’s biggest, while big redevelopments of both 277 Newmarket and St Lukes are on the cards to occur in the next couple of years.
I suppose this begs the question of whether Auckland’s fundamental retail environment differs from the USA, or whether they’re just a little ahead of us in the trend and it’s an inevitability that we’ll start to see a “post mall” retail environment. I certainly hope so, as long as it’s something better than the “mega centres” we often see sprouting up around shopping malls (yes I’m looking at you Wagener Place, St Lukes!)