The Death and Life of the Shopping Mall
It seems as though the shopping malls of yesteryears have fallen ill to a deadly disease and are slowly dying out. In fact, many indoor shopping malls are trying everything they can to stay afloat. Caused by the current weak economy, an increase in internet shopping, and the rise of big box stores like Wal-Mart and Costco, nearly 150,000 individual stores have closed nationwide in the past year. The change in where consumers want to shop is also a big part of the reason why this number is so high. Despite attempts of salvation, crowds are leaving the classic indoor suburban shopping malls and are heading elsewhere to do their shopping; marking a transition back to the streets and to the outdoors. As a result, lifestyle centers are growing increasingly popular in the United States with each passing year. Lifestyles centers or mixed-use developments are sprouting up everywhere to satisfy this increase in demand. I myself have recently discovered a lifestyle center that was built near where I live back home. After visiting this lifestyle center, with the help of Jane Jacobs book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, I have come to realize and fully understand why this change from the shopping malls of old, to these shopping malls of new has occurred. Her framework, which she has lain out in her book, it seems has been incorporated by many architects into their designs of lifestyle centers; which has increased the centers appeal and functionality making it such a hit with consumers.
When it comes to designing a shopping center, architects want a design that encourages shoppers to stay longer. The longer a visit is to the shopping center the more of a potential there is for money to be spent. According to the ICSC, a person spending less than thirty minutes at the shopping center spent an average of 54.20 dollars. A person spending more than 180 minutes at that same shopping center spent an average of 205.20 dollars It's a Mall World. As a result, designers want to broaden a shopping centers appeal beyond the usual demographics in order to increase economic gains. “As in most of retail, the movement has been to create a much more personalized experience” Kevin Zak. This more personalized experience is reflected in the more intimate spaces designers have carved out in their newer development projects i.e. lifestyle centers.
Lifestyle centers or mixed-use developments combine's retail, entertainment, residential, and hospitality uses, blending together old and new architecture, making the atmosphere feel like a natural part of the urban environment. In today's economic climate, creating the right atmosphere is most important to maximize profit. Therefore, lifestyle centers are designed to feel like a real bustling neighborhood with outdoor shopping areas designed to look like city streets with emphasizes on restaurants, open spaces, and parks. Designers try to mimic the experience a consumer would have if they were shopping or dining in the city. Neighborhoods and cities are natural gathering places and meeting grounds. It is the architect's hope that by doing so, lifestyle centers will too become a gathering place and meeting ground which would in-turn, boost profits.
In her book, Jane Jacobs writes about what constitutes a neighborhood and what function that neighborhood serves within the larger aspect of the city. Streets and sidewalks are the most important part of the neighborhood and city; that is why the new lifestyle centers have streets and sidewalks and have moved away from the long empty corridors of the old indoor shopping malls. Jacobs states, that sidewalks have 3 specific purposes besides carrying people. Two of these purposes which sidewalks provide, are very important when it comes to the success of the lifestyle center. The first is safety. “A city sidewalk by itself is nothing… It means something only in conjunction with the buildings and other uses that border it, or border other sidewalks very near it… If a city's streets look interesting, the city looks interesting; if they look dull, the city looks dull” Jacobs pg. 29. The same can be said when it comes to safety. “… If a city's streets are safe from barbarism and fear, the city is thereby tolerably safe from barbarism and fear” Jacobs pg. 30. The sidewalks and streets are very safe when it comes to lifestyle centers. Almost always the pedestrian has the right of way. There is adequate space on the sidewalks and there are numerous crosswalks. There are many lights to guide the walker along his/her path of travel as well as security cameras and personnel ensuring the pedestrians well being. As Jacobs states, the security cameras and personnel provide the eyes upon the street to insure safety of residents and strangers Pg 35.
The second purpose in which streets provide is contact. City sidewalks serve as a social function. They are places where people meet and socialize especially when bars, stores, and restaurants are in the area. “They bring together people who do not know each other in an intimate, private social fashion…” Jacobs pg 55. This is ideal for lifestyles centers who's profits and success thrive on getting lots of people to gather and meet in its' stores and restaurants.
The diversity of the lifestyle center is a key selling feature for it entices shoppers to come and spend money for there are a variety of things to see and to do. Diversity makes the lifestyle center alive and vibrant. Indoor malls only had to offer retail stores and a few fast food restaurants in it's food courts. Lifestyle centers not only offer retail stores and fast food restaurants but upscale, sit down restaurants as well. They also offer residential, office, and hospitality spaces along with an assortment of entertainment venues. Jacobs discuses four conditions necessary for diversity in a city. The first condition is that there has to be more than one purpose or function. “On successful city streets, people must appear at different times” Jacobs pg 152. Lifestyle centers have this. During business hours, restaurants and retail stores are being used. At night, the entertainment venues draw people in as well as the bars and the restaurants. The second condition is that a city must have small blocks with a lot of places where people can turn. Again, architects incorporated Jacobs's condition in their designs, doing away with the long empty corridors and putting in streets and sidewalks with a lot of small blocks.
The third condition Jacobs discuses is the need for aged buildings. Jacobs states that there must be a mixture of old and new buildings. This creates economic diversity and is a necessity for cities with aged building have more success than other cities without. Lifestyle centers that are newly being constructed cannot have aged buildings. However, some building can be built to imitate aged buildings while others can be built to look new. Aged buildings could also imply the different types of stores in which the lifestyle centers have. Aged buildings create economic diversity; therefore different types of stores i.e. discount outlet stores, full price retail stores, and big box stores would have the same affect. The fourth and final condition Jacobs discuses is population density; not only visitors but residents as well.
Malls are a thing of the past. The new trend for consumers is lifestyle centers. I myself have turned my back on malls and have taken my business to new lifestyle centers and big box stores. Attached to this document is a flyer I created which displays Jacobs's ideas and framework beyond just words. The Flyer includes pictures that I took as well as captions of the lifestyle center, Richmond Square Mall that is by my house. Each picture displays some of Jacobs's ideas that the architect used in the design of the shopping center.
14, Jan. "Mall Owners Are Giving Food Courts and Common Areas a Facelift." Retail Traffic - Retail Real Estate and Retailing Trends Information Research and Analysis. Web. 07 May 2010. <http://retailtrafficmag.com/features/mall_owners_food_courts_01142010/>.
It's a Mall World. Dir. Milo Ventimiglia. 2007. DVD.
Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage, 1992. Print.