Utne Blogs > Environment

Resuscitating the Mall

 by Lisa Gulya


Tags: Environment, Green Living, development, malls, OnEarth, New Urban News,

MallShopping malls, once proud bastions of air-conditioned capitalism, are transforming into less self-contained structures, reports OnEartha result of competition from strip malls and big-box retailers.

“In 2006 there was only one new enclosed mall built in this country,” says Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s archi­tecture program. In the 1990s, Durham-Jones says, it was common to see 140 new malls each year. Now, dozens of malls are dead or dying (witness the long list of the deceased at DeadMalls.com). To revitalize struggling malls, developers are converting them into “compact, well-planned, walkable communities with a dense mix of homes and small businesses” in communities from New Jersey to Colorado.

Mall makeovers tips in New Urban News include adding upper-floor housing, outdoor-facing stores, parking ramps in place of parking lots, and pedestrian connections to nearby neighborhoods.

“A lot of bad design practices are being resolved, knitting these malls back into the neighborhoods,” says designer Richard Huffman to New Urban News.

Outdated zoning laws obstruct mall conversions, urban policy specialist Christopher Leinberger tells OnEarth, but he believes increasing demand for "walkable urban living" will provide the necessary momentum to keep malls evolving.

Image by Nate Grigg, licensed under Creative Commons.

emily garber
7/9/2008 3:58:10 PM

One of these "walkable communities" recently sprung up across the freeway from my high school in Glendale, Wisconsin. What was once a modest suburban mall whose hallways reeked of chlorine, with only three stores a teenage girl would ever think of entering, has become a mega-super-duper-mall with nostalgic outdoor walkways, bars, a movie theatre, neon signs announcing the number of parking spots left and yes, indeed, an ice skating rink. With condos, lawyers, and dentists above, you really would never need to leave. It's an extremest version of the original indoor mall, which George Romero so blatantly made fun of in his 1978 movie "Dawn of the Dead." As the helicopter swoops over the characters' soon-to-be refuge, there's that cheesy dubbed voice proclaiming: "Look! It's one of those new indoor shopping malls." And of course, they build a home, and never really have to leave -- until the zombies make them. The Spring Issue of Next American City mentions a similar feat pulled off by eight artists in a Rhode Island shopping mall. Lead by Michael Townsend, the group decked out an unused room near the parking structure with furniture, television, and video games, and remained undetected for four years. The article isn't available online, but here's a snippet: Townsend explained to the Providence Journal that in his artistic endeavors, he seeks to explore the phenomenon of the modern American enclosed mall, its social implications and his own relationship with commerce and the world. He said that inspiration for the project came from a mall commercial that encouraged shoppers to literally "live at the mall."