The current trend in mall revitalization or new mall construction is to build “Lifestyle Centers.” Essentially, they are malls without a roof. They are supposedly built to promote active living and try to recreate the old Main Street USA feel. Here is my short analysis of them:
– Can integrate mixed-uses including housing
– The fresh air of the outdoors
– Public plazas, art, water features, and outdoor seating are common features
– Smaller seas of parking surrounding the development
– Often quality designs that work well for pedestrians
– Not really any different from your average mall
– Often found in suburbia isolated from any other uses and not within a safe and walkable distance from anything else (residents nearby are essential to keeping outdoor places viable)
– Bad weather and winter months can be brutal for business, especially in frigid climates
– Some people do not like to walk even a short distance from their car and may seek out other malls that have their ever-so-friendly seas of asphalt around them
– Harder and more costly to keep the outdoor built environment “fresh” over the course of time – normal malls frequently redesign their interiors to keep up with the change in trends
So, why did I make my prediction that these lifestyle centers built today will be the failures in 20 years? Because, I feel that 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. If they can do this well, they will still be popular in 20 years.
A good example of this is the downtown open-air mall in Sacramento (pictured above). I feel it really integrates well with existing uses, and all parking is located underground. Parking is validated if you make a purchase. While the mall does struggle to compete with other regional malls, it may stand the test of time if Sacramento continues to invest in downtown housing units. Urban dwellers often hate to drive to the suburbs to get things they need. With enough residents surrounding malls, they can be incredibly sustainable. Other examples of very successful outdoor shopping districts include Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Fifth Avenue in New York, and Market Street in San Francisco. What is a common theme for all of these places? High-density, good pedestrian design, excellent access to transit, and places people want to shop.