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A Prediction: In 20 Years, Lifestyle Centers Will Be the Failed Malls

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:

Some positives:
– 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

Some negatives:
– 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.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Sharon Machlis Gartenberg November 27, 2005, 5:54 am

    Outdoor malls are nothing new. The key to the “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.

    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 difference in creating a sense of place vs. soul-less suburban sprawl.

    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 (Mass.), 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.

  • Eric December 6, 2005, 9:09 pm

    Read my response to Sharon on her website – http://www.pedestrianfriendly.com/?p=391

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