The end of the malls?

Yes, the shopping malls are packed this time of year.  But hardly any are being built any more.  And many of the existing malls are being demolished.  The concept of the vast enclosed shopping space surrounded by a vast parking lot seems to be fading.  In its place is the “town center,” the shopping area that is pedestrian friendly, open to the sky, and that combines shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and places to live.  Architect Roger K. Lewis gives a good account of what happened:

After World War II, the enclosed regional shopping mall emerged because of two interdependent American phenomena: construction of the interstate highway system and rapid growth of low-density metropolitan suburbs.

Starting in the early 1950s, residents and many businesses fled cities, populating the expanding outer suburbs. Downtown department stores and smaller shops had ever fewer customers, but suburbanites still needed a place to shop, and the regional shopping center satisfied that need perfectly.

With affordable cars, cheap gas, a growing network of arterial roads and a seemingly endless supply of inexpensive land, the regional shopping mall was a logical invention. Equally logical was the real estate and mall design formula: acquire land with access to a major highway; assemble enough acreage to build a very large, weatherproof structure surrounded by parking lots; construct long concourses (often two levels high) lined on each side by scores of shops; and plug the ends of concourses with anchor department stores. To complete and enhance the formulaic picture, provide a food court, pump up concourse light levels, design enticing storefronts, pipe in music and pleasant scents, and install seasonal decorations, including Santa Claus.This formula proved extremely successful throughout America.

Today, however, middle-class flight from cities has ebbed. Adult children of the generations that inhabited post-war suburbia often choose not to stay in the the suburban settings where they grew up. Even their parents, tired of maintaining a house bigger than they now need, are heading back toward or into cities. Others (the young, middle-aged or elderly) are choosing to live in denser, walkable communities, where there is more to do and where shopping does not require driving several miles. This is one reason why town centers are being built, even in suburban locations, and why huge shopping malls are not.Traditional nuclear families (mother, father, two kids) are now less than half of all American households. Coupled with falling home values, mortgage foreclosures and unemployment, demographic reality is contributing to the depopulation of many suburban and exurban communities. A shopping mall cannot survive without population growth and customers who can afford to shop.

Also, for essentially aesthetic reasons, more people prefer not to shop in fading, older retail facilities that may be poorly maintained and perhaps half-empty. This suggests that Americans’ taste and appreciation of good architecture is improving.

via Visions of lively town centers dancing in more developers’ heads – The Washington Post.

What a concept.  Diverse businesses arranged off sidewalks with people living upstairs.  Sounds like downtowns.

But I do like the new town centers.  There are some good ones around where we live.  I’m curious how prevalent these are.  Do you have some where you live?  Are they an improvement over malls?  Or are they basically the same things only without roofs?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Traditional nuclear families (mother, father, two kids) are now less than half of all American households.”

    So, that is like an all time high, right?

    I mean, nowhere in any society has mom, dad, two kids ever been typical.

    Traditional? Hardly. In all my research of my family history, mostly relying on census data, only one of my forbears’ families was so comprised. All the others either had many more children or also included various aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and persons of undetermined relation.

    So, unless a few decades in the mid twentieth century is the new “traditional” then a high percentage of families with mom, dad and two kids is more like an anomaly.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Traditional nuclear families (mother, father, two kids) are now less than half of all American households.”

    So, that is like an all time high, right?

    I mean, nowhere in any society has mom, dad, two kids ever been typical.

    Traditional? Hardly. In all my research of my family history, mostly relying on census data, only one of my forbears’ families was so comprised. All the others either had many more children or also included various aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and persons of undetermined relation.

    So, unless a few decades in the mid twentieth century is the new “traditional” then a high percentage of families with mom, dad and two kids is more like an anomaly.

  • fws

    I live in Brasil and was born and raised in the usa. I feel here like I am someone who went back in time and can accurately predict the future. This is because Brasil generally follows american trends with a 10-15 year lag.

    S0 I can capitalize on those trends. Amazing.

  • fws

    I live in Brasil and was born and raised in the usa. I feel here like I am someone who went back in time and can accurately predict the future. This is because Brasil generally follows american trends with a 10-15 year lag.

    S0 I can capitalize on those trends. Amazing.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Living in Minnesota, where the first enclosed mall (“Southdale”) was built, I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of *preferring* an outdoor shopping experience to an indoor one. Especially in December.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Living in Minnesota, where the first enclosed mall (“Southdale”) was built, I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of *preferring* an outdoor shopping experience to an indoor one. Especially in December.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of *preferring* an outdoor shopping experience to an indoor one. Especially in December.”

    What about January and February?
    :-D

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of *preferring* an outdoor shopping experience to an indoor one. Especially in December.”

    What about January and February?
    :-D

  • Tom Hering

    “What a concept. Diverse businesses arranged off sidewalks with people living upstairs. Sounds like downtowns.”

    Dr. Veith, you just might enjoy this (naughty but funny language alert): James Howard Kunstler Dissects Suburbia

  • Tom Hering

    “What a concept. Diverse businesses arranged off sidewalks with people living upstairs. Sounds like downtowns.”

    Dr. Veith, you just might enjoy this (naughty but funny language alert): James Howard Kunstler Dissects Suburbia

  • Sharon Philp

    I live a mile or so from the first and largest indoor mall in the St. Louis metro area. It was opened in the 1950′s with much fanfare. It was shuttered a few years ago with merely a whimper. There the building sits, while there is discussion of taking what is currently farmland (yes, farmland in a metro area) a few miles farther out to turn it into an outlet mall with an Ikea or some other big box-store; meanwhile, the empty mall sits vacant.
    About 20 miles farther down the highway, yet still in the metro area, is a new open-air mall. It has an anchor store, clothing shops, jewelry stores, and a couple of eateries. We visited there the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We took our child’s picture with Santa at the anchor store, we walked around the shops in the bitter wind, wishing for a place to get a cup of coffee (alas, there was none), we shivered as we pushed the stroller in and out of the same chain stores we saw the day before at a different indoor mall. We could park and walk around this outdoor mall just as we could the indoor mall, yet we could not leave our coats in the car and walk in warmth. No one could walk from their house to this mall to do shopping. It is in between two highways. I have found this to be more than a live/shop/work/play outdoor mall described above. I have seen these places in various states and they all tend to be a destination similar to the old malls, merely without a roof.
    If people insist upon eliminating malls, then go back to the real downtown idea with stores and living spaces. Forget the way-out-on-the-interstate glorified strip malls. Demolish the empty shells of former malls and remake them. Stop taking farmland to make the new, hip places. Rehab the areas that need the makeover and leave the other well enough alone.

  • Sharon Philp

    I live a mile or so from the first and largest indoor mall in the St. Louis metro area. It was opened in the 1950′s with much fanfare. It was shuttered a few years ago with merely a whimper. There the building sits, while there is discussion of taking what is currently farmland (yes, farmland in a metro area) a few miles farther out to turn it into an outlet mall with an Ikea or some other big box-store; meanwhile, the empty mall sits vacant.
    About 20 miles farther down the highway, yet still in the metro area, is a new open-air mall. It has an anchor store, clothing shops, jewelry stores, and a couple of eateries. We visited there the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We took our child’s picture with Santa at the anchor store, we walked around the shops in the bitter wind, wishing for a place to get a cup of coffee (alas, there was none), we shivered as we pushed the stroller in and out of the same chain stores we saw the day before at a different indoor mall. We could park and walk around this outdoor mall just as we could the indoor mall, yet we could not leave our coats in the car and walk in warmth. No one could walk from their house to this mall to do shopping. It is in between two highways. I have found this to be more than a live/shop/work/play outdoor mall described above. I have seen these places in various states and they all tend to be a destination similar to the old malls, merely without a roof.
    If people insist upon eliminating malls, then go back to the real downtown idea with stores and living spaces. Forget the way-out-on-the-interstate glorified strip malls. Demolish the empty shells of former malls and remake them. Stop taking farmland to make the new, hip places. Rehab the areas that need the makeover and leave the other well enough alone.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    They have been predicting the end of shopping malls for over 10 years. I can remember reading a similar article back when I was in college. I do not think that we are seeing the end of the mall as we are seeing the culling of the herd. The well placed malls with nice stores are surviving while those that were ill advised or never managed to fill themselves with stores that would attract the people are dying.

    There will be places they will survive. Lars mentions Minnesota in winter, Try central and south Texas from May to October, A/C is your friend.

    Also, these town center places, I see them all over and they are empty.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    They have been predicting the end of shopping malls for over 10 years. I can remember reading a similar article back when I was in college. I do not think that we are seeing the end of the mall as we are seeing the culling of the herd. The well placed malls with nice stores are surviving while those that were ill advised or never managed to fill themselves with stores that would attract the people are dying.

    There will be places they will survive. Lars mentions Minnesota in winter, Try central and south Texas from May to October, A/C is your friend.

    Also, these town center places, I see them all over and they are empty.

  • Tom Hering

    We live in exurbs and suburbs because we don’t like cities, but we do like country living – or, rather, a safe imitation of country living. Which is why, I guess, we can’t shop where we might be exposed to a minute or two of wind or rain or snow. You know: real Nature. Whatever happened to the hearty American?

  • Tom Hering

    We live in exurbs and suburbs because we don’t like cities, but we do like country living – or, rather, a safe imitation of country living. Which is why, I guess, we can’t shop where we might be exposed to a minute or two of wind or rain or snow. You know: real Nature. Whatever happened to the hearty American?

  • kerner

    There is one such “town center” in Milwaukee County. It’s on the site of what used to be and enclosed mall. Before that it was a 1960′s open air “Shopping Center”. It is actually surrounded by older suburban residential areas with side walks, so theoretically people could walk to it. And there are residential units and offices above some of the stores. There are a number of stores there that I like to patronize. It is probably one of the better examples of the genre. I still hate it. The traffic is congested and there is never enough parking. I freeze my butt off in winter whenever I have to go from store to store.

    Frankly, I avoid any kind of a mall whenever I can. I would much rather go to a store where I want to buy something. Park in that store’s parking lot. Enter the store, buy what I came for, and leave. This means spread out commercial areas. But that’s fine with me.

  • kerner

    There is one such “town center” in Milwaukee County. It’s on the site of what used to be and enclosed mall. Before that it was a 1960′s open air “Shopping Center”. It is actually surrounded by older suburban residential areas with side walks, so theoretically people could walk to it. And there are residential units and offices above some of the stores. There are a number of stores there that I like to patronize. It is probably one of the better examples of the genre. I still hate it. The traffic is congested and there is never enough parking. I freeze my butt off in winter whenever I have to go from store to store.

    Frankly, I avoid any kind of a mall whenever I can. I would much rather go to a store where I want to buy something. Park in that store’s parking lot. Enter the store, buy what I came for, and leave. This means spread out commercial areas. But that’s fine with me.

  • kerner

    Oh, and Dr. Luther is right. This is culling the herd, not the end of the mall.

  • kerner

    Oh, and Dr. Luther is right. This is culling the herd, not the end of the mall.

  • Cincinnatus

    I think Sharon Philp@6 captures the double-edged nature of these developments. On the one hand, we can rejoice that the architectural taste of Americans is ostensibly improving, even if only a tad and even if only in a highly commercialized form (these are still essentially pre-fab, flimsy structures with planned dates of obsolescence–usually thirty years–that simply look somewhat nicer than midcentury malls and their parking lagoons). On the other hand, these should be replacements for obsolete/ugly old malls, not infill developments devouring yet more of the countryside. We have not yet learned our lesson regarding population density, viable “downtown” life, etc.

  • Cincinnatus

    I think Sharon Philp@6 captures the double-edged nature of these developments. On the one hand, we can rejoice that the architectural taste of Americans is ostensibly improving, even if only a tad and even if only in a highly commercialized form (these are still essentially pre-fab, flimsy structures with planned dates of obsolescence–usually thirty years–that simply look somewhat nicer than midcentury malls and their parking lagoons). On the other hand, these should be replacements for obsolete/ugly old malls, not infill developments devouring yet more of the countryside. We have not yet learned our lesson regarding population density, viable “downtown” life, etc.

  • moallen

    Here in Houston, I know of two malls that have been transformed into town-center style shopping centers. Both were going under as malls (originally built in the early 1960s), but since the transformation are incredibly busy. They are not full town-center style with residences, but are now outdoor with sidewalks, cafes, and discount stores. There are several other malls dying or dead – with one (originally opened with a celebration with Ted Kennedy around 1970) now just opened as a hispanic focused market, with a completely different set of stores. Even the Galleria, our high-end (Neiman Marcus) shopping mall is struggling – I was accosted in the hall by a Chinese foot massage “store” last time I was there. I think buying trends are changing, but upscale shopping may be coming to an end with America on a downward track.

  • moallen

    Here in Houston, I know of two malls that have been transformed into town-center style shopping centers. Both were going under as malls (originally built in the early 1960s), but since the transformation are incredibly busy. They are not full town-center style with residences, but are now outdoor with sidewalks, cafes, and discount stores. There are several other malls dying or dead – with one (originally opened with a celebration with Ted Kennedy around 1970) now just opened as a hispanic focused market, with a completely different set of stores. Even the Galleria, our high-end (Neiman Marcus) shopping mall is struggling – I was accosted in the hall by a Chinese foot massage “store” last time I was there. I think buying trends are changing, but upscale shopping may be coming to an end with America on a downward track.

  • Helen K.

    Well, I’ve never cared for malls to begin with but then I’m not much of a shopper. I do prefer “regular” stores (such as are still found in small towns) where one may park on the street or perhaps their dedicated parking area, go in, do the purchase or just look around and leave.

    Yes, I know I’m a fuddy-duddy. Malls wear me out. I would rather work all day long than visit a mall.

    In this region of the greater Phoenix area, there seem to be plenty of strip malls which are even more depressing. I attempted the other day to visit a Target store, but the traffic was impossible not to mention the parking. I don’t mind parking a distance and walking (its exercise) but to sit in lines of autos trying to avoid hitting someone or being hit, I gave up and came home.

    Its even sadder to see acres of what used to be farmland gobbled up by more places to shop. How much “stuff” do we need, really?

    Amazon.com is a friend of mine. (:

    Merry Christmas, everyone.

  • Helen K.

    Well, I’ve never cared for malls to begin with but then I’m not much of a shopper. I do prefer “regular” stores (such as are still found in small towns) where one may park on the street or perhaps their dedicated parking area, go in, do the purchase or just look around and leave.

    Yes, I know I’m a fuddy-duddy. Malls wear me out. I would rather work all day long than visit a mall.

    In this region of the greater Phoenix area, there seem to be plenty of strip malls which are even more depressing. I attempted the other day to visit a Target store, but the traffic was impossible not to mention the parking. I don’t mind parking a distance and walking (its exercise) but to sit in lines of autos trying to avoid hitting someone or being hit, I gave up and came home.

    Its even sadder to see acres of what used to be farmland gobbled up by more places to shop. How much “stuff” do we need, really?

    Amazon.com is a friend of mine. (:

    Merry Christmas, everyone.

  • Susan

    Our mall opened 32 years ago, the same year DH and I were married. It was never completely occupied and is now an expensive, outdated behemoth that is struggling because so many of the stores are geared toward teen/young adult shoppers (who can’t find work so can’t afford to shop) and nobody has the money to buy jewelry from the several jewelry stores there. I only patronize three of the stores there, Herberger’s, Target, and Cabela’s, though there’s a Sears, a Penney’s, Sports Authority and a new Joann’s. It does offer a nice place for the folks who ‘mall-walk’ and/or gather for coffee early in the mornings. Other than that…?

    We were going to get a Dillard’s as the anchor store of one of these newer style of shopping centers (I love Flatirons and Park Meadows here in Colorado) but with things so bad I’m not sure the plan hasn’t been placed on hold or scrapped entirely. In the meantime, we have a new 14-screen cinema which was also to be part of the new scheme.

    Personally, I find I now prefer traditional ‘main street’ shopping, though there are no longer any ‘big name’ stores in our downtown. Yes, even when the weather is unpleasant, and convenient parking can sometimes be a challenge. The trade-off in fresh air, helping local business and the availability of real espresso drinks is worth it!

  • Susan

    Our mall opened 32 years ago, the same year DH and I were married. It was never completely occupied and is now an expensive, outdated behemoth that is struggling because so many of the stores are geared toward teen/young adult shoppers (who can’t find work so can’t afford to shop) and nobody has the money to buy jewelry from the several jewelry stores there. I only patronize three of the stores there, Herberger’s, Target, and Cabela’s, though there’s a Sears, a Penney’s, Sports Authority and a new Joann’s. It does offer a nice place for the folks who ‘mall-walk’ and/or gather for coffee early in the mornings. Other than that…?

    We were going to get a Dillard’s as the anchor store of one of these newer style of shopping centers (I love Flatirons and Park Meadows here in Colorado) but with things so bad I’m not sure the plan hasn’t been placed on hold or scrapped entirely. In the meantime, we have a new 14-screen cinema which was also to be part of the new scheme.

    Personally, I find I now prefer traditional ‘main street’ shopping, though there are no longer any ‘big name’ stores in our downtown. Yes, even when the weather is unpleasant, and convenient parking can sometimes be a challenge. The trade-off in fresh air, helping local business and the availability of real espresso drinks is worth it!

  • DonS

    I don’t think it has anything to do with “traditional families” or whatever else Mr. Lewis is trying to attribute this to — the fact of the matter is that enclosed malls were a wave of the ’60′s and ’70′s and they got old and tired. People want fresh and new, and re-vitalized downtowns and mixed used development are the current trend. Good malls in good locations are being renovated and are successful, while the rest are not being renewed, and are instead being closed. The cycle of life, and definitely the cycle of popular culture — bring on the new! Of course, the “new” is often a form of the old, i.e. the traditional downtown shopping district.

    I never really understood why we have enclosed malls here in southern California, but the mixed use downtown-style shopping districts are definitely the wave here, and there are some very nice ones. It is definitely more pleasant to visit an outdoor shopping center where people also live, than a mall. But malls will never entirely disappear, and will always have their place, especially in areas where the climate isn’t so accommodating.

  • DonS

    I don’t think it has anything to do with “traditional families” or whatever else Mr. Lewis is trying to attribute this to — the fact of the matter is that enclosed malls were a wave of the ’60′s and ’70′s and they got old and tired. People want fresh and new, and re-vitalized downtowns and mixed used development are the current trend. Good malls in good locations are being renovated and are successful, while the rest are not being renewed, and are instead being closed. The cycle of life, and definitely the cycle of popular culture — bring on the new! Of course, the “new” is often a form of the old, i.e. the traditional downtown shopping district.

    I never really understood why we have enclosed malls here in southern California, but the mixed use downtown-style shopping districts are definitely the wave here, and there are some very nice ones. It is definitely more pleasant to visit an outdoor shopping center where people also live, than a mall. But malls will never entirely disappear, and will always have their place, especially in areas where the climate isn’t so accommodating.

  • SAL

    The author’s rationale for why ‘Town Centers’ are springing up is false.

    A higher percentage of Americans live in Suburbs in 2010 than in 2000. There’s no appreciable shift towards metropolitan cores with the exception of a handful of midsized cities (Washington DC is the primary example). This is true for the retired and the young. The fastest growing areas of America are the least dense.

    The ‘Town Center’ is spreading because it appeals to Yuppie environmentalist/naturalist sensibilities. Yuppies react subconsciously against anything with as practical or industrial an appearance as a Mall. The ‘Town Center’ in my metro area is formed to look like a poor imitation of Venice.

    My wife and I occasionally go there to see the street musicians, and performers but we never buy anything as the stores are yuppie oriented and out of our price range.

  • SAL

    The author’s rationale for why ‘Town Centers’ are springing up is false.

    A higher percentage of Americans live in Suburbs in 2010 than in 2000. There’s no appreciable shift towards metropolitan cores with the exception of a handful of midsized cities (Washington DC is the primary example). This is true for the retired and the young. The fastest growing areas of America are the least dense.

    The ‘Town Center’ is spreading because it appeals to Yuppie environmentalist/naturalist sensibilities. Yuppies react subconsciously against anything with as practical or industrial an appearance as a Mall. The ‘Town Center’ in my metro area is formed to look like a poor imitation of Venice.

    My wife and I occasionally go there to see the street musicians, and performers but we never buy anything as the stores are yuppie oriented and out of our price range.

  • PinonCoffee

    On a practical level, I’ve never yet found a “town center” style mall with adequate parking. Like Lars mentioned, you then tend to freeze half the year. Also, there are truly lousy traffic patterns getting in and out.

    On an aesthetic level, its imitation of a real town is just as fake as a mall’s, but more inconvenient.

    I think Sal is right about what kind of sensibilities it appeals to – which is not all bad – but this building style just doesn’t work in real life. Especially if you’ve got kids or the elderly. My aged Baba in Canada lives next to an old enclosed mall… which they tore down in favor of an open-air one, so the old people now have nowhere to walk in winter. In CANADA.

    And I say this as someone who likes to shop in yuppie places! I even like walking!

  • PinonCoffee

    On a practical level, I’ve never yet found a “town center” style mall with adequate parking. Like Lars mentioned, you then tend to freeze half the year. Also, there are truly lousy traffic patterns getting in and out.

    On an aesthetic level, its imitation of a real town is just as fake as a mall’s, but more inconvenient.

    I think Sal is right about what kind of sensibilities it appeals to – which is not all bad – but this building style just doesn’t work in real life. Especially if you’ve got kids or the elderly. My aged Baba in Canada lives next to an old enclosed mall… which they tore down in favor of an open-air one, so the old people now have nowhere to walk in winter. In CANADA.

    And I say this as someone who likes to shop in yuppie places! I even like walking!

  • Glenn Graham

    All the great ideas from the 1960′s and 1970′s have gotten old. They are still great ideas, but the biggest demographic doesn’t want to appreciate them because they were borne after the 1970′s. And the small minded people that run our schools taught this demographic that 1930′s and earlier building was better.

  • Glenn Graham

    All the great ideas from the 1960′s and 1970′s have gotten old. They are still great ideas, but the biggest demographic doesn’t want to appreciate them because they were borne after the 1970′s. And the small minded people that run our schools taught this demographic that 1930′s and earlier building was better.


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