The Economist offers a fascinating review of the evolution of the suburban shopping mall into the hot new "lifestyle center." The conclusion: "It was necessary to kill the American city centre before bringing it back to life."
By the 1990s malls were in trouble. Having bred too quickly, they began to cannibalise each other... Indoor shopping malls are now so out of favour that not one will be built in America before 2009 at the earliest, according to the International Council of Shopping Centres...
...The suburbs are becoming much more racially mixed while the cities fill up with hip, affluent whites. As a result, suburban malls no longer provide a refuge from diversity. So many malls have died or are dying that a new hobby has appeared: amateur shopping-mall history. Like many esoteric pursuits, this has been facilitated by the internet. Websites such as Deadmalls.com and Labelscar.com collect pictures of weedy car parks and empty food courts and try to explain how once-thriving shopping centres began to spiral downward.
As shopping malls decline, they sometimes come to resemble the civic centres that Gruen intended them to be. Attracted by cheap rents, community groups and police stations move in. On a trip to one of Gruen's creations, the now-desolate Carousel Mall in San Bernardino, your correspondent encountered a group of middle-aged Mexicans studying for the American citizenship test.
"...The mix-and-match appearance of the 'lifestyle centres' is thought to be key to their appeal. Mr Caruso and his designers visit cities as diverse as Savannah and Capri to measure buildings and try to capture their appeal. Architectural styles are jumbled together with the aim of creating a festive, holiday atmosphere which people go to hang out in and end up spending money... But Mr Caruso also claims, more boldly, that his creations are more 'real' and authentic than conventional shopping centres."
Thanks to Peter Gordon