The Mall Is Dead — Long Live the Mall

The American shopping mall may be closer to its original vision than ever.

2 minute read

March 21, 2024, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

View form second story inside Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota with escalators and model cars parked on downstairs floor.

Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota is the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall in the United States. | Bobak Ha'Eri, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons / Southdale Mall, Edina, Minnesota

In a piece for Governing, Alan Ehrenhalt describes the history and potential future of U.S shopping malls through the lens of two books, Alexandra Lange’s Meet Me by the Fountain (one of Planetizen’s Top Planning Books of 2022) and Kate Black’s Big Mall.

Each book, in its way, responds to the original vision of Victor Gruen, known as the father of American malls. Gruen saw the mall as a place to bring people together.

But if modern shopping malls failed to achieve Gruen’s vision of rewarding community, it’s important to remember that they are profoundly social institutions. This has been true from the very beginning, in ways that Lange and Black document quite precisely. And the current plight of the mall points toward a more public future in which local governments will inevitably play a crucial role.

The decline of the mall in recent years may ironically be the key to getting closer to Gruen’s vision as mall owners and cities reimagine the properties to serve new needs. “In perhaps the most startling transformation, Gruen’s Southdale Center in Minnesota, the first of the fully enclosed malls of the 1950s, is being re-created as a multipurpose development that includes luxury hotel rooms and apartment complexes, a fitness center in place of a defunct J.C. Penney store, medical clinics and day care for children, and a variety of other public and private properties.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2024 in Governing

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