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

Large blank mall building with only two cars in large parking lot.

Pennsylvania Mall Conversion Bill Passes House

If passed, the bill would promote the adaptive reuse of defunct commercial buildings.

April 18, 2024 - Central Penn Business Journal

Street scene in Greenwich Village, New York City with people walking through busy intersection and new WTC tower in background.

Planning for Accessibility: Proximity is More Important than Mobility

Accessibility-based planning minimizes the distance that people must travel to reach desired services and activities. Measured this way, increased density can provide more total benefits than increased speeds.

April 14, 2024 - Todd Litman

Wood-frame two-story rowhouses under construction.

Fair Housing Cannot Take a Back Seat to ‘Build, Baby, Build’

If we overlook fair housing principles in the plan to build US housing back better, we risk ending up right back where we started.

April 11, 2024 - James Jennings

"No 710" lawn sign on green lawn.

LA Metro Board Approves New 710 Freeway Plan

The newest plan for the 710 corridor claims it will not displace any residents.

April 22 - Streetsblog LA

Close-up of row of electric cars plugged into chargers at outdoor station.

Austin’s Proposed EV Charging Rules Regulate Station Locations, Size

City planners say the new rules would ensure an efficient distribution of charging infrastructure across the city and prevent an overconcentration in residential areas.

April 22 - Austin Monitor

Green hills with orange California poppies in bloom in foreground in Chino Hills State Park, California.

Making California State Parks More Climate-Resilient

A recently released report offers recommendations for keeping state parks healthy and robust, including acquiring additional land for conservation and recreation.

April 22 - Spectrum News 1

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.