Ten Principles for Rethinking the Mall

These ten principles, part of a report from the Urban Land Institute, will help you determine how to 'rethink' existing mall developments as well as provide guidance when new shopping malls are being developed.
August 3, 2006, 7am PDT | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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All around the country, both public agencies and private developers are rethinking the role of the shopping mall. The traditional indoor mall is being reinvented to include open-air designs and uses other than retail. They are no longer big fortresses with seas of parking but are being integrated into the surrounding neighborhoods.

"The shopping mall is the quintessential American contribu-tion to the world's consumer culture. It has been praisedby the millions who find an unmatched selection of fashionand specialty merchandise in its climate-controlled splendor,and it has been vilified for promoting both suburban sprawland the decline of downtown shopping districts and mom-and-pop stores. But regardless of the differing opinions they evoke,malls are a unique and inescapable part of everyday life inAmericaâ€"and, increasingly, around the world.

In many places,the mall is the community's de facto downtown -- the main public gathering spotâ€"as well as a highly valued shoppinglocation. As a result, what happens to the mall may ultimately define what happens to the community. Today there are more than 1,500 shopping malls in America,ranging in size from several hundred thousand to more than 3million square feet (278,700 square meters).

...But the conditions that led to the creation of shopping malls and sustained them fordecades are changing rapidly...

The suburbs that developed between the early 1950s and the late 1980s havechanged, too: in the years since their malls were built, these suburbs have maturedand become much more urbanized. What were once locations at the edge of themetropolitan area -- with low land prices, low-density residential development, and single-purpose malls -- are now more urban locations, with higher land prices, higher densities, aging neighborhoods, congestion, and demand for more urban amenitiesand a wider mix of uses. This situation presents a range of new development options that were not available when the original malls were built.

...As part of its mission to examine cutting-edge issues and pro-pose creative solutions for improving the quality of land useand development, the Urban Land Institute convened a smart growth workshop on June 22â€"24, 2005, in Washington, D.C., to develop ten principles for rethinking how malls can meetthe competitive challenges they face and evolve into more sustainable community assets.

During three days of intensive study, teams of planning and development experts drawn from around the country toured and studied three very different mall sites in the Washington, D.C., area. The teams were madeup of leading mall developers, public planners, architects, economic consultants, and property advisors.

The three mall sites were Landmark Mall, in Alexandria, Virginia, an aging mall facing strong competitivepressures; Wheaton Plaza, in Wheaton, Maryland, one of the first malls in the metropolitan area and one that was recently redeveloped; and Landover Mall, a failed center in Landover, Maryland.

ULI believes that the lessons learned from these three mall sites can be applied wherever communities and mall developers are wrestling with the competitive chal-lenges faced by obsolete malls and searching for ways to revitalize them as greater community assets."

The ten principles include:

  1. Grab Your Opportunities or They Will Pass You By
  2. Broaden Your Field of Vision
  3. Unlock the Value of the Land
  4. Let the Market Be Your Guide
  5. Create Consensus
  6. Think Holistically Before Planning the Parts
  7. Connect All the Dots
  8. Design Parking as More Than a Ratio
  9. Deliver a Sense of Community
  10. Stay Alert, Because the Job Is Never Done

..."An obsolete or declining mall will undoubtedly be viewed as a serious problemfor both the owner and the community, but it should also be seen as a long-term, once-in-a-generation opportunity. Through creative visioning, planning, and development, it may bepossible to find an ingenious and comprehensive community-building solution that will have an impact far beyond the mall's parking lots. Whena mall falters, the question that needs to be asked is not 'How can we save themall?' but 'How can we use this opportunity to create a higher-value, more sustainable real estate development that helps build a more livable community?' "

[Editor's note: The link below is to a 7.5 MB PDF document.]

Full Story:
Published on Saturday, April 15, 2006 in Urban Land Institute
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