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Examining Our Now-Fading Mania For Malls

On the sixty-year anniversary of the genesis of the country's first enclosed mall, Mark Hinshaw looks at America's foolish detour into shopping malls.
April 19, 2012, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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In the six decades since Victor Gruen published his shopping mall manifesto in Progressive Architecture magazine, "many hundreds of malls have been built on thousands of acres in virtually every part of the country" forever changing "how we travel, how we spend our leisure time, and how we spend our money," writes Hinshaw.

Perhaps more significant is the sprawling suburban land use model that the enclosed mall and its sea of parking helped facilitate, to the detriment of our traditional downtowns and main streets. Most ironically, as Hinshaw notes, "Gruen saw his model as saving cities and towns, instead of draining their downtowns of life, though that's what happened more often than not."

Hinshaw relishes the fact that the enclosed mall era seems to be coming to an end nationwide. In his own region, this trend is evidenced in the fact that, "Here in Puget Sound, the last regional mall built was Silverdale, almost 20 years ago - even though the central Puget Sound population has grown by more than 2 million people in that same time!"

Hinshaw concludes his article with a look at the future that might have been, as demonstrated by a far different model of retail development pioneered earlier in the last century by Jessie Clyde ("J.C.") Nichols at Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, which still exists today.

"Known affectionately by locals as simply 'The Plaza,' it shines in its utter brilliance. Rather than the vast parking lots envisioned by Gruen in the 50s, Nichols placed all of the parking in multilevel garages, wrapped with small shops and whimsically-designed facades. Every single store, large or small, faces a street. Large trees and wide sidewalks, along with elegant light fixtures, faintly echo the grand boulevards of Paris."

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Published on Monday, April 9, 2012 in Crosscut
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