What's in Store for America's Shopping Malls?

As America's beloved shopping mall enters its "golden years", Emily Badger considers the astounding anti-suburban ethos of its inventor, and what the future has in store for this "over the hill" retail development model.
July 17, 2012, 6am PDT | Emily Williams
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Vienna-born architect Victor Gruen outlined his vision for the enclosed shopping mall in 1952, sparking Americans' decades-long love affair with that perfect combination of retail shopping, food courts and air conditioning. However, as shopping malls in America seem destined for "retirement", it's interesting to note Gruen's actual ideology: "He hated suburbia. He thought his ideas would revitalize cities. He wanted to bring urban density to the suburbs. And he envisioned shopping malls as our best chance at containing sprawl," writes Badger.

Now the mall's prolific run seems to be coming to a close. "At the mall's peak popularity, in 1990, America opened 19 of them. But we haven't cut the ribbon on a new one since 2006," claims Badger. Development of new malls and supporting infrastructure like highways seem to have reached a plateau. Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones and author of the book Retrofitting Suburbia, "estimates that more than 40 malls nationwide have been targeted for significant redevelopment. And she can count 29 that have already been repurposed, or that have construction underway."

In an ironic twist, it appears as though the evolution of the mall into the multi-use "lifestyle center" could, in fact, bring Gruen's vision of transporting urban density to the suburbs closer to fruition.

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Published on Friday, July 13, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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