History

The Old Mall

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The L.A. Times has pulled together a fine package of articles on that most Orange Julius-friendly of social institutions, the shopping mall. The contributors include two ex-Reasoners: Virginia Postrel, who explores the evolution of the mall into an urban center, and Tim Cavanaugh, who explains how "the indoor mall rose—and fell—with the vision of the space station."

Elsewhere in Reason: From 2002, Peter Bagge's four-page comic on the mall and its enemies, a cartoon denounced by one critic as "a portrait of protean loathing." And from 2003, my own story on suburban utopias, with a starring role for the mall-making pioneer James Rouse. I don't have a denunciation of that one handy, so feel free to write your own in the comments.

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  1. Marc Singer needs to get a life.

  2. It’s ok that you’re scared of the bad people in the city, Mr. Bagge. Like kids on skateboards and beggers. Unlike the mushy college versions, actual dynamism and diversity can be challenging, even unpleasant. It’s not really for everyone.

  3. Virginia sez:

    That old model has lost its appeal. For pure shopping efficiency, a big-box discounter is cheaper, a drive-up center is faster and an online retailer doesn’t make you leave your desk.

    I concur. The vast bulk of the shopping I do is (a) at “big box” stores (Costco, the local supermarket, …); (b) online; and (c) certain specialty stores (that happen not to be in malls). My retail experiences of late at malls has typically been less than optimal – spending hours pouring through stores, not finding what I’m looking for. (I did this, for instance, looking for a braided rug; I found the perfect match online. I shouldn’t have wasted my time and gas.)

    That being said… two of the malls I “grew up” with were torn down a few years ago (Naugatuck Valley, in Waterbury, and the Ansonia Mall) and replaced by shopping centers (supermarket anchor and specialty stores). It’s an improvement – better parking, etc… – but still a little poignant. (I went to high school in Waterbury, so the NVM was the hangout; my career, for all intents and purposes, was launched via the TRS-80s at the Rat Shack in Ansonia, and, growing up, I used to hang out at the Waldenbooks my aunt managed there.)

    As for the cities: sorry Joe, but, scary people or not, they’re a pain in the ass. Example: I was (and am) doing some volunteer work for an agency in downtown Waterbury. Since their lot is tiny (and typically filled by their employees), I used to park on the street… which has meters. It had (past tense) been the tacit understanding that we could park without feeding the meters, provided our vehicles were identified (I had a volunteer plate up on my dashboard). One day, I came out to find a ticket. (Counting my pickup, there were all of three vehicles on the entire street, which is usually the case.) This in a city that’s purportedly trying to encourage us surburbanites to come downtown. Why the hell should I? With the lights, weird traffic patterns, …, it’s a pain in the ass to get to, I get my balls broken when I get there, and there’s the scary people, to boot.

    JMJ

    P.S. Speaking of scary people: you can find them at the malls now. At least one around here has had problems with gang activity.

  4. I didn’t know you were an NVL guy, John.

  5. Peter Bagge is the Man. I hope we can expect a new Buddy volume soon; I loved Buddy Does Seattle.

  6. JMJ,

    Yup, central cities will never be able to compete with suburban malls in convenience of parking. They can try to achieve some minimal level of service, but they can’t hope to be as car-friendly as the mall off the highway, without doing things that would destroy the features through which they surpass shopping centers, such as character and pedestrian access.

    The flip side is, suburban malls will never be as convenient for people in the city to get to as their downtown and neighborhood commercial districts.

  7. David:

    Holy Cross, class of 87. Frankly, I didn’t do too much in terms of student activities there (at the time, my primary activity was with the local fire department, here in Oxford). Nor, truth be told, did I spend all that much time at the mall (typically a few friends and I would head over there if we got out early, say after exams). Some of my high school era (and before, and after) shenanigans, though, can be found at the link under my name (above), especially in the archive – but be warned, I’m only one of four authors on that site. (Anything involving Florida, for instance, isn’t mine, and I’m certainly NOT the one behind the pumpkin story.)

    JMJ

  8. Hmm on their own, retail centers have turned into open-air, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, live-work-shop in the same place. So what do we need New Urbanists for?

  9. Chef,

    New Urbanists designed the new generation of malls. New Urbanists articulated the principles on which they were built. New Urbanists identified the market segments that they appeal to, and the features that needed to be included to appeal to that segment.

    What does “on their own” mean? That the malls themselves developed the capacities of thought and speech, and articulated a vision for future development that the builders found compelling?

  10. On, and by the way, New Urbanists convinced local and regional planning authorities to change their sprawl-requiring regulations to allow these “lifestyle centers” to come into being. Often over the objections of the Dumb Growth true believers.

  11. So you see, Ironchef, nothing good happens without the instruction and guidance of Our Betters, as personified by joe.

  12. Yawn. You say that every time someone comes up with an idea that succeeds, RC?

    Or just ones that completely disprove beliefs you cherish?

  13. RC,

    As your lengthy defenses of sprawl and the social engineering that produced it demonstrate, you have no problem being told how to live by your betters.

    You’re just pissed that the betters you’re loyal to have been surpassed.

  14. “Waterbury, the fifth largest city in Connecticut, is the home of 107,271 (2000 census)”

    Dude, that’s not a city. That’s a small town. (And it looks very nice, BTW.)

    Hope the PITA factor doesn’t stop you from volunteering. Maybe you could call the police department and clear up the ticketing problem, so you volunteers get a break on parking, like you thought you did.

    It has taken me 15 minutes to get my car out of the local “new mall” parking structure. Outside pedestrian-friendly malls just bake in the heat. Malls are full of people who don’t have the forethought to shop online. I avoid them when possible.

  15. I live across the street from a huge mall in what is likely called a “lifestyle center”. On the surface, the idea seems silly. In fact, its a very cool place to live. Like a mall, the whole space is privately owned. This keeps the riff-raff under control. Everyone who is here is here voluntarily and has a smile on their face, a bit like Disneyland. The downside is that it is a VERY expensive place to live.

    http://www.santanarow.com/

  16. Bagge Rules!

  17. What if they had a bunch of little roads that came together at the lifestyle center?

    And what if they put houses on little lots on those roads, so that there were plenty of those houses within a ten minute walk? Mostly single-family, but with some two- and smallish mulit-family mixed in as well. That way, there would be people just outside the mall who could walk there, too?

    Wouldn’t that be cool?

  18. Oddness

    I have not thought much about this topic, but seeing it brought back a strange flood of memories.

    A few years ago I briefly dated a young lady who lived in DC. She had grown up in Reston, VA, where I was living at the time. For some reason she had the most negative attitudes about malls and “suburbia”. Our second date was a mess too as I had some problems with my Jeep, so we spent the weekend at my place without private transportation. She kept saying she was “trapped in suburbia” and similar things.

    However, she was surprised that Pentagon City Mall had fun bars and she was amazed that “something like this can exist in a mall”.

    The rest of the weekend in Reston, we walked a couple of blocks from my apartment to Morton’s, ate dinner, picked up a sweater for her at the Eddie Bower store and went back home. She was still “trapped in suburbia”.

    Anyway, after that strange experience I began noticing all sorts of this same sort of chatter, in person and online (just scroll up and down from this post). The whining about “sprawl”, ala Albert Gore Jr., as if everybody wants to live in a vertical collection of matchboxes in the middle of a concrete maze. The whining about how “bad” malls and suburbs are, without any other detail other than the whiner just does not like suburbs.

    I had thought that I had heard it all when the Wal*Mart bashers got into full gear, but no, the suburb haters took the lead.

    It finally fell into place. Just like every other issue that the Leftists have to whine about, it is a style issue. If they don’t like single family homes, those homes should not exist. Any other community planning to make those homes more attractive is just something else to hate, because they just don’t like it.

  19. “The whining about “sprawl”, ala Albert Gore Jr., as if everybody wants to live in a vertical collection of matchboxes in the middle of a concrete maze.”

    “If they don’t like single family homes…”

    Good think nobody who likes the suburbs creates misleading dichotomies like your ex.

  20. joe,

    You sure read in a strange manner.

    I certainly did not think that cities should be destroyed, stopped or eliminated just because I lived in a suburban apartment (in a 4 story building btw).

    I make my choices, others make theirs.

  21. Guy,

    You seem to think that the critics of sprawl are offering up “a vertical collection of matchboxes in the middle of a concrete maze” as the alternative, and that hostility to sprawl = rejection of the single family home. Given that the New Urbanist showpieces to date have mostly been suburban developments of single family homes, I wanted to keep the pool clean.

  22. BTW, I live in a single family home, with a yard big enough for a 30 person cook out. Net density in my area is about 9 units/acre.

  23. joe,

    Well, actually I never hear an alternative from them, only that suburbs should not exist. ‘Discussions’ with them are as productive as this thread is becoming.

  24. Yes Guy, joe is demonstrating what he does with the “input from the residents so they can define the character of their community.”

    IOW, hold meetings, nod your head, look concerned and then do what you planned on doing all along.

  25. “Well, actually I never hear an alternative from them, only that suburbs should not exist.”

    If you are interested, you would do well to broaden your reading about these criticism beyond what the critics-of-the-critics have to say. The Old Suburbanists, so to speak, don’t tend to be the best source for learning what the New Urbanists are advoctaing.

    The Council for a New Urbanism has a good web site. I would also recommend a slim volume titled “The Next American Metropolis” by Peter Calthorpe for a well-drawn, detailed description of the New Urbanist vision.

    Also, there is a tendency to use the word “suburb” to describe what the critics oppose, but that’s a bit misleading. Most of the New Urbanist developments have been suburbs, and many of the models they draw from are older versions of suburbs; at the same time, they also level their guns at some very urban styles of development – the Tower in the Park, the Superblock, for example.

  26. BTW, I live in a single family home, with a yard big enough for a 30 person cook out. Net density in my area is about 9 units/acre.

    Cool. I’m glad you’re happy. Given my druthers, I’d like to have more space, thank you very much.

    See, joe, we don’t mostly object to the way you choose to live. We object to your characterization of it as the One True Way to live. Maybe you don’t mean to, but you often come across as saying that.

  27. I think the mall arose as a result of parking problems downtown and the rotten weather in many areas of the country.

    Don’t know if VP touched on it in the article but the latest rage in sunny So Cal is the outdoor mall that stylisitcally recreates the downtown feel of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Some of them even have streets you drive on with slanted parking spaces. The new incarnations have adequate parking.

    http://www.victoriagardensie.com/

  28. Yep, shoulda read VP’s piece first because she did talk about it. I do like her style.

  29. As your lengthy defenses of sprawl and the social engineering that produced it demonstrate, you have no problem being told how to live by your betters.

    WTF are you talking about, joe? Is this the RC in your head, because the RC at this keyboard has no recollection of producing lengthy defenses of sprawl.

  30. grylliade,

    I, and other New Urbanists, wouldn’t forbid houses on larger lots, or houses without any rental units. We would simply not mandate them as the only legal development pattern. Sprawlers, on the other hand, would and DO forbid houses on smaller lots, or converting an SFH into a two-family. (BTW, this site has been up for five and a half years, and has yet to run even a single piece criticizing the strict zoning regimes that have created sprawl. Not one, although counterattacks against those who criticize that particular examople of social engineering have been a bi-weekly occurance).

    Then they bitch and moan that their “choice” is being taken away when someone down the street wants to build on a smaller lot, or add a second unit, or even a (gasp!) storefront onto his own property. Or, heaven forbid, when someone proposes relaxing land use regulations to allow a whole neighborhood of such development.

    Tell you what; you go to your local planning office and ask if you can put a two-family on 6000 square feet in your neighborhood. I’ll go to mine, and ask if I can put a single-family on 15,000 square feet in mine. Then let’s get back together and talk about who is imposing their vision on whom.

    And yes, I actually do have an opinion about what is better and worse. Last time I checked, libertarians were ok with having such opinions. Except when a non-libertarian expresses the, apparently.

  31. this site has been up for five and a half years, and has yet to run even a single piece criticizing the strict zoning regimes that have created sprawl.

    Joe, I’m not sure your right, I recall Reason mentioning on several occasions that both zoning and other regulatory costs have pushed developers to the sprawl model where the heavy costs can be amortized across multiple dwelling units and have effectively pushed out the old model of one house custom built on one lot like my grandfather built in the 1940’s.

  32. I’ve been looking, TWC, and haven’t seen any such articles. Every time they have blogged a criticism of sprawl, it has been to denounce that criticism.

  33. Actually, such articles were fairly common when I first started reading Reason but that was twenty-five years ago.

    But, yes, joe, I think you’re right. There have not been any recently.

    However, I think that “Then they bitch and moan that their “choice” is being taken away when someone down the street wants to build on a smaller lot, or add a second unit, or even a (gasp!) storefront onto his own property.” is a stretch.

    And, “Or, heaven forbid, when someone proposes relaxing land use regulations to allow a whole neighborhood of such development.” most certainly is.

    I’m not certain what kind of development would predominate if zoning and other land use regulations were relaxed or, as most here would prefer, ended. But I am willing to take the chance that it would be preferable to what occurs now, both in the city and the suburbs.

  34. Every time they have blogged a criticism of sprawl, it has been to denounce that criticism.

    That’s probably because most criticisms of sprawl take on such a puritanical self-righteous tone. And furthermore they usually propose a coercive solution.

    I think it is possible to discuss the subject on purely technical grounds. I say that because I have found that is how you usually approach it.

  35. How about something RADICAL! People buy land and build what they want on it. If they buy many acres they can build pre-fabricated towns and see if they can sell them for more than they would if they sold off one piece at a time.

    Sorry, did not mean to make heads explode.

  36. Another great read! Thanks! Im always looking out for your next blog, they seem to get better and better 🙂 thankyou!
    http://destinationsoftwareinc.com

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