Friday, March 20, 2015

The Urban Arcade

Shopping malls might be as American as suburbia, but like apple pie and pizza, we didn't technically invent either. Gostiny Dvor in St. Petersburg, FL is commonly accepted as the first shopping mall, but that and other early examples are often a combination of indoor bazars and European arcades. In that regard, the foundation for shopping malls is rooted in Ancient Rome, perhaps even earlier.

History aside, the American shopping mall as we know it is unquestionably dying. Hanging out at the mall was a great pastime for teenagers in the 80s and 90s, but actually shopping at a mall was born from a need. Before online shopping, malls were a one stop approach to a retail experience now easily accessed on our iPads. Suburban malls have no choice but to continue catering to a market that is fading because, architecturally, there's little else you can do with the space.

But in the digital age, these once convenient solutions have become burdensome. They are destinations, and often troublesome to reach. Traffic jams, jug handles, parking, and lines can be circumvented with the click of a button on 

Urban malls, on the other hand, have always been a bit unique. They were designed to serve the same needs as those in King of Prussia or Cherry Hill, as well as to keep downtown shoppers from fleeing to the 'burbs for Sears. But as suburban malls continue to stagnate and struggle to evolve, these urban shopping malls that have outlived what little usefulness they once provided are reinventing the urban shopping experience by looking to history.

What our urban malls could be.

Ironically, urban malls like Eaton Centre in Toronto and Pioneer Place in Portland, are experiencing a resurgence while their suburban counterparts continue to fail. While suburban malls must rely on their place as isolated attractions, urban malls can grab foot traffic and tourists, and like the Gallery at Market East or Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, VA, are frequently integrated with public transportation. But urban malls can succeed by the mere fact that they're downtown. They have a logistical advantage if their management chooses to embrace it.

Food courts allow coworkers and families to grab lunch at their favorite spots while also allowing them to dine in the same place. It doesn't take a lot to make these places work, just proper management and an understanding that their target audience is unique to the inner city crowd and often supplemental, not direct. 

Ignore the suburban counterparts and begin looking at urban malls as modern European arcades. The Gallery is far from the best example, but it has far more potential than a dying suburban mall.

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