Cities Are Trying to Fix the Giant Screwup That Was the Downtown Shopping Mall

A California Hot Topic. Photo via Getty Images.
A California Hot Topic. Photo via Getty Images.

Let us turn our attention, once more, to the great American shopping mall deathwatch.


Today, in end-of-malls news, the Wall Street Journal reports that cities are realizing that it was, in fact, a terrible idea to raze large swaths of their downtowns to build giant hulking malls that now squat, stone-faced and unwelcoming and outdated, in what used to be public spaces. Oops! And so now they’re trying to correct the mistakes of the 1970s.

While enclosed malls are synonymous with suburban shopping, they were also built in cities from Burlington, Vt., to Palm Springs, Calif., frequently as a means of reviving flagging downtowns. The urban malls widely failed, buckling to competition from suburban rivals.

“The fact that they cut up the street grid and put up blank facades, they killed the real-estate value around them,” said Ellen Dunham-Jones, an expert in mall rehab projects and architecture professor at the Urban Design Program at Georgia Institute of Technology. “I think they had a pathological effect in some cases.”


The Journal’s big example is the Galleria in Worcester, Massachusetts, built in 1971 and replacing “a dense warren of old city streets and downtown buildings.” It didn’t pan out as well as its planners might have hoped.

The Galleria struggled over many years, then re-launched in the mid-90s as an outlet mall with celebrity spokeswoman Judith Light of “Who’s the Boss?” fame. The struggles continued, and by 2003, then-Mayor Tim Murray was calling for the mall’s demolition. It closed for good in 2006.

“You can’t put lipstick on a pig,” the former mayor and lieutenant governor, who now heads the local chamber of commerce, said in an interview. “It was a design disaster.”

Now the city is in the process of replacing their boondoggle with a hotel, apartments, and offices.

I’ll say this for the reclaimed wood being slapped on interiors all over America: It’ll be a lot easier to replace once it goes out of fashion than these giant concrete monsters.

Senior Editor, Attic Haunter, Jezebel

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Too many malls are awful and cannot compare to the joys of shopping online. No people, no lines and sometimes free return shipping.

If mall owners want to incentivize people, they need to open facilities/services that people don’t mind leaving their houses for. Clothes/shoes aren’t it these days.

They should have UPS/FedEx customer centers for pickups/shipping. Amazon pickups too. They should have a general pick up center for all the stores in their mall, for people who order online. Should stay open for at least an hour after the regular stores close. People like things that are convenient.

Also focus more on restaurants, regular food courts don’t cut it. People will always flock to places they can use for dates. Make it cheaper for actual restaurants to rent space. Food truck food courts don’t hurt either.

Basically get the people to the mall for any reason and they end up peeking into stores as they roam. You want people to want to hang out/loiter.