Could shopping malls get a green restoration?

Many of this mall's tenants left after the anchors stores closed at The Mall at the Source in Westbury, New York. (Creative Commons)

Since the dawn of architectural advancements in urban communities, shopping malls have been a meeting ground for persons in search of a social gathering ground where goods and services are in full assortment. Shopping malls were constructed in heart of communities to be easily accessed by a multitude and diverse range of consumers. Social interactions mixed with retail therapy created a “town square” feel to many who have encountered such euphoric and atmospheric conditions (Staeheli and Mitchel, 2006). Malls have been a staple in global retail shopping since their genesis, but in recent years have been on a steady decline in popularity. Customers have been turning to a new form of retail shopping and have caused a dramatic retreat of visitors in malls worldwide; this new form is online shopping.

Since 2006, there have been no new shopping malls constructed in the United States (Sanborn, 2017). This once-booming market has been affected mightily by the technological advancements achieved in the 21st century. A variety of factors have contributed to the decline of shopping mall visitation in recent decades, yet the most influential is the convenience of online shopping (Ferreira and Paiva, 2017). People no longer have to commute through traffic to physical malls, trouble themselves with long-lines, or deal with the commotion of a high-density environment (Selvakumar and Raghavan, 2017). The ease of shopping on devices from the comfort of homes have initiated a downward trend of visitation in physical shopping malls. Between 2010 and 2013, mall visitation has dropped nearly 50% during the holiday season (mid-November through the end of December) than in years past. These peak times in shopping are when businesses rely on to meet end-of-year quotas.

Major architectural, state-of-the-art facilities are closing down and remains are leaving a large footprint of empty buildings (Rosenbaum, 2016). Former shopping malls, that have once been a predominant wonder of the community, are closing and leaving a negative aesthetic appeal to communities. Restoration potential for revitalization projects encapsulate the minds of city planners, contractors, and local residents to transform the architectural ghost-towns into something new (Peterson, 2014). The large footprint and building structure of the malls contribute to endless possibilities of restoration projects.

I had the pleasure of interviewing a local resident residing in Clay, New York, who has firsthand experienced the essence of mall history. Numerous malls are located within 30 miles of Clay, so 26-year-old Corinna Manzer is a key source of knowledge regarding shopping malls. From Destiny USA, Shoppingtown Mall, and Great Northern Mall, Corinna has visited all three within her lifetime and remembers the prime of malls. Living only two miles down the road from Great Northern Mall, I was able to encapsulate a true history of the mall through a Q&A session with her:

ME: How do you think the mall has changed within the last 5-10 years?

CORINNA: The mall has become a ghost town. There are only a couple stores still in business there, and I don’t know how they’re still making money. All the parking lots are always empty and only Dick’s Sporting Goods has more than maybe 10 cars parked in the lot. Five years ago, the whole place has stores of all different categories, a movie theatre, and I used to go there more than once a week with my friends to hangout. It used to be such a convenience right down the road.

ME: What is the reason for the decline of the mall?

CORINNA: Definitely online shopping. There’s no reason to drive there and have to deal with people when I can just hop on my laptop and buy anything I want without sales people.

ME: Do you think the town should keep the mall standing?

CORINNA: I think the mall is taking up space and the huge building is being put to no use. [The town] should tear it down and put something else up like a restaurant some other food place. It’d be more popular.

ME: What do you think of restoring [the mall] into a park or other green space?

CORINNA: That’s a great idea! It would really bring the community together and help better the environment rather than having it as an “industrial wasteland.” The mall is a huge eyesore where it is.

 

Other uses for mall properties

The questions asked focused around the major areas of my research, and I was able to understand a consumer’s mindset regarding malls. I also asked Corinna about how other malls are maintaining their business compared to the ones closing, and she replied by stating how other malls are transitioning to a more restaurant-based approach because “food keeps people interested.” She told me restaurants are the main reason [Destiny USA Mall] continues to flourish. Restoring malls for green spaces were a point of interest in our interview, and would lead to a healthier community for the people and environment.

A green space could be a local park or simply an area of trees, grass, shrubs, and other plant life. Urban park planning has the potential to convert the extensive space of abandoned shopping malls into an urban park “that embraces social, economic, and environmental development” (Dong and Gong, 2017). Green spaces are both beneficial for the community through mitigating air pollution, as well as the environment. By restoring a brownfield (industrial or commercial lands that are abandoned, idle or not fully-utilized) into a green space, environmental degradation is reversed, and ultimately rescinds the harm to the environment. Green landscapes can deliver an esthetic appeal, improved health, soil conservation improvements to local communities where the malls were once a contemporary site (Dong and Gong, 2017).

Abandoned malls contribute restoration potentials from the sizable footprints of the buildings. While possibilities may seem endless for the future of the industrial sites, green projects wield a positive outlook. Whether a green space for park leisure or an indoor-outdoor infusion of activity, the grass is most certainly greener on the other side of shopping malls.

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Works Cited

Staeheli, L. A., & Mitchell, D. (2006). USAs Destiny? Regulating Space and Creating Community in American Shopping Malls. Urban Studies, 43(5-6), 977-992. doi:10.1080/00420980600676493

Ferreira, D., & Paiva, D. (2017). The death and life of shopping malls: An empirical investigation on the dead malls in Greater Lisbon. The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 27(4), 317-333. doi:10.1080/09593969.2017.1309564

Rosenbaum, M. S., Otalora, M. L., & Ramirez, G. C. (2016). The restorative potential of shopping malls. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 31, 157-165. doi:10.1016/2016.02.011

Watson, Sarah, "What is Happening to Commercial Malls: Evaluating Contradicting Opinions" (2016). Accounting. 11.   https://scholarsarchive.library.albany.edu/honorscollege_accounting/11

Sanburn, J. (2017, July 20). Why the Death of Malls Is About More Than Shopping. Time.

Dong, J., & Gong, S. (2017). Restoration and Regeneration of Industrial Brownfield. Boletín Técnico,55(12), 314-319.

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