Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Learning from Essen and Liverpool and applying it to Miami: Shopping "malls" in the city center

The US shopping mall typology had five components.  They are:
  • built in the suburbs
  • and therefore are car-oriented with plenty of parking
  • very large
  • inwardly focused
  • exclusively retail oriented.
This is changing on the last element, because as various players in the retail industry fail or consolidate, such as department stores, shopping centers are repurposing the space, including fitness centers, offices, medical clinics, etc., to utilize the space.

While the centers are becoming more "mixed use" ("Malls try to reinvent themselves as stores close," USA Today) they aren't necessarily becoming more successful for retail sales, because many of the new uses aren't congruent with people also buying stuff.

The enclosed Mall at Steamtown (a railroad museum in Scranton) is about 560,000 square feet.

Center city malls as a revitalization attempt.  While malls have mostly been a suburban phenomenon, there have been a few instances where inwardly focused behemoth shopping malls have been constructed in distressed places such as Scranton, Pennsylvania ("Auction of two downtown Scranton buildings holds promise for revitalization," and "Artists add a splash of color to Marketplace at Steamtown's darkened storefronts," Scranton Times-Tribune), as an attempt at revitalization.

Inward vs. outward malls: center cities need an outward focused design typology.  But as I have written in the past about Georgetown Park Mall in DC, and its relative failure as a "shopping mall," because it attempts to draw in customers off from "the street," into their controlled mall environment, and keep them there, when it is the life and vitality on the street and outside that is Georgetown's greatest attraction, inwardly focused shopping malls aren't very good for city centers because they are too big and they don't want to share their customers with the rest of the district.

Most of these efforts have fallen on hard times, and many of the malls have since been closed and demolished.

Note that one exception is Westfield San Francisco Centre in San Francisco, which was built in the city center about 10 years ago, in the city's most successful open air shopping district, Union Square.  Arguably, you could say the same about Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in New York City.

Shopping malls in European pedestrianized city centers.  Something I noticed in Essen and a couple weeks ago in Liverpool, is that in those two European cities and presumably in many others, in their pedestrianized areas, they have "mall" buildings, typically much smaller than the old style American Mall, but full of shops, in an enclosed multi-story building.  They don't have department stores.

While even these shopping centers aren't necessarily outwardly focused, they are in the city center which helps keep the district economically successful and militates against sprawl.

These malls are smaller than American counterparts and don't overpower the rest of the district.  In short, these shopping complexes were designed to contribute positively to the continued strength of the city core as a shopping destination.

Europa Passage shopping arcade in Hamburg.

Another similar form that is still present in the downtown districts of European cities like Hamburg is the shopping arcade, connecting the opposing sides of a block with a shopping gallery.

(For the most part, US shopping arcades are long gone, with some notable exceptions in Cleveland and Ann Arbor.)

Lifestyle centers. "Lifestyle centers" were a response starting in the late 1990s to a decline in the power of the shopping mall because of a decline in interest in shopping at traditional department stores.

Lifestyle centers are more oriented to shops and restaurants and outside spaces ("Lifestyle Centers vs. Traditional Commercial Districts," 2006), although here and there, department stores may be an element of the mix.

But the anchor wasn't a store per se but the "experience" in terms of the quality of the space and the focus on being outside rather than ensconced within an enclosed mall (cf. "Reeves Center and Georgetown Park are two sides of the same coin," 2007).

Photo: Charles Fox, Philadelphia Inquirer.  Bryn Mawr Village was constructed in part from an old bus transit garage.

Lifestyling as the next generation of small shopping center development.  An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer ("How Bryn Mawr Village found its Main Line shopping niche") discusses the evolution of this type of center, calling it "lifestyling," with a mix of fitness centers and other services complementing retail.

The article is interesting in terms of the recognition that retail developers will continue to respond to changes in the market in order to remain successful. 

It keys on a developing change, that the property owners are less focused on attracting chain tenants that are ubiquitous, instead aiming for stores and services that aren't widely available elsewhere.  I was surprised to see that the development has a number of independent apparel shops.

But too, this particular center has the ability to be successful because it's in a high income area, and complements other destination retail centers like the King of Prussia Mall, one of the most successful in the US.

Liverpool One is a lifestyle center not an enclosed mall.  Lifestyle centers may incorporate non-selling more civic functions and usually have open space and programming.  (Liverpool One has superior bike parking, a retail store focusing on disabled mobility, and even a package pick up point for Amazon.)

While "shopping malls" aim to capture and keep customers to themselves, that is absolutely not the case for Liverpool One, the large shopping center in Liverpool, which connects to the city's pedestrianized area and further connects the pedestrianized center to the Waterfront.

It's the equivalent of an open air shopping mall, not unlike how Northland Center, one of the nation's first suburban shopping centers built just north of Detroit--but has since been demolished--was constructed, a bunch of open air shopping sections around a department store at the center.

Liverpool One has two big department stores--John Lewis and Debenhams--and a bunch of stores, but they are organized like shopping arcades but with no roof.

It's designed to capture customers from the pedestrianized center, just like the shopping center buildings in Essen, but even better than the typical shopping malls inserted into pedestrian centers as self-contained buildings, they use the open air shopping center design, so that they are outside- rather than inwardly focused, and the end result is that the "shopping mall" strengthens the adjacent shopping districts rather than diminishes them.

It's connective rather than disconnective.

This did come at some cost as John Lewis moved its store from a traditional center city building and that site has been difficult to redevelop ("Revealed: Developer's Circus plans for Lewis's and expanded Liverpool Central," Liverpool Echo).  But the net impact has been overwhelmingly positive.

Other US examples of conurbation focused open air lifestyle centers.  There are other examples of this form, in the US.  A close to home example is "Downtown Silver Spring" in Montgomery County, although it works from the standpoint of pedestrians and more active places, the retail offer waxes and wanes, because they don't have enough anchors and the main "shopping mall" that is part of the district remains inwardly focused.

Although I will say it's one commercial district that I could see being successful by adding a department store.  (More about department stores and city center locations later.)

Another example is The Grove, next to the open air Los Angeles Farmers Market ("Main Street of Dreams," Vanity Fair; The Grove Los Angeles, California, ULI Case Studies, Urban Land Institute).  I imagine there are others.

Miami-Dade County.  This comes up because the Triple Five Group, known for their behemoth internally focused gargantuan malls in Edmonton and Bloomington Minnesota (Mall of America) have received approvals for a similar mall in South Florida, ("American Dream Miami, the nation's biggest mall, wins final OK," Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel; The largest mall in the US is coming to Miami, and it will have a massive indoor water park and ice rink," Business Insider). (Their construction of a similar mall in New Jersey is a morass, "Hey, Miami, we hear you're getting an American Dream mega-mall, too. Good luck with that!." Newark Star-Ledger.)

South Florida's unique selling proposition is about being outdoors.

And while they have plenty of inwardly focused shopping malls, one of the country's most successful shopping districts is the open air Bal Harbour Shops elsewhere in Miami-Dade County.  It even has department stores, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman-Marcus.

In any case, the location of the mall in the northern section of the county far away from the county's most urban districts means the opportunity to strengthen existing commercial districts is lost, and it's probably not a good example for a treatment comparable to Liverpool One.

It's not well connected in terms of transit, although bus service from both Miami-Dade County and Broward County will be provided.  From the South Florida Business Journal article, "North America’s biggest mall and entertainment center coming: American Dream Miami approved":
Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said she voted against the project because the traffic is not adequately mitigated, it undermines the plan for public transportation, and she wants to focus on creating skilled jobs.

Triple Five Group agreed to a series of roadway improvements, including four highway interchanges, that must be completed before the project opens. Attorney Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who represents the developer, said this would cost about $210 million, and the developer would be responsible for paying. There would be an additional $58 million in impact fees for American Dream Miami.
But it is instructive that while increasingly there are alternatives to traditional mall type shopping centers, local governments tend to be focused on older less flexible "property types." Although this mall is much more than a shopping center and will include a theme park with rides, a year round ice skating rink, etc.

Graphic from the Miami Herald, "In Miami-Dade, making the Mall of America look small."

I'd say the best thing for Miami would be to learn from the Liverpool One example, and make the new shopping center open air.

And connect it to high capacity transit--Liverpool One is part of the Liverpool downtown which is well served by rail and bus transit. In fact, the city's inter-city bus terminal is next to the shopping center, while multiple train stations are close by.

Instead this is a very traditional suburban, automobile-centric project.  That being said, given its South Florida location, it is likely to be successful.

P.S.  I know that the time has "long passed the station" to be able to do intra-core right-sized shopping malls and open-air centers in the US, except for particular situations, such as the previously mentioned Downtown Silver Spring initiative in Maryland or The Grove in Los Angeles.

Still, as an example of "what could have been," it's interesting to think about.

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