Online retailing and big-box centres killing shopping centres: Academic

Only a third of 1,100 enclosed regional shopping malls in the US are currently viable, according to The International Council of Shopping Centres.

Developers in the US have been moving away from the enclosed-mall format in favour of big-box centres anchored by free-standing giants such as WalMart.

A shift in online spending as well as large big box retailers like Costco entering the market may see Australia follow suit, says Lisa Scharoun, assistant professor of graphic design at UC.

“The recent bankruptcies of the Colorado Group and the RED group may signal a potential downturn in the viability of the enclosed shopping mall environment in Australia.”

Scharoun says big-box centres have replaced enclosed shopping malls in many areas across the US and pose a threat to public space in urban and social areas with their lack of seating, community spaces and food courts.

“The shopping mall – it’s an essential part of American culture – the quintessential US shopping experience. And Australia isn’t far behind. More and more of us are ditching local stores for the convenience of the one-stop shop.”

“In the newly created American suburbs of the early 1950s, a problem emerged about how to make shopping more convenient when cars were the dominant form of transport.”

“Designer Victor Gruen envisioned a fully enclosed shopping centre that would be ‘the nucleus of a utopian experiment’,” she wrote on The Conversation website.

“He wanted to create a space that would be something more than simply a place to buy essentials.”

“His goal was to design an enclosed interior pedestrian city surrounded by ample parking that would encourage the consumer to linger longer, thus extending the possibilities of socialisation and community.”

“The first fully enclosed mall, Southdale Mall in Edina Minnesota, opened in 1952. Free from the perils of car traffic, Gruen’s dream of an internal pedestrian city was realised,” Scharoun writes

“Gruen’s design called for expansive, windowless cement exteriors, punctuated by ‘big blocks of color and inviting entrance arcades’. The mute exterior of the mall offered nothing to the sidewalks and parking areas and created a distinct divide between the private shop and the cityscape.”

“Instead, the entire streetscape was brought indoors, into the more easily managed interior mall space.”

“The Southdale shopping mall design was so successful that it became the standard for retail construction in America for over 50 years.”

“The impact of the mass reproduction of this centrally controlled, privatised marketplace has been vast," she says.

“The success of Southdale was a catalyst for retail change. Hundreds of shopping malls copied its model across the country. It contributed to the decline of Main Street America and many inner cities across the country.”

“The enclosed shopping mall has proved to re-define the concept of a ‘town centre’ by stripping away the sense of authentic community and freedom that existed in the traditional town centres of rural and urban areas across America.”

“Despite the negative connotations associated with the shopping mall, however, it has been referred to as a “temple of consumerism” and is discussed as offering a replacement for traditional temples of worship in an increasingly secular population.”

“Although the privatised and controlled nature of a shopping mall has led to the homogenisation of public space, the mall has engendered a sense of community amongst specific demographic groups, such as adolescents and the elderly, who use the space as a primary site for identity creation, companionship and social interaction.”

“The enclosed shopping mall has also become a symbol of American culture, and is frequently used as a backdrop for films and popular media depicting the American condition. And the model has been replicated in suburban and urban environments throughout the world.”

“Australia adapted this model very early on, building the first suburban shopping centre, Chermside, in Brisbane in 1957.”

“Myers completed the design for the Chadstone shopping centre in the suburbs of Melbourne around the same period, and so the die was cast: suburban enclosed shopping malls started popping up across the country.”

“According to the Shopping Centre Council of Australia, currently there are 1,338 shopping centres in this country.”

“And, it says, ‘some of the larger centres attract well over 15 million shopper visits per year. Across Australia, there are 1.75 billion shopper visits each year. That means, on average, each Australian visits a shopping centre twice a week’.”

“Shopping trends in Australia are often directly tied to the United States. Research by Morgan Stanley relays that Australia lags behind the US by about five years in their adoption of shopping trends.”



Alistair Walsh

Alistair Walsh

Deutsche Welle online reporter

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