Opinion | Come on in, let’s save the mall

A series of United States Supreme Court and state cases, from 1968 onward, have tried to limit free speech protections in shopping malls claiming them as private property; the plaintiffs in these cases have been trade unionists and anti-war and anti-fur protesters. In Amalgamated Food Employees Union Local 590 v. Logan Valley Plaza Inc. in 1968, one of the first of these cases, Justice Thurgood Marshall, writing for the majority, argued that “businesses located in the suburbs could be largely immune” from criticism: What went against of the public interest in a suburban nation.

The whiteness of the malls, at least, is changing. Geographer Wei Li coined the term “ethnoburb” in 1997, studying the rise of majority Asian-American suburbia. Willow Lung-Amam has chronicled the rise of malls and malls selected for this demographic, and formerly white shopping malls throughout the South they have been reborn as markets offering Latino food, fashion, entertainment, and other community service functions.

What these Asian and Latin American projects have in common is a responsiveness to changing residential patterns and a willingness to support local businesses, displays of creative stewardship beyond attracting the latest national fashion brand. The approach of these culturally responsive mall managers is more akin to the revolution promised by the festival markets of the 1970s than that of the peak malls of the 1990s. Architect Ben Thompson—a creator, with his wife, Jane Thompson, and developer James Rouse of the Faneuil Hall, Harborplace, and South Street Seaport urban markets—wrote, “Everything we build must inject the affirmative values ​​that human beings need as much as food: the pleasure of things tactile and visual, the security of physical safety and freedom, the variety of stimulating impressions and experiences.

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Ethnocentric mall renovations are just one of the strategies implemented in successful mall remodels, resurfacing, and replacements. June Williamson and Ellen Dunham-Jones have been documenting suburban reuse for more than a decade. His 2021 database and book, “Case studies in suburban retrofitting”, includes shopping malls that have been converted into civic centers, schools, churches and medical facilities, sometimes altogether, reversing the single-use zoning common in postwar suburbs.

The more uses that are added to the sites, the more likely they are to have green space added, whether it’s the outdoor patios in the old parking lot at Highland Campus of Austin Community College or the great lawn in the wayzata promenade in Minnesota, which combines senior housing, a hotel and offices. representations for increasingthe under-construction redevelopment of the Vallco Mall in California, designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects, touts the 29-acre green roof as “the largest in the world” and claims it “restores the pre-development character of Cupertino’s landscape.”

Some have even been converted into parks. The second wave of mall construction in the 1970s often focused on low-lying areas that were difficult to develop for residential or other uses, and rightly so, as they were flood-prone bottoms or stream beds. Meriden Hub Mall in Meriden, Conn., was one of those places. In 2007, the city began work on a plan, using local, state, and federal funds, to replace the mall with a 14-acre park, opening access to Harbor Creek, creating a public space that doubles as a retention reservoir. of water and building a bridge and amphitheater. Mixed-income housing and an improved transit center now across from the park, known as meridian green.

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My favorite story about the mall renaissance comes from Detroit. Before Mr. Gruen designed Southdale, he drew up some of his ideas for the new suburban Main Street in Southfield, Michigan, just north of town. northern region, which opened in 1954, had open-air courtyards with gardens and modern sculptures connecting rows of shops and a branch of the city’s leading department store, JL Hudson. The planted spaces offered space for women and children or anyone else isolated in their homes to gather and shop, chat and play.