12.30.2007

MALL, RATS

A nice piece in the end-of-year Economist about the rise and fall of the shopping mall: Birth, Death, and Shopping." For someone who is 90 percent done with a two-year study of urban retail in Philadelphia, I am particularly drawn to the delicious ironies and poignant recollections contained in this article. Like how malls were first designed to be urban retailers' second, suburban location, only to lead to the starvation and death of many of them. Or how the mall's popularity rose with white flight and fell as the suburbs diversified. Or how the most interesting mall concepts today are simultaneously pursuing artificiality and reality.

Please don't misunderstand me to be an anti-mall snob. Having grown up in the suburbs, I have my own teen-year nostalgia about malls: riding the bus to a faraway mall to buy Garfield posters, people-watching at another mall with my girlfriend over frozen yogurt, and storming a third mall during the height of Christmas shopping with my ten best friends to take a series of staged photos are three memories that come quickly to my mind. And today, I'm just as much of a consumer as the next person. I just think that, for anyone who is interested in urban issues and in demography and in business, following the trajectory of malls is a fascinating way to gain insights into all three.
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