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What’s Killing the Enclosed Mall?

11:23 AM EDT on March 18, 2013

Anyone who values healthy cities may feel a bit of schadenfreude about the decline of the American shopping mall, which is becoming almost as retro as music videos and Orange Julius.

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But many communities have simply traded enclosed malls for "lifestyle centers," where customers drive, park, and then walk among stores in an open-air setting.

Network blog American Dirt recently examined the situation in two small American cities whose malls are fading away: Houma, Louisiana, and Effingham, Illinois. In these cases, there's no "lifestyle center," but as it turns out, there's little reason to celebrate:

Now, apparently, the enclosed shopping mall even struggles in municipalities so small that it’s hard to spot the competition.

Both municipalities are regional employment hubs, offering both jobs and retail offerings that serve a broader spatial area than their populations would suggest. And in both cases, the downtowns show some evidence of revitalization, featuring locally run shops and restaurants in refurbished older buildings.

But the reimagined downtowns aren't the only competition for the Southland and Village Square Malls:

The general patterns of development around Effingham are what really stacked the deck against the Village Square Mall. It’s not far from downtown (in Effingham, everything’s close), but notice that the majority of the street grid and development has occurred in a northerly direction. In addition, the double-barreled interstate I-70/57 wraps around the northern and western city limits—far from the south.

A purple ellipse on the northwest side of town shows the new retail hub for Effingham, right where busy State Route 33 meets I-57/70 at the exit ramp... You’ve got the usual suspects for shopping and dining: Wal-Mart, Ruby Tuesday, Menards, Arby’s, Starbucks, T.G.I. Friday’s, Cracker Barrel, and a slew of hotels catering to all price ranges. To the north, sitting amidst an undeveloped field in Effingham’s “frontier," is a Kohl’s.

No surprises there. Much like Houma, the preferred retail hub for Effingham has become even more decentralized than before, lined up along a busy highway that maximizes visibility to the thousands of outsiders who pass through this town on any given day, thanks to those two interstates.

So the mall got beat by big box stores closer to the interstate. Yeesh.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Review STL explores the generational shifts that have shaped American planning and transportation planning since WWII. ChicargoBike offers an appreciation for the mayors who have championed bike-friendly policies. And Seattle Transit Blog attempts to reason with "megacommuters" using some pretty striking facts and figures.

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