Monday, March 30, 2009

Urban Planning 101

This is what it looks like from the outside, as viewed from a pedestrian bridge over the street. It's a humongous shopping mall, smack dab in the center of downtown.

When it first opened 20 years ago, it delighted locals as well as out-of-towners who traveled great distances to shop here. Upscale stores such as Marshall Fields, Jacobson's and Macy's were among the hundreds of retailers. There was no shortage of food and entertainment, thanks to the many restaurants, the amphitheater in the center and the connected concert hall/movie theater. It was the place to be, no question.

What went wrong, then?

This grand shopping destination officially closed permanently on March 5, 2009, a mere 20 years after its auspicious opening.

Well, whirlingbetty is no city planner, but it doesn't take one to figure out what went wrong. Surely a 1,200,000 square foot 3 level shopping center in the center of a major U.S. city's downtown was intended to last longer than 20 years!

This mall opened in 1989. It was innovative, being an urban mall in contrast to the far more common suburban variety. It was upscale and exciting.

Here's the problem: in 1997, a brand new mall opened on the northwest side of this same city, unbelievably by the SAME developers who had built the downtown mall! Even an amateur urban planner sees what's coming.

Another suburban mall was opened on the northeast side of the city two years later. The impact on the downtown mall was dramatic by this time.

The fatal blow came in 2001 when when yet another mall opened on the north end of the city. This trifecta of brand new mega malls on the outskirts of town made it impossible for shoppers to justify driving all the way downtown to shop, especially knowing they'd have to pay to park there! Besides, most of the population lives in the suburbs anyway, as this city grows to look more and more like a giant, ever-expanding doughnut with a gaping, empty hole in its center.

City Planning 101: If you want to draw people downtown, the first rule is to exercise restraint on development in the suburbs! There was nothing inherently wrong with the downtown mall; it was a gem. What was wrong was the uncontrolled, unchecked competition allowed to spring up in the ever-expanding suburbs.

The city government did nothing to discourage re-location of residents, businesses, services and retail to the suburbs. We are left with a declining, decaying downtown. What good is a city with a rotten core?

These two shoppers, made of cement, are the last to grace the halls of the former downtown shopping mecca. What a loss; what a waste.


skoots1mom said...

it hurts to see such waste, doesn't it?! Everytime I see a tree goes it makes me sad b/c i fell they don't care about the future impact, just the here and now.
have a good week!

Lynilu said...

There was a mall near where I lived in KC that suffered the same demise. It was a gorgeous place, the most beautiful in KC for many years. Then, it fell into disfavor when the management chose to ignore necessary changes, security needs, upkeep. I can't say whether the appearance of other malls impacted it, but it was very sad to see such a beautiful place fall into shambles with neglect. I understand how saddening (and maddening, in this economy to waste a wonderful structure) it is. I mourned that loss for a long time.

Betty said...

Dear Skoots1mom,

Yes, it hurts to see such waste. I am reminded of it constantly because it is near my workplace.

You have a great week too!


Betty said...

Dear Lynilu,

I'm sorry to hear of a similar situation in KC. I'm wondering if it was also downtown. In the case here, the loss is especially devastating because of its negative impact on the downtown area. What good is a city with a rotten care?

I might even add that to the post, come to think of it....


Monogram Queen said...

It is a loss, and a waste and very STUPID on someone's part. Grrrr I hate waste like that!

Betty said...

Dear Patti,

It makes me mad too, that's for sure.
It reflects society's priorities.


Sideways Chica said...

Such a waste - and I have seen it happen time and again in California - some of the malls don't necessarily "close," but they get very "undesirable," with neglect, etc.

Take care Betty and thanks for your recent pop in and encouraging words!

Betty said...

Dear Teri,

Thanks for stopping by! I guess this urban planning problem is fairly widespread- what a shame.


Loving Annie said...

Greed shot itself in the foot.

Betty said...

Dear Annie,

You're right- you've summed it up appropriately.


2nd Cup of Coffee said...

Wow, that was interesting. Not your usual mom-blog post! We keep trying to re-invent our downtown, but its not working.

Betty said...

Dear 2nd Cup,

I guess it's good that some effort is being made to improve your downtown, even if it's not working!


Big Dave T said...

So how would you stop the re-location of people and businesses to the suburbs? The city can't stop its neighbors from developing themselves? Just curious as to what you think the answer is.

Sometimes the people come back though. It's happened in Boston, and in Chicago to some extent. Of course, NYC has a fairly vibrant downtown too.

Maybe they'll make your vacant shopping mall into condos or something like that.

Betty said...

Dear Big Dave,

There is a way to control outside development- it was done admirably in Portland, Oregon. The city of Portland enacted laws prohibiting development outside of city boundaries- it's been very wisely controlled for many years. That's what city planners do- they come up with boundaries and guidelines for the development of a city and its suburbs so as to protect the integrity of the downtown area.

Some cities, like the one I live in, have no rules- in fact there are tax incentives to re-locate to the burbs! That's the complete opposite of conscious city planning.

The downtown mall here is being demolished.