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.
Posted by B.S. at Monday, March 30, 2009