Mall Mentality

Having a great walkable street doesn’t mean as much if it doesn’t lead to a specific destination.  There should be meaning as to why the streets inhabitants will be there.  After all, a street, even a walkable one, is the route to a destination.  Let’s pull from examples that we know are successful in encouraging people to walk.  A museum has great success at facilitating movement because you’re always anticipating the next work of art.  An amusement park will keep you on your feet all day because there are multiple exciting destinations all around the park.  But I the most relatable example of pedestrian activity would be the shopping mall.

We’ve all spent a day at a mall where we undoubtedly walked more than we ever have along a phoenix street.  So besides the soft music and the air conditioning, what brought you there?  For most of us, it was the want or need of purchasing an item, and the most practical place to start looking was the department store.  These large end caps in the mall are called anchor stores and in 1939 Victor Gruen, an architect in Vienna, discovered their appeal while designing a leather goods store for a friend.  The result was a revolutionary storefront, with a mini-arcade in the entranceway, an element that he would later use in the design of several American shopping malls.

If we think of our streets as the main concourse of a mall then our major downtown elements such as the convention center, ASU campus, our sports venues and our major hotels are the anchor stores of our downtown and we can connect them using our grid of streets and avenues.  The streets between these anchors are where we will see the most bang for our buck when it comes to retail development.  Currently, small businesses in the downtown area have to market themselves as a big anchor store would.  They are placing ads, printing flyers, paying for radio time and stretching their marketing budgets trying to attract destination shoppers. This is the reverse of how a successful market should be operating.  The city’s main attractors should be the major centers and residences and the smaller businesses are there as infrastructure to support and provide entertainment to for patrons going to and from their jobs, homes, or events.

Let’s go to the map!Mall Mentality 1

Here I have colored in the major spaces currently in our downtown.  One thing to remember when we look at the city as a whole is what are the uses of these spaces and at what times are they activated?  For example, the green school/office spaces will be highly active between 8am and 5pm as will the purple parking garages attached to them.  The blue event spaces and the orange retail centers will function more on a nights and weekends’ schedule, and the red residential and hotel areas are activated all day.  So when we design our “Mall” we need to think to ourselves, what are the anchor stores and when are they open?  For example, one anchor might be the 5 red hotels from Van Buren to Jefferson.  The people staying in those hotels are here on business, for a conference or convention, or on vacation.  They will need to travel to our other anchor stores i.e. the light rail, the convention center, or the sports venues and retail.

Mall Mentality 2

A good possibility is the streets that link City Scape and The Arizona Center.  They connect parking garages, hotels, retail, and the convention center.  These streets could be the main concourse of our mall and lined with opportunities to eat, shop, run errands, leave your hotel or check the mail box in your apartment or condo lobby.  The streets will then be activated by kiosks and food vendors and the places to sit and people watch while eating ice cream will emerge organically where they make sense and not where we decide to put a bench because it looks good on an aerial plan.

Mall-Mentality-3How about along 2nd street?  This would tie in our anchors of ASU Student Housing, The Westin and Hyatt Hotels the Night Clubs on Washington and the Collier Center.  Again, if we look at those destinations as Macy’s, Nordstrom, Dillard’s and Sears then 2nd street should provide the eye candy of everyday life.  Chances to window shop or impulse buy, places to grab a cup of coffee or a pack of gum, or even just glance at this month’s new billboard could all be activators and could fill in anywhere.  The point is to encourage the development of these types of streets and as they become avenues on their own, new businesses that require less than 1000sqft will gravitate to those blocks and the ones that surround it.  These types of businesses are essential to a city and I talk more about them in other posts. (see post Co-Dependence )

This is one way that we can begin to develop our streets that would utilize the major attributes we already have in place.  Providing the infrastructure and hardscape is one part of this battle and some good examples of this are Ten Eyck Landscape Architects’ project on Taylor Mall linking the light rail, ASU campus, student housing and the Arizona Center and Gensler’s current project along Adams to link the hotels to the convention center.  Apart from that we must make it attractive and possible for smaller shops to afford liner-retail along our walkable roads and build our towers with rentable commercial spaces at included.  A mall mentality could be the solution for identifying our most successful streets.

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