The Transformation of Shopping Malls: From Suburban to Urban

The idea of shopping malls has been around for less than sixty years, yet it has become an essential part of our lives. The first enclosed mall was built in a suburb of Minneapolis in 1956, designed to protect shoppers from bad weather. Since then, malls have developed to become more than just a place to shop; they have become a place to meet and interact with others, as well as to eat. In the mid-20th century, with the rise of suburbs and car culture in the United States, a new style of shopping mall was created far from the city centers.

Among the first shopping centers designed for the car were Market Square in Lake Forest, Illinois (1951) and Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri (1952). The suburban mall concept further advanced in the United States after World War II, with larger outdoor malls supported by department stores. In the 1970s, a new wave of malls emerged. These malls were bigger than their predecessors and featured more than just shopping; they also included entertainment and experience features.

In Canada, malls have often been replaced by mixed-use skyscraper communities. A regional mall is defined by the International Council of Shopping Centers as a mall with a gross leasable area of 400,000 square feet (37,000 to 800,000 square feet) of gross leasable area with at least two main stores. A superregional mall is defined as a mall with more than 800,000 square feet (74,000 m²) of gross leasable area, three or more presenters, mass commerce, more variety of fashion clothing and that serves as the main shopping center in the region (25 miles or 40 km) in which it is located. Smaller formats such as neighborhood malls and specialized formats such as energy centers, festival markets and retail malls are not classified as malls.

At least to be considered a shopping mall, 37,000 m² (400,000 square feet) are called a shopping mall, for example in Namibia or Zambia. The world's largest malls are located in China, Thailand and the Philippines. In some countries many malls are less than half or a quarter the size of those in the United States. In order to compete effectively with suburban malls, some cities have facilitated the construction of enclosed shopping malls in city centers. Examples include Main Place Shopping Center in Buffalo (1996) and The Gallery (1977) in Philadelphia.

Other cities created outdoor pedestrian malls. Shopping malls have become an integral part of our lives; they provide us with a place to shop without having to drive to multiple locations. They also provide us with an environment away from the real world where we can spend hours wandering around without any interference from vehicle traffic.