Friday, March 07, 2008

Lifestyle centers

I would like to follow up a bit on my last post. Lifestyle centers are haunting my brain these days. It's worth talking a bit more about them and trying to understand their appeal.

A lifestyle center attempts to recreate the historical urban configuration, albeit in an arguably sterilized way. In pre-car, pre-train civilization, the movement of people and goods was extremely expensive and energy intensive. Consequently, humans tended to cluster together social and economic functions as much as was feasible. Cities evolved as densely concentrated regions of commerce and socialization. City culture evolved, with its attendant diversity (not to mention problems of public health and property crime).

So how does a lifestyle center recreate this world? It lays out retail space in a dense fashion, and encourages the public visibility of those storefronts. It places housing adjacent to retail space, or immediately above it. In rare cases, it incorporates non-retail economic uses, including office, industrial (gasp!), public sector, and education.

The central question, it seems to me, is this: Does the artificial creation of the traditional urban configuration miss the point? Is the organic evolution of traditional urban centers somehow more authentic than its suburban counterpart? Can true diversity of uses (and users) arise from a centrally-planned development?


Blogger worldmatt said...

What worries me is that lifestyle centers are private property, so the Constitutional freedoms you would enjoy in a traditional city center (like, say, wearing an anti-Bush or anti-Clinton or anti-Obama T-shirt) do not apply. When we give away our rights to corporations just so we can also give them money, well... Actually, I guess we've already done that, huh?

Incidentally, what do you make of the fact that no more covered, enclosed shopping malls are being built in the US this year? Has the lifestyle center triumphed?

10:03 AM  
Blogger Generalissimo said...

I find it a bit of an oxymoron to link Wall Street and Main Street. Do retailers really have a long-term commitment to communities? Generally speaking, they often do not think much beyond the next quarter’s earnings. So what happens when Arhaus and the Gap move out and the Dollar Store moves in? I guess the lifestyle center goes out of style?

3:23 PM  

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