MDP Blog Discusses Decline and Changing Nature of Shopping Malls

A March 25 blog article on the Maryland Department of Planning’s Smart Growth Maryland blog discusses the decline of enclosed shopping malls, the wants and expectations of “Generation Y” Millennials as they enter the workplace, and potential solutions on revitalizing closed or abandoned mall properties.

The article states that malls, once a primary commercial platform from the 1960s through 1980s, have been in decline since then due to changing commerce trends (online shopping and buying from local or downtown stores) and different living and transportation preferences of the emerging Gen Y.

These palatial palaces of American culture – where the Orange Julius and Sam Goody once ruled – were on the decline in many parts of Maryland by the 1990’s.  …

Ultimately, the winds of retail change swept away the commercial viability of many, if not most, enclosed shopping malls. Today, one can review lists of dead malls and learn their stories on a website dedicated to past malls. If one cares to look, 12 malls are listed under Maryland on this site.  …

Consider this: The Millennial generation, also known as Generation Y or the “Echo Boomers,” is three times bigger than Generation X and even bigger than the Baby Boom generation. Currently, there are about 80 million Millennials and 76 million boomers in America. Half of all Millennials are already in the workforce and approximately 10,000 Millennials turn 21 every day in America. By the year 2025, three out of every four workers globally will be from this group.  From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by people ages 16-34 dropped 23 percent, from 10,300 to 7,900, a survey found. Gen Y/Millennials, tend to ride bicycles, take public transit and rely on virtual media.

The article advocates the use of mixed-use developments on former mall sites but cautions that the ultimate success of such projects cannot be guaranteed.

Many planning professionals believe that many malls and their large expanses of blacktop parking are likely to undergo zoning changes that will transform into new uses. Considering the patchwork of existing zoning and land use patterns in Maryland, many dying malls could be redeveloped as mixed use centers featuring retail, office, residences and transit centers.  …

What is yet unclear is if many in the Millennial generation are moving to new communities built on the sites of former malls. Affordability, or the lack of, may be a factor.  …

Add to this puzzle the changing nature of retail itself. Web-based commerce is destroying many forms of “bricks and mortar” retail including music, electronics, video rentals, prescriptions and travel sales, among others. This has impacted many national chains that were once fixtures at malls only a decade or two ago. Today, these changes in retailing are now being felt throughout our economy.

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