The Evolution of the Shopping Centre or Mall
The Shopping Centre is one of the few new building types of the 20th century. However, the concept behind them is not new; markets in ancient times served the same purposes, they were centres geographically, socially, commercially, religiously and culturally. Even the out-of-town shopping centre is represented in history with people travelling from outlying areas to peddle their wares and stock up on supplies at big market days. However, the Shopping Centre in its present form is a relatively new phenomenon that has dramatically affected the social and economic development of our cities and towns and impacted greatly on our environment.
The shopping centre like many new building types of the 20th century was an American “invention”. The first example of it dates back to 1908 in Roland Park, Baltimore, Md. USA. The first out-of-town example being the Country Club Plaza in Kansas which opened in 1925. As an American innovation, its early evolution can be traced in the USA.
The beginnings date back to the Industrial Revolution. Thousands of factories were built in the midst of towns and cities. This radically changed the character of the cities. While the new industries created greater employment, attracting people from rural areas, the city centres soon became undesirable places to live. People who could afford to flocked to the suburbs to live. Here the traditional main street flourished.
Prior to the advent of the large-scale shopping centre, people generally shopped at their local main street. These streets stereotypically contained a wide variety of individually owned stores along a centrally located street.
As transportation means improved the exodus to the suburbs increased. With the advent of the interurban train the suburban population rose and with the widespread use of the car, it exploded. While train travel was thriving retail centres would form around the stations, as this was where people had to go to reach their jobs in the cities. The automobile changed this. People were no longer stuck on tracks with a common point of embarkation/disembarkation, the car allowed them to move in any direction starting from their own doorstep. This caused development that followed no logical pattern.
To accommodate the mass exodus from the city, developers erected mass housing and suburbia was born. The movement of many families to the suburbs of major cities meant that a large portion of the population was moving further away from the established retail centres. Distances between residential areas and the central city continued to grow rapidly. People became more affluent, car ownership increased, and they were prepared to travel greater distances to their place of work. In the meantime, public transport use declined and along with it the retail centres around stations.
Suburbia was seen as a feminine world as at the time the majority of housewives did not work outside the home. People were constantly “keeping up with the Jones’s”. Obviously somewhere was needed where people could buy what the Jones Family already had and so retailers followed the population to the suburbs. However there were no longer had obvious centres in which to set up. People didn’t emerge at set points, such as railway stations, anymore. Shops began to establish themselves along the main highways that commuters had to travel to get to and from the city. As more and more highway-side shops established themselves so, too, more and more cars stopped to patronize them. This led to parking problems.
Business grew for the retailers and with it traffic volume increased. Traffic congestion got increasingly worse and travellers soon began to look for alternate routes, often bypassing the retail areas. These alternate routes then, in turn, attracted more shops and consequently more parking and traffic problems.
While traffic got worse and worse around the retail areas, the residential settlement nearby became less desirable and the original tenants moved away and their places were taken by people who could not afford to live in the more desirable suburbs. Soon stores found themselves surrounded by populations with far less spending power than their original target.
Merchandising outlets were built to take advantage of the newly developing areas and once again found themselves in the same situation, in effect driving away their customer base by contributing to traffic congestion and the undesirability of the area.
The shopping centre started, with the benefit of land availability, as a conceived project in the USA where 80% of the population lived on 2% of the land. It provided a retail centre removed from residential areas, with ample parking within the centre’s confines, sometimes sheltered from the weather, and a wide range of shops catering for most of the needs of day to day living. With the continued growth of motorcar ownership, good roads and an availability of land, shopping centres proliferated.