A tangible benefit of malls versus power centers

I grew up in the shopping mall era. Many weekends, my friends and I would travel to Castleton Square or Glendale Mall on the north side in Indianapolis to wander, eat, people watch, see a movie, and/or play video games. Now and then, we would even shop. Because we grew up in the Midwest, an indoor shopping mall was nice for strolling and people watching during the cold winter months. But, the more I think about it today, the indoor shopping mall had another benefit that you don’t find in today’s “power” centers – they were designed to make you walk.

Source: wellsphere.com

Source: wellsphere.com

Sure, malls are one of those land uses that we urban planners love to complain about the most. They contributed to the closing of countless downtown stores, were a product of suburban sprawl, and most lacked any form of artistic design or inspiring architecture. But, on the plus side, their elongated layout with limited entrances encouraged shoppers to walk from store to store. By the time you walked back out to your car to move it to another store and walked back in, you might as well have walked the length of the mall. This was a positive attribute for those who needed more passive exercise. Likewise, here in the northern latitudes, one could walk the mall year round, just for exercise, as many seniors and walking geeks still do today at my local mall.

Source: blogposter.uk.co

Source: blogposter.uk.co

Power centers are aptly named for our car-cultured mannerisms and they certainly promote a sedentary lifestyle. Instead of having the so-called “aggravation” of walking/strolling from store to store, now you can park right in front of a specific store, quickly walk in and out, and then drive on to the next store. What better way to celebrate American laziness, than with a car-centered power center! Whooppee!


This entry was posted in Active transportation, Advocacy, Alternative transportation, architecture, Cars, cities, commerce, consumerism, culture, entertainment, fitness, Food, geography, health, history, humanity, infrastructure, land use, planning, product design, spatial design, sprawl, transportation, urban planning, walking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A tangible benefit of malls versus power centers

  1. glarrymason says:

    I always thought the second floor retail and sky bridge combo in many northern cities was/is a pretty good compromise.


  2. Upstate Ellen says:

    Power centers are as “pedestrian-unfriendly” as they come. Each store is surrounded by a sea of parking, with no defined (i.e., safe) walking path between them. In some cases, the pedestrian is forced to walk over dividers designed to inhibit traffic flow in certain locations. Ridiculous!


  3. Brandon says:

    The question I want to ask is can really good indoor spaces for shopping be created? Maybe malls lack aesthetics and character because of the economics of being privately owned, unlike public streets. Also is there a way to break the mall-parking lot connection to create ‘malls’ with transit and pedestrian access.


    • problogic says:

      Those are excellent questions, Brandon. As long as they are built on greenfield sites, I doubt it, but there are some remarkable center city ones in Toronto, Indy, and Columbus, OH.


  4. nlm says:

    “…now you can park right in front of a specific store, quickly walk in and out, and then drive on to the next store.”…and presumably walk from the parking spot to that store. So applying your mall walking logic, doesn’t that also force you to walk at least 4 times the distance from the store entrance to your car? (1.car to store; 2.store to car; 3.car to store; 4.store to car) Also not counting the amount of walking when inside the power centre unit.

    This would actually make a good thesis: give volunteers that shop at malls and power centres pedometres and see how they compare.


    • problogic says:

      Fair questions, nlm. For what I have seen and experienced, unless you purposely park well away from your intended store in a power center, it is unlikely you will walk as far as I have done at malls, even when factoring in multiple trips in and out of stores. I totally agree it would be an interesting thesis for some aspiring grad student. Thanks!


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