Whose Lifestyle Is It Anyway?

As malls have struggled over the last 20 years or so to stay culturally relevant — or even profitable — one of the solutions that has gained ground is the "lifestyle center." These are malls with sidewalks and sidewalk musicians, European-style fountains, open-air restaurants, and of course, lots of shopping. They are prefab places masquerading as real places. Check out this 2006 piece from Slate and you’ll get the idea.

Some might ask, What’s so terrible about that? After all, these neo-malls take a lot of their design points straight from the new urbanist playbook. They recognize the human desire to walk in a safe environment and interact with other humans. They bank on the idea that people hunger for the connection of street life.

Well, as Streetsblog Network member Extraordinary Observations discovered on a recent trip to Cleveland’s Orwellian-sounding Legacy Village, there’s one major hitch: It’s impossible or unsafe to approach most lifestyle centers without a car. Which is why the blog’s author, Rob Pitingolo, calls his post, "Not My Lifestyle Kind of Center":

legacy.jpgThe Apple Store at Legacy Village: Drive there so you can walk past it. Photo: parislemon via Flickr

Earlier this week I took my bike and rode over to Legacy Village, one of two "lifestyle centers" in suburban Cleveland.… Every previous visit I made, I came and went like 99% of the visitors: by driving in a car and parking in the ginormous "free" surface parking lot. Only after I made a trip in a way the designers didn’t intend it to be made did I get a perspective on why these "lifestyle centers" are truly so awful.…

There are two
primary entrances to the center. One on Cedar Road and one on Richmond
Road. There is a perimeter road with 25 mph speed limit signs, but the
streets were designed to handle traffic moving at speeds well exceeding
25. Many drivers ignore the speed limit, and why shouldn’t they? The
designers built the perimeter road so that they would feel safe flying
around every curve.…

[T]he heated sidewalks inside
the center were salted, dried and cleared so that no "pedestrian" would
have any trouble moving from store to store. But the sidewalk right
outside the center on Cedar Road, the street that I carried my bike
along to get to the center, was covered in a foot of week-old snow. No
salt. No plow. Nothing. The street itself was clear and dry. Cars sped
by at 40mph.

Legacy Village is surrounded by an ocean of free
parking spaces, but bike parking spaces are few and far between. I
couldn’t find a rack near my destination on the main "courtyard,"
although I was told after the fact that there is a rack somewhere near
the Apple store. I locked my bike to a fence and on top of about a
half-foot of snow.

In the end, the question in my mind was, what
kind of "lifestyle" does the center attract? It’s ironic that in order
to be a pedestrian inside its borders, it’s essentially a prerequisite
that you must be a motorist to get there. It’s convincing evidence that
if what we want is density and walkability, the solution doesn’t come
prepackaged in some faux village on the outskirts of a city. We had
real towns, villages and cities in this country for most of its
history. And we destroyed them and replaced it with this? That’s sad.
Really sad.

More from around the network: Bike Portland on the importance of better bike infrastructure for families that ride for transportation. The Bus Bench asks a Metro employee a strangely uncomfortable question. And Bike San Diego posts on the fight for road safety for all users.

  • I would point out that our own “lifestyle center,” Atlas Plaza in Glendale, is relatively easy to walk to and lots of people do it. It was built pretty far from the subway, but when the father of the developer, Dale Hemmerdinger, was MTA Chairman he rerouted several bus lines to serve it, so it’s pretty well-served by transit. All those garages are kind of creepy, though.

  • The existence of places like this, traditional shopping malls, and even the 16-year-olds who hang out in the McDonald’s parking lot are just proof that everyday Americans yearn for the experience of the public realm that was stripped away from us in favor of our private wheel-houses. Unfortunately, the yearning for public space doesn’t quite match the yearning for private wheel-houses, so we end up with bastardized versions of public space that accommodate private wheel-houses (traditional and “lifestyle” shopping malls, the McDonald’s parking lot, etc.).

  • What about the “second” and “third” floors of those centers, which are not real second or third floors? Are they offices or apartments? Probably not.

    And is how does one get to the stores by public transportation? Is it far from the everything, and can one access it without walking on the road?

  • This is just another example of a landowner not knowing what to do. The shopping mall business model is a dying breed. Not knowing what to do, having no creativity, and no planning from the local jurisdiction, the developer tried to put lipstick on a pig. Times are a-changing:

    http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=1550

  • While there are a bunch of lifestyle centers that are just malls without a ceiling, there are also many that do take real urban ideals to heart, including bike lanes, bike parking etc.

    It’s unfair to paint them all under the same brush…

    It’s also wrong to say that all malls are anti-urban and are doomed to fail. Malls play a very important role in northern cities because it’s not fun to walk to a store when its 5 degrees out. Sometimes putting a roof over main street and adding heat is a very good thing.

  • Jeffrey J. Early

    Ever tried to get to the Bay Plaza Shopping Center right here in the Bronx by either foot or bike?

    It’s another great example of a complete disaster in terms of accessibility. It’s actually so bad that you can’t walk between all the different buildings associated with the mall without navigating the parking lot seas and roads. There aren’t actually sidewalks and crosswalks connecting most of the buildings.

    Given its proximity to Co-op City and just the fact that it is within the borders of NYC I would have thought they’d have made more walkable.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Guess Streetsblog should bring back the math question.

  • Malls can be done in an urban-friendly way – for New York examples, think of Macy’s, South Street Seaport, the mall at Herald Square, or Penn Station without the train tracks underneath.

    The cities I lived in before moving to New York, Tel Aviv and Singapore, have extensive mall development, because of the hot weather; neither has high car ownership. Often their malls are in the most walkable urban neighborhoods, and keep the parking spaces underground or in separate buildings, where they don’t interfere with urban life. Tel Aviv street life has suffered from the proliferation of mall culture, but in Singapore the street that’s lined up with the most malls, Orchard Road, is teeming with street life and pedestrians; in fact, the pedestrian undercrossings are the only place in Singapore I’ve seen any street performances.

    From what I’ve seen of Shanghai, it has similar mall development, only more extensive. Its wide, tourist-oriented pedestrianized boulevard, Nanjing Road, is lined with multistory malls. Its apparel district is almost entirely mall-based – the only traditional stores I remember there are grocery stores. Those malls have no trouble thriving while lining pedestrianized or narrow streets – it’s understood that most people walk to them or take the subway, just like in Singapore.

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