As shopping continues to be a favorite leisure activity in both the
United States and Canada, there is a demand for ever-superior shopping
malls of numerous varieties, including outlet malls
such such as the Military Road Outlet Malls and Rainbow Outlet Center in
Niagara Falls, malls that are part of urban renewal plans such as the Grand
Avenue in Milwaukee, and "super-malls;" Alberta's West Edmonton
Mall and Minnesota's Mall of America. The open concourses of malls mimic
outdoor public areas. However, they are contained in private property whose
ostensible purpose is to sell people merchandise. The conflict between
public and private space takes different forms in urban and suburban malls,
as does the shopping experience in each of these places.
Malls frequently form part of urban renewal plans. In Rochester, NY the Midtown Plaza was created in conjunction with a slowly dying McCurdy's department store. McCurdy's has closed almost all of its departments, but the mall flourishes beside it, wedged in between banking high-rises and small storefront businesses. In Milwaukee, two city blocks were subsumed into the Grand Avenue, which features 130 specialty retail shops, Boston Store, Marshall Field's, and Wisconsin's largest food court. According to its brochure, the Grand Avenue is also "a fascinating example of preservation in action, linking five historical buildings." Said one Milwaukee resident, "It's really weird, you know, you see all of these storefronts and they're connected by slabs of steel and concrete. Only the old stores still face the street." Access to stores inside the mall, those which face inward toward its controlled environment and well-lit concourses, is regulated by the mall's hours. Prominently posted at the entrances to the Grand Avenue are reminders of what is considered appropriate behavior for mall patrons. Included are restrictions on literature distribution, photographing inside the mall, and "excessive rowdiness." How public is this space, compared to the street corners it replaced?
In suburban areas, the mall is "one of the few places people can gather on foot" (Frieden and Sagalyn). Because shopping malls intersect public space and shopping space, they are most like city streets. This makes them the ideal location in suburbia to carry out political activity. Most malls, however, have strict regulations about public use of their facility, and these do not usually include political activity. April's activities at Marketplace Mall, located in Rochester, feature a "Spring Sports Expo, Spring Fashion Show and Model Search, Toy Collectible Show, 'What's Cookin' with 107.3,' and Darien Lake (a local amusement park) Attractions." Other recent events have included a Rotary Club car raffle and a "Touch the Car" event for charity. These activities do not disturb consumption in any way and do not promote any controversial issues. Some even indirectly support consumption in the mall, such as the "Spring Fashion Show," which most likely featured fashions available in the mall.
The private control over seemingly public space in shopping malls helps to facilitate their goal- earning money from purchases made by their patrons. Development companies have a very real need to make money, so ultimately, the function of the mall is profit. Its place in the community helps it to accomplish this end. Malls encourage consumers to linger, perhaps more than a street in Milwaukee, where the weather is often inclement, and as they linger products are constantly displayed. This is very conducive to purchase. Even teenagers who spend a great deal of time "hanging out" at the mall make occasional purchases. Malls create a climate controlled public space with countless options available to consumers, and this choice also facilitates consumption. It is carried to an extreme in malls like West Edmonton and Mall of America, whose huge buildings contain hotels and conference centers, hundreds of stores, a model of the Santa Maria and the two largest indoor amusement parks on the North American continent. WEM and the Mall of America are examples of "hyper-mall culture," in which all of the needs of a human being, from eating and sleeping to buying and socializing, can be met in a single building. The mall turned its steel connecting plates or massive brickwork to the street, encouraging people to come inside for something to look at. The mall is public for consumers and sets purchasing in a social atmosphere. It is the new town square only if the new town has open and closed hours.
The following books provide an excellent look at malls, cities, and public space.