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The Rise of the American Mall and Suburbia

By mmjernigan Sep 14, 2010 1531 Words
What exactly are malls and what is their purpose? What has malls done for Americans? A shopping mall, also known as a shopping center, or shopping plaza, is a modern, historical marketplace. The mall is a combination of independent retail stores, services and has a parking area, which is used by many Americans primarily for convenience. Many malls also contain restaurants, banks, theatres, professional offices, and sometimes entertainment areas for children. There is also a mall in the U.S. that has its own amusement parks. Shopping malls and shopping centers has proved to be so efficient that has become the main instrument for a good offline shopping. Architecture of each mall is to help people to find it easily, and so it would not be misleading to find. Huge advantages, which majority of Americans loves about the shopping malls, are from retail to outlet; malls provide the best price comparison opportunities, all with one-stop shopping. Many modern day malls are themed in our latest decades. The designs create a sense of place and a designated location that is worth visiting for more than just shopping. Shopping malls is one investment that is continuously growing.

During the late 1940's to 50's, cultural factors such as the GI Bill and the Baby Boom was very influential on the success of the growing suburb. These two events marked history forever because it led to such innovative ideas. After many husbands returned from war they received compensation from unemployment, acceptance on loans, and paid education. With this new profound bill, the returner vets began to feel as though they could settle down and finally start families. This eventually led to spark the Baby Boom. The baby boom was a time when many children were born during the post-World War II era. The very high increase in births during this time helped lead to high demand for consumer products, suburban style homes, and automobiles. With the increasing number of people during such a short period of time, towns had to accommodate for the change. Houses and apartments had to be built in increased numbers to keep up with the growing population. Business structures and shopping centers had to increase in size and expand their locations because so many people filled into one area which soon became known as suburbs. With all the newcomers invading these areas, paved streets were a must.

The invention of the mass transportation system also contributed to the growth of suburbia and the American mall concept. According to Gruen and Smith's book, Shopping Town USA, "when the automobile emerged as a means of private mass transportation, the final urban explosion took place" (Gruen and Smith, 21). Automobiles, which were free of steel rails or overhead wires, gave Americans the opportunity to move in every direction through free will. Trains and other forms of transportation were still used, but the ability of having a private vehicle was better. The automobile provided complete freedom of movement to the individual driver and made the driver more independent of public transportation.

After this period of the automobile discoveries, modern suburbia was born. Modern suburbia meant that the area had neither the values of a rural community, nor those of an urban environment. According to a report of the United States Census Bureau, the suburbs grew seven times as fast as central cities in the year 1950 to 1954 (US Census Bureau). The automobile invention brought in more people and as the spreading continued with increasing speed, distances between places of residence and the central city grew. When businesses grew, traffic that came into these areas required more streets and highways to accommodate all the automobiles that moved into and out of the towns. Traffic began to get so bad that drivers would take different routes to get to their location. Local businesses started to notice cars were driving down different streets; this caused more stores to be built around those alternate roads. These alternate routes were usually near residential areas which eventually disliked all the businesses and stores located right across the street from their houses. Consequently, families began to move away from these neighborhoods into other suburbs. This caused problems for local stores because now there was less buying from consumers that did not live in the area anymore. This also posed a problem for customers who no longer had a place to shop or a place to leave their vehicles while shopping. (Gruen and Smith, 22). The first American fully-enclosed shopping mall was the Southdale Center, designed by the author of Shopping Towns USA, Victor Gruen. Before Gruen, there were only two types of major shopping environments in the United States: the traditional downtowns, and the improvised shopping strips that lined highways of metropolitan areas. Although today’s lifestyle centers and other main street-inspired developments do not look anything like Gruen's creations, they do not necessarily break from his way of seeing the new modern world either.

The mall not only provided places for shopping but it brought people together. In the early 1990's, Americans were spread out and the suburbs were not as appealing. When the American mall came, numerous ideas and opportunities came as well. Americans began to move closer to these newly found projects and begin to socially adapt. The American mall allowed people to come together and have the opportunity to shop, eat, and socialize all in the same place. Malls began to offer more than just a place to shop. In the 1950's, we saw Gruen's creative design of an enclosed complex that was equip with central garden courts with fishponds, balconies, hanging plants, and cafe tables. These buildings also began to come built with central air and heating, which was very modern during this time. Malls were now becoming a place for people to not only shop, but a place of enjoyment and relaxation. People no longer began to come to the mall to buy clothing or house ware; they began to see the mall as a fun, new innovative place of excitement. People would meet each other at mall to hang out and have fun because all in the same building were places for consumers to enjoy children’s' play areas, live shows, and packed auditoriums (Gruen and Smith, 24). A variety of foods in either the food court or themed restaurants were also available. There were different ways to get people on board with this new building. Some days employees were asked to bring their families to the mall and other days parties were held for the press to come to the mall in hopes of spreading word on this great design (Gruen and Smith, 251). Displays and lighting were ways to attract people that were already in the malls to see what that was offered inside. Adults came to the mall to shop for family items and merchandise for the home. Teenagers came to the mall for the ice-skating rinks, as well as dance and music schools all with the safe supervision that parents felt comfortable with. And children looked forward to coming to the mall because toy stores and amusement themed rides that soon emerged as well. This boom of shopping malls slowly helped the increase in population in the suburbs and made cities even bigger, more diverse, and modern than ever before. Today, malls have had to face heavy competition. Malls sparked something great within the 1940's and all the way up until the early 60's. But as cities began to get even bigger, more malls and shopping centers were being built. This caused problems because not every corner needed a mall or shopping center. Too many places to shop of the same kind with no enough people in that area allowed for malls to become vacant and not as full of people as they once had before. Vacant malls that did not get enough business made little or no money at all. This was a major hit to the shopping development. Another problem that came along during the 21st century was internet and television shopping. With the advancement of technology on the rise, it became very hard for shopping centers to keep up. People in the city and suburb began to get even crazier, hectic lives which meant less time to do more hands-on shopping. Department stores began to create internet catalogs as well as television shows designed to let consumers browse their inventory without leaving the comforts of home. Since department stores started using technology to help make more sales, the less they appeared in malls. If someone did not have the time to go out and shop personally they could easily get on their computers and purchase whatever item they needed online. And if the customer did not own a computer, television shopping came in handy because the buyer could simply turn on the TV and see the item that they wanted to purchase. This posed a huge threat for malls and shopping centers across the U.S. because with or without a computer, consumers were accommodated without even leaving home or work.

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