Recreating the past for the future

As much as malls and shopping centers have morphed in the past few years, even more changes are coming. The retail cycle is shrinking, change is accelerating and store sizes and formats are in flux. There will be some stunning new designs and lots of white-hot technology, but the biggest changes will be less obvious: redesigned malls with different kinds of anchors and different tenant mixes, and lots more space for non-retail uses. Everywhere, there will be a new focus on convenience, including, perhaps, daycare facilities and a place to check your coat.

No one can say for certain what the world of 2013 will look like, and interviews with industry insiders produce some predictable predictions. Developers with a heavy focus on enclosed malls say they'll remain the big dogs; those who've invested deeply in lifestyle and power centers think that they'll be on top, and that a lot of the older enclosed malls will be long gone.

Get beyond those disagreements, though, and a common vision emerges. The retail center of the future - whether it is enclosed or open-air, big or small, themed or general - will be designed to resemble a community, not just a place to shop. That means environments that place as much emphasis on recreation (everything from skate parks to jogging paths to entertainment complexes) as they do on consumption. The developments under way in 2003, as well as various remalling/demalling, already point to a future in which retail blends with other functions.

Source: excerpted from 'The Future' by Charles Hazlett, published on the Retail Traffic website, 1 May 2003, http://retailtrafficmag.com/mag/retail_future/ index.html tional facilities. It filled rather than created a void, he said. What irony again to note that the latest retail trend is to recreate community precisely along the lines of that which retailing took apart in the first place, often on the edge of town. The developers made money taking things apart and now are making it again putting it back together. Yet what was lost in the process? The walkable place where living, working and having fun are in close proximity, with doctors and dentists nearby, schools accessible, a park. Precisely what they are now recreating.

For the aspiring city that wants to project an edge, an imagination or to play on a world stage, the simplistic, low-textured mall is not enough. Think of Harajuku in Tokyo. The chains are present on the traditional gridded streets. Yet whereas most American teenagers follow the dictates of fashion provided by stores like Gap, Urban Outfitters, Hot Topic or any large national or international chain, many teenagers in Harajuku set the trends that are then taken up by the fashion industry. They are not the followers of trends dictated from the top of the fashion food chain. Like peacocks showing their feathers, teens go through an amazing ritual of preening, creating a visual feast, claiming the area as their own along the way. Garish colours shout, subverting traditional Japanese styles and borrowing from Western ones. They create elaborate shapes and hairstyles and, with their powdered faces, they are punky and rebellious. They twist perceptions and warp them into a strong tension of ritualized behaviour and controlled wild-ness.

Think of restaurant brands. Whether upscale or run-of-the-mill, they do not register on the 'desirometer'. Thirty thousand McDonald's or 11,500 Burger Kings do not get the blood racing. Consider instead Zurich's Blinde Kuh (Blind Cow), set up in 2000, which has taken the city by storm. (Similar ventures have been set up in Paris and London.92) This combines gastronomy with a social purpose. These are restaurants where you can't see - you eat in total darkness - and the waiters are blind. Only the manager and the receptionist are sighted. Blinde Kuh is owned by a charity, Blindlight, set up by Jorge Spielmann, a blind clergyman. The meal creates a bonding experience between diners and makes sighted people focus on their senses afresh, which many find profound. For blind diners it can be liberating and those going blind can show their partners what life may be like.

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