Living in a Mall

Do you want to live within easy walking distance of shops, restaurants, and other such amenities? Do you want to live in a condo with a doorman, its own private grounds, a screening room, and similar bells and whistles? Up until now, answering "yes" to such questions meant that you had to live in the city — something which many people don’t like doing (dirt, smells, noise, bad schools, you know the drill) and which in any case is often very expensive.

But now there’s an alternative: condos in shopping malls.

This is urban life for folks who prefer the suburbs, which, according to the U.S. Census, is the majority of us: some 47 percent live in suburbs, and 40 million of the 58 million housing units there are detached.

Some call this debut creature the new suburbia or “metroburbia,” a vertical suburbia that can appease the desire for the best parts of both urban and suburban life. “For the last hundred years that kind of lifestyle”–walkable, dense–“was only available in dense urban environments,” says Bartels. “A lot of people are hoping to get out of the cul-de-sac and get into more integrated lifestyle.”

The mall, says urbanist Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, “is the logical place to do this. You build a town center where there wasn’t one.”

The history of the wine market in America (bear with me here) has a central role for merlot: a relatively sweet and easily-drinkable varietal which got Americans — who had been more accustomed to beer and sweet white wine — comfortable with the idea of red wine. Nowadays, merlot has something of a bad name, but it’s still hugely popular.

I think of these mall condos as the urbanist equivalent of merlot: a gateway, if you will, to the urban lifestyle, without the tannic downside. I’m not sure they’ll ever become quite as ubiquitous as merlot. But they’re clearly part of America’s real-estate future.

(Thanks to Paul Jackson for making the article linkable.)

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