In case you haven’t heard, suburban malls are on the way out (sorry Paul Blart). Some have become abandoned wastelands popular for ruin porn. Others have been torn down and turned into industrial sites.
According to Ellen Dunham-Jones, an architect and professor at Georgia Tech, there are about 1,200 enclosed malls in the United States, and about one-third of them are dead or dying. That's because developers rapidly overbuilt malls in the 20th century, she said: The U.S. has twice as much square footage in shopping centers per capita than the rest of the world, and six times as much as countries in Europe.
“The malls died for a reason,” she told me. “We were way over-retailed.”
As anchor brands such as JC Penney, Sears, and Macy's close stores and Americans show a preference for shopping online or in walkable urban centers, more malls are expected to close.
But there is good news: In many areas of the country developers are finding new uses for dead malls. Dunham-Jones keeps a database of projects that retrofit dying malls for other purposes, and says that there are 211 spaces across the country being retrofitted in one way or another.
“Malls are being turned into medical centers, colleges, elementary schools, churches,” she said.
The Highland Mall in Austin, Texas, for instance, was named one of "America’s Most Endangered Malls” by U.S. News & World Report in 2009. One of the first suburban malls in Austin, the shopping center opened in 1971 covering 81 acres, and had 1.2 million square feet of interior space. By 2010, though, nearly all of the stores were vacant.