Will we soon call UK high streets ‘outdoor shopping malls?’

Malls pull people in

Malls pull people in

The Lincoln’s Road Mall in Miami Beach is a long road, with shops on both sides, that’s somewhat pedestrianised. Yet it’s not a high street, it’s an ‘outdoor mall’, a nice piece of branding allowing it to claim to compete with the mammoth shopping centres spread around the nearby area.

Walking through London’s Westfield mall the other day, safe from the cold and pouring rain outside, I started mulling over what the mall-ification of the UK’s retail sector will do to high streets. I decided to blog my thoughts here, I’d love your views too.

Things in the UK have changed even during my lifetime. I remember growing up in the early 80s and visiting Runcorn’s Shopping City or Manchester’s Arndale, these were then a rarity and seen as somewhat grubby places compared to the town centre high streets.

These days, whether it’s Manchester’s Trafford Centre, London’s Bluewater or any other centre, shopping malls are at the forefront of retail space, the big centre of gravity that pulls people in.

They’ve learned the US trick of focusing on the shopping environment and aim to turn retail into leisure and shopping into and event or activity. That’s why we see restaurants, bowling and cinemas in the mix, to round off any trip and make a (full) day of it. Maybe one day we’ll take the Dubai route and see indoor ski-slopes, mammoth fountains, and other extravaganza making people want to centre their lives around malls.

So our high streets are squeezed in the middle of two massive dragons. The first firey breath is the growth of internet shopping for many staple goods, meaning people will leave their homes less. Then when they do leave their homes, it’ll be for destination products, things they want to see or smell, and it’s those things the monster malls are designed for.

That does lead to the question of how the high street will compete in the long run. Perhaps this is where the ‘outdoor mall’ concept comes in. Of course, in this country, competing against rain free areas is never easy, but perhaps focusing on the ‘experience’ and identity would help them in the battle. Still, it’s tough for our organic urban architecture to compete against the honed (if somewhat soulless) design of mall-space.

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