Columbus and Its Mall: This Marriage Can’t Be Saved

The New York Times
published an article a few days ago on the waning of the American mall,
presenting the nation’s relationship to its shopping centers — and the
rampant consumerism that relationship represents — as a troubled
marriage:

So the mall we married has become
the toxic spouse we can’t quit, though we really must quit, but just
not any time soon. The mall, for its part, is wounded by our
ambivalence and feels financially adrift.

Like any other
troubled marriage, this one needs counseling. And pronto, because even
a trial separation at a moment as precarious as this could get really
ugly.

3257024092_125ae45c7d_m.jpgTo extend the metaphor, the city of Columbus, Ohio, is filing for divorce from its failed downtown mall, and has announced plans to replace it with a park. Streetsblog Network member blog The Urbanophile has the news, and a skeptical assessment of the city’s plan to revitalize the area:

These [renderings] look very nice. The problem is that the vision is
unlikely to be realized. Why? Look at these pictures and what do you
see? People — lots of them. But where are those people going to come
from? 400,000 sq. ft. of office space will only put a few people there
for lunch on a nice day. 70,000 sq. ft. of storefront retail won’t draw
significant numbers either. This is a park that is likely to be
deserted most of
the time.… The intensity of development here is just not going to make
it. In effect, this is another build it and they will come plan.

The repurposing of American malls and big-box shopping centers
is going to be an increasingly pressing issue in years to come. Do you
think the plan in Columbus stands a chance? If not, what could make it
better?

Also on the network today: Cap’n Transit continues the conversation about profits and subsidies for transit, 1000 Friends of Connecticut laments municipalities’ wasteful focus on parking, and Matthew Yglesias scratches his head over the folly of willful stimulus-cutters.

  • As a Columbus native, my Christmas trip home was saddening: the big employers in the region are moving out of downtown and into new office parks around the “Outerbelt”. Mid-day downtown feels ghostly. There’s very little diversity of businesses or uses: most jobs downtown are now bureaucratic state jobs with little housing(think about how depressing Civic Center or downtown Sac are during the day?).

    To answer the prompt, there is only one thing Columbus needs: a total rebirth of the culture. Columbus is a relatively new “big city” and the depth of the placelessness and congested hell of suburbia hasn’t fully caught up to the collective psychology. This will come eventually, perhaps as soon as the next gas price hike. Meanwhile, best wishes for the Short North or German Village urbanites to keep growing your quaint neighborhoods organically toward downtown. I’ll take that kind of redevelopment over “master” planned redevelopment any day.

  • ryan

    i am also a columbus native and have been following the demise and debate over city center for the last several years. i definitely agree with seth that the organic redevelopment of the downtown ring neighborhoods is much favored, and they have done a great job so far. in fact most visitors are usually pretty impressed and surprised at just how great some parts of columbus are. but i also feel that at this point any effort is better than no effort in regards to city center. and i’m excited that the city chose a design alternative that does not turn its back on streets and public places. especially in a city that notoriously will approve any style of development it can get (think big boxes in the middle of dense urban areas). it may not be as grand as they hope, but its a step in the right direction for them.

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