Whose Lifestyle Is It Anyway?

As malls have struggled over the last 20 years or so to stay culturally
relevant — or even profitable — one of the solutions that has gained
ground is the "lifestyle center." These are malls with sidewalks and
sidewalk musicians, European-style fountains, open-air restaurants, and
of course, lots of shopping. They are prefab places masquerading as
real places. Check out this 2006 piece from Slate and you’ll get the idea.

Some
might ask, What’s so terrible about that? After all, these neo-malls
take a lot of their design points straight from the new urbanist
playbook. They recognize the human desire to walk in a safe environment
and interact with other humans. They bank on the idea that people
hunger for the connection of street life.

Well, as Streetsblog Network member Extraordinary Observations discovered on a recent trip to Cleveland’s Orwellian-sounding Legacy Village,
there’s one major hitch: It’s impossible or unsafe to approach most
lifestyle centers without a car. Which is why the blog’s author, Rob
Pitingolo, calls his post, "Not My Lifestyle Kind of Center":

legacy.jpgThe Apple Store at Legacy Village: Drive there so you can walk past it. Photo: parislemon via Flickr

Earlier
this week I took my bike and rode over to Legacy Village, one of two
"lifestyle centers" in suburban Cleveland.… Every previous visit I
made, I came and went like 99% of the visitors: by driving in a car and
parking in the ginormous "free" surface parking lot. Only after I made
a trip in a way the designers didn’t intend it to be made did I get a
perspective on why these "lifestyle centers" are truly so awful.…

There are two
primary entrances to the center. One on Cedar Road and one on Richmond
Road. There is a perimeter road with 25 mph speed limit signs, but the
streets were designed to handle traffic moving at speeds well exceeding
25. Many drivers ignore the speed limit, and why shouldn’t they? The
designers built the perimeter road so that they would feel safe flying
around every curve.…

[T]he heated sidewalks inside
the center were salted, dried and cleared so that no "pedestrian" would
have any trouble moving from store to store. But the sidewalk right
outside the center on Cedar Road, the street that I carried my bike
along to get to the center, was covered in a foot of week-old snow. No
salt. No plow. Nothing. The street itself was clear and dry. Cars sped
by at 40mph.

Legacy Village is surrounded by an ocean of free
parking spaces, but bike parking spaces are few and far between. I
couldn’t find a rack near my destination on the main "courtyard,"
although I was told after the fact that there is a rack somewhere near
the Apple store. I locked my bike to a fence and on top of about a
half-foot of snow.

In the end, the question in my mind was, what
kind of "lifestyle" does the center attract? It’s ironic that in order
to be a pedestrian inside its borders, it’s essentially a prerequisite
that you must be a motorist to get there. It’s convincing evidence that
if what we want is density and walkability, the solution doesn’t come
prepackaged in some faux village on the outskirts of a city. We had
real towns, villages and cities in this country for most of its
history. And we destroyed them and replaced it with this? That’s sad.
Really sad.

More from around the network: Bike Portland on the importance of better bike infrastructure for families that ride for transportation. The Bus Bench asks a Metro employee a strangely uncomfortable question. And Bike San Diego posts on the fight for road safety for all users.

  • tea

    This is all well and true, but the most significant difference between these places and the “real” places they imitate is that these are private property, as opposed to the public spaces and buildings of towns and villages. It is up to the developer to tear down / modify the place as he wishes, and if you are deemed to interfere with the commerce going on, you can be thrown out. This is really the main reason why these fake places could never become centers of civic life.

  • tea, spot on. I’m sure if you look around you’ll see little markers on the ground around the edge saying that it is private property and right to pass is granted. Just another step in the privatization of our country.

  • I’ve cycled to one in Fresno and Phoenix that are exactly the same. They had all the newest ideas on traffic calming, neighborhood identity and I have to say, I enjoyed it inside. It gave me a concrete feeling of what a walkable neighborhood might be like. Now we just have to figure out how to convince other people that they want to live in a place like that so that developers and planners will build them. Its funny or sad that the malls are at the forefront of this kind of walkability.

    @ tea, I agree that the only reason these new malls exist is b/c its a dictatorship. Only one person gets to decide how it will be build and who goes in. That one person can insure that its full of shops all the time unlike a city block can do. In the city there are lots of different owners who all want the best price per sq. ft. for their space. A mall doesn’t charge by the sq. ft. and can loose money on the “card” store b/c they will make it back with the Gap or some other big draw.

  • Diane

    Umm, am I missing something? What’s the difference supposed to be between a “Lifestyle Center” and a mall?

  • A mall is indoors and a “Lifestyle Center” is suppose to be like a small town a la Santa Row in SJ. You know, the kind of thing that makes you want to puke because it is so fake.

  • ZA

    @mikesonn – puking? “No, Mr. Security Guard, I’m just adding artistic reality to this grand edifice of yours.”

  • mikesonn

    @ZA. Perfect. I’ll remember that one.

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