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the progress of commerce

I discovered a new web site that I think is pretty cool, dead malls. A mall is considered dead if there are almost no businesses left within it or if it's just vacated entirely. There is a better explanation for those who want to know the details.

Growing up in the 80's during my formative years, my favorite mall in the world was the Auburn Mall. I knew every single inch of that place. It was small but very well laid out. Right before I left New England I went there a few times but it's just not the same anymore. Over time they've added things (like a Filene's and a parking garage), completely changed the way you get in and out of the mall and so on.

Update: Someone actually wrote a really good article on the Auburn Mall. Check it out. The only thing I disagree with is that the author states the design of the mall "won't win much praise". It should be stated as "won't win much praise now" because before all the renovations it was ten times easier to get around in there.

The biggest difference I see today compared to yesteryear is that more national chains are preferring to go with freestanding buildings, purposely engineered to be islands unto themselves. Examples of this are Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Best Buy and so on. Normally you never see any of these as anchor stores in a mall. They might be in a plaza, but are not connected physically to any other building.

My biggest gripe about all these freestanding buildings is that no one seems to know how to develop a parking lot correctly. Like it or not, the best design in the world is straight slots with curbs in grid-style fashion.

Good design:

| | | | | | | |  NS  | | | | | | | |
===============  NS  ===============
| | | | | | | |  NS  | | | | | | | |
                 NS
WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWNSWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENSEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
                 NS
| | | | | | | |  NS  | | | | | | | |
===============  NS  ===============
| | | | | | | |  NS  | | | | | | | |

NSEW is North, South, East, West. All traffic can go any direction. No, this is not a bad thing. It is designed just like an 4-way stop intersection at given points. This does work. The curbs exist so everyone has to follow the grid.

Bad design:

/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW

\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \
-----------------------------------
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /
-----------------------------------
/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

Lots of parking lots have this horrible design. No curbs are present. Between rows you are forced to go only one direction - and sure enough, some idiot will be going the "wrong way", causing potential (or literal) collisions. What's supposed to happen is that everyone is supposed to park front-of-car first. That doesn't happen because some people will park back-of-car first. When they do that, they have to go the "wrong way" to get out because there's not enough turning room to go the "correct" way. And let's not forget those who navigate parking lots like mazes, using empty parking spaces as go-betweens to get in or out.

Tons of malls had the proper grid-with-curbs parking lots. They were good. They worked. Then some fool decided to slant all the slots and force people to go a certain way, bashing into each other constantly.

All these freestanding building designers need to look at the way malls of yesteryear did it - because they did it right.

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