This from an article linked to by Ben:

“There is this yearning to live not in a faceless suburb anymore but in a real community with a downtown in it,” said James W. Hughes, a professor of urban planning at Rutgers University. “These people don’t want their town to be known by the big mall nearby.”

In all but a few fast-growing communities, there is no room fpr another million-square-foot regional mall. Mall development reached a peak in the late 1980s, a decade when developers built out 16,000 of them nationwide. But construction has fallen sharply since. “It’s pretty clear we are over-malled,” said Gregory Leisch, chief executive of Delta Associates, an Alexandria-based firm that tracks real estate development. “ (Washington Post: “Retailers embrace the great outdoors”)

And sure enough, always on the cutting edge of all things sprawl, Michigan has three new lifestyle centers: “The Village of Rochester Hills” (So much nicer than “MeadowBrooke Village Shopping Center” that it replaced, it’s it? It almost sounds like a genuine place!) and something called Fountain Walk in Novi:

“Novi’s Fountain Walk, which is scheduled to open this fall off I-96 and Novi Road, is a little more than a lifestyle center. The outdoor complex will have 65 stores, an 18-screen movie theater, a comedy club and five restaurants. Retail shops weave around a Main Street lined with lampposts, park benches and greenery. A fountain is being built in the middle of the center. Anchor stores The Great Indoors and Galyan’s already are open as well as Vans Skatepark. Also open are Cost Plus World Market, Buffalo Wild Wings and Chuck E Cheese.” (Source, see also this Detroit News story)

That’s right: it has the state’s first private skatepark. It occurs to me that if the developers add a few apartments to one of these things, they’ve essentially come full circle back to traditional, pedestrian-oriented urbanism that looks a whole lot like new urbanist developments such as Peter Allen’s Lower Town project in Ann Arbor. Yes, it’s corporate and privatized, (and tuned to make a profit, the only people who will afford to live there are rich, and the only stores that will survive are corporations, so long as these things are built in one big shot – with genuine cities you get a mix of ages and tyes of buildings, and a corresponding mix of residents and businesses) Sure, in most states you won’t have freedom of speech or assembly in these totally private environments, but in a handful, including New Jersey, courts have recognized free speech rights in malls. And perhaps the corporations will realize that aging, rust belt cities have lots of old buildings they can use to generate a “historic” feel, and use them in their corporate complexes, not unlike what’s happening in Milwaukee with Pabst City.

Author: Rob