05 January 2021

The malls of the future, today

I read Joel Garreau's Wired article Edgier Cities when it was new, twenty-five years ago, and it has stuck with me. I have long thought that he is a bit too optimistic about the prospects for the forms of suburban development he calls “edge cities”, but some of his guesses about the future are looking surprisingly prophetic.

Just so, in the near future, somebody realizes what a great space an old Kmart is - 80,000 square feet with 16-foot ceilings and killer HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Then he or she realizes you can get them for nothing from the Resolution Trust Corporation - and the first edge-city bohemian district is born.

First the artists break the space into lavish 5,000-square-foot sculptors studios. Then they punch skylights into the roof to let natural light into the interior. Then they do the sensible thing and start living there illegally.

They place sculptures and anything else they can think of on the roof, although the windmills quickly become cliché. When all the really great space in the Kmart is full, other people start filling the former drugstores and dry cleaners of the abandoned shopping center with funky bars, savory restaurants, computer-arts master printers, and the shady dens of CD-ROM pressers. The exteriors of the buildings are painted in intriguing ways.

Smells more than a little like Meow Wolf.

Thinking of this because of news about a computer game company buying a ghost mall rather than renting or buying or building an office building for their new corporate headquarters ....

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