A friend of mine, a musician of renown, has a loft-like apartment in an urbanesque Southern California neighborhood that is, let us say, retail-adjacent.
Admiring the unusual, airy space on a visit, I said, “Well, this is nice.”
“Larry,” she said, in a voice that still has traces of a Manhattan accent: “I live in a shopping mall.”
And so she does. One that, like virtualy all such places filled with bricks-and-mortar stores in an Amazon Prime age, has a troubled economic outlook, forever going through ownership changes, many of the outlets shuttered.
From the San Fernando Valley, which invented the concept of mall culture — an entire generation of teenage girls developed a Galleria style of speech and vocabulary — to the South Coast Plaza, merchants and shopping-center developers are wondering what to do with these huge pieces of real estate that seemingly have outlived their usefulness.
There is even a website, deadmalls.com, complete with a dictionary, including “greyfields,” coined by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Center for New Urbanism: “Malls where annual sales per square foot is less than $150, or one-third the rate of sales at a successful mall.”
What to do?
For once, there is an unusually easy answer: If you can’t shop in ’em, live in ’em.
We are forever hearing that the factor that most aggravates Southern California’s housing crisis is the lack of supply for the demand. Developers aren’t building nearly enough new multi-family to meet the need because of a combination of lack of open land and zoning codes and NIMBYism that make it hard to expand on existing sites.
Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez polled his readers about what to do with dead malls, and while some of them did like the idea of live/work spaces and the like, there were suggestions such as “more commercial venues, like movie theaters and groovy furniture and second-hand clothing stores,” “an ice rink in winter months, a skate park, a dog park…