Thursday, June 22, 2017

Looking at suburban shopping malls from perspective of history: Abandonment of inner cities and for Civil Defense?

Another reason for shopping malls in the 1950s: Preparation for nuclear war?

Sounds crazy. But was it?

Below are two articles I would like to share about the typical suburban shopping mall. They were once a “driving” reason for the decline of downtown shopping areas and traditional City business districts. The dependence on the automobile as the primary transportation mode during the second half of the 20th Century coupled with low-density suburban residential development (aka, “suburban sprawl” and “White Flight”) enabled and fueled this process.

Now it’s the shopping malls’ turn to decline in the face of headwinds no one could have imagined 50–60 years ago: Millennials’ housing choices, the resurgence of inner cities, online shopping alternatives, new transportation options, and the public now eschewing all that once-comfortable blandness not to be found in our walkable downtown areas, like the City of Lake Worth’s is becoming.

This first article is more of the typical anti-suburban sprawl narrative we are oft-accustomed to hearing in the planning profession. This second article traces the beginnings of the suburban shopping mall as part a reaction to the Cold War and the fear of nuclear attack from the former Soviet Union.

Early mall locations were placed outside an 8-mile-radius from the larger, central urban cores. That would put these sites outside the predicted “blast zone” should an attack occur. Malls were designed so that anchor stores could be converted to hospitals and stores could become dispensaries for food and other supplies.

I think the apocalyptic world vision of post-WWII has faded some since the 1950s. But it is interesting to wonder where we would be now had we actually needed to use these shopping malls for another purpose: Civil Defense following a nuclear attack.

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