Not far from where I live, a concrete village attracts suburbanites to its trendy eateries and fine clothiers. It is in many respects no different from the ubiquitous outdoor malls of America, though slightly more upscale and coherent. What sets it apart, however, is the attempt to make the mall a community by stacking condos on top of stores, evidently an increasingly popular ploy.
As a big fan of the mixed-use density that is a hallmark of urbanity, I’m puzzled to find myself resistant and even haughtily condescending of this American attempt. The reason why, I think, is that these “metroburbia” have the ethos of a cruise ship. There’s much to do, sure, but ultimately it is all commercial, contrived, and contained within a tiny speck surrounded by a vast expanse of nothingness.
Felix Salmon, market mover, draws a more neutral comparison:
The history of the wine market in America (bear with me here) has a central role for merlot: a relatively sweet and easily-drinkable varietal which got Americans — who had been more accustomed to beer and sweet white wine — comfortable with the idea of red wine. Nowadays, merlot has something of a bad name, but it’s still hugely popular.
I think of these mall condos as the urbanist equivalent of merlot: a gateway, if you will, to the urban lifestyle, without the tannic downside. I’m not sure they’ll ever become quite as ubiquitous as merlot. But they’re clearly part of America’s real-estate future.
Clearly part of America’s real estate future, eh? Well, a condo in a mall may be quite continental, but a loft downtown is a guy’s best friend.