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Assessing the Viability of Lifestyle Centers as Forms of Public Space Open Access

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In the late 1980s, a new form of shopping center known as the "lifestyle center" began appearing in the United States. Combining the traditional retail functions of a shopping mall with leisure amenities in a town square or main street setting, lifestyle centers have become common in affluent suburban areas and are now one of the most popular retail formats in America. Since the early 2000s, the number of new lifestyle centers has increased exponentially. At the same time, conventional indoor shopping malls are declining. What factors can account for the decline in the performance and overall number of conventional shopping malls, and an increase in the appeal and number of new lifestyle centers over the last decade? Some argue that lifestyle centers represent part of an effort to offer a counterpoint to the disaggregating effects of suburban sprawl, through the re-introduction of the traditional mixed-use American town square or main street of the pre-World War II era. Others argue that they are merely "Disneyfied", theme park versions of traditional town squares and main streets, since they are privately owned, carefully controlled and designed to insulate shoppers from the "messiness" and unpredictability of real urban street life. Do lifestyle centers truly represent better forms of public space than conventional malls? If so, are they viable alternatives to malls as models for public space in suburbia? Do lifestyle centers represent a new typology of quasi-public space? How "public" are lifestyle centers? This thesis answers these questions through empirical research an assessment of three case studies, and concludes that while lifestyle centers are better public spaces than conventional malls, they are still not viable alternatives.

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