Greater City Providence

Rethinking the Mall


Rhode Island Mall photo from

The above is a title of an article by the always interesting Allison Arieff in her NY Times blog in which Arieff attends the 2009 International Council on Shopping Centers Convention in Las Vegas to judge a competition examining future concepts for the shopping mall. She writes that most of the discussion and focus, however, seemed to be yearning for the days of old:

…most talk at ICSC was of how business as usual could resume once “things came back…”

Despite near-non-existent consumer spending, the declining popularity of shopping as America’s favorite pastime and the chilling effect foreclosed homes in housing developments are surely having on nearby malls, most entries in the ICSC competition responded less to the future of the shopping mall than to the glory days to which we’ve recently bid adieu. I was struck by how little attention entrants paid to things like sustainable architecture, alternative transit or changing consumer attitudes about consumption.

Architectural visions tended toward iconic futurist forms – domes or similarly curvy buildings that felt right in line with World’s Fairs past. Distressing to think that in 2059, we’ll finally get to live as the Jetsons did back in 1962.

All is apparently not lost, however. Arieff reviews other entries that were more urban friendly. It’s a good read. Take a look here.

Bret Ancowitz


  • The article also says that the shopping experience should not be about parking or getting there, but about what the destination has to offer.

    In terms of walkability, store selection and the feel inside, I have to give Providence Place an A. The Warwick malls on the other hand seem like boxes tacked onto a large Target/Wal mart.

  • I don’t know if I’d give Prov Place an A on all of that. I’ve been to some other urban malls that are a little more integrated with their surroundings. The mall in Burlington comes to mind. It’s literally built off of the Church St. Marketplace. While the inside isn’t quite as classy as Prov Place, it’s definitely more walkable and more part of the urban shopping experience.

    That being said, the rest of that mall is not as integrated with the streetscape as Prov Place with the restaurants on Francis St. But at the same time, there isn’t as much on the street outside the Burlington mall. Those streets are not a destination like much of the rest of downtown Burlington. So it works there. The problem with Prov Place is that it’s its own destination in the city, an island of sorts.

  • This is extra funny cause I was just in the RI mall this Monday (trying to change my name on my license and they weren’t even open. doh!) I think that it’s still beautiful inside and would do well as a Downtown Westminster street of sorts. The problem is that it’s a destination…but I see it as the indie hipsters dream destination. I wonder if it would become a shopping mecca again if a dive bar opened in it?

  • Speaking of the DMV, the Pawtucket branch (the one poster above should have gone to), is interestingly enough housed in the awe inspiring Apex building, which is in itself a dead mall of sorts. Can’t think of a more painful destination than the DMV.

  • The DMV “Express” in the RI Mall is MUCH easier to deal with than the Bucket branch. Even with the extra distance from Providence, it’s quicker to get in and out of.

    I went to the Bucket branch to change my address, thinking it was closer and I was being more “urban”. I was there for about 2 hours. I have never sat in the mall for that long. The only time I was in the DMV longer was when I first moved to RI and had to get a new license and registration for my car. That was at the West Warwick branch because at the time I had no idea the RI Mall branch didn’t do new registrations and had gone there first. The people there just guided me to the nearest full service branch.

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