Saturday, April 11, 2015

Malled Planet

This is an extraordinary fact: Bangkok's lavish malls consume as much power power as entire Thai provinces!:
How much luxury retail does one city need? Bangkok seems determined to find out. The Thai capital’s newest high-end mall, EmQuartier, opened March 27 featuring brands including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Prada, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany, Fendi, and Balenciaga. It joins more than half a dozen similar shopping meccas within a three-mile (5 km) stretch along the city’s central Sukhumvit Road, many of them boasting the same expensive brands.

But the true cost may extend beyond Thailand’s borders. In part because of the city’s intense climate—it is one of the hottest big cities in the world—Bangkok malls and their massive air conditioning systems consume immense amounts of electricity. The huge Siam Paragon mall consumes nearly twice as much power annually as all of Thailand’s underdeveloped Mae Hong Son province, home to about 250,000 people.
Bangkok’s lavish, air-conditioned malls consume as much power as entire provinces (Quartz)

It seems like Asians are even more obsessed with luxury shopping (and plastic surgery) than we are. Dubai also seems to be chugging along nicely: Dubai unveils Mall of the World (World Architecture News):
A temperature-controlled urban development covering an area of 48 million sq ft has been revealed by UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Dubbed ‘Mall of the World’, the scheme is due to be located on Sheikh Zayed Road and will comprise a large-scale shopping mall, Wellness Zone and Dubai Cultural District. The scheme targets the tourism sector with varied hospitality options including 20,000 hotel rooms across 100 new hotels and serviced apartments. Developed by Dubai Holding, the project has been designed as an integrated pedestrian city with the capacity to welcome 180 million visitors annually.

What better place to put air-conditioned all glass malls than Bangkok and Dubai?

One of the mistakes Peak Oil commenters make is the idea that energy shortages will affect everyone equally, and that society as a whole will unravel. Rather, it seems like a small wealthy transnational elite will continue to enjoy ever more lavish lifestyles and engage in more extreme luxury consumption, while everyone outside the air-conditioned malls, walled estates and high-rise pentouses will bear the brunt of energy shortages and be hurled back to the nineteenth century. It's the nexus of energy descent and hyper-inequality mixed together.

High-end luxury malls seem to be the hallmark of civilization. It seems like every day, another 5,000 year old Chinese village is torn down to build a gigantic retail mall selling the latest in overpriced branded goods that retail for thousands of dollars while being produced in global sweatshops for pennies. Progress!

Meanwhile in America:

Last week, Slate published photos of empty, decaying shopping malls from a new book, "Black Friday.'' The images are arresting, and the timing couldn't be better. Abandoned malls are hot: The Dead Malls Enthusiasts Facebook group boasts almost 14,000 members; a Google search of "dead malls" produces 5.7 million results; and the desolate interiors of these unused retailing meccas keep making cameos in thrillers and horror films.

A Dying Breed: What some writers used to call the malling of America is done. Try to find anyone breaking ground for a new regional shopping mall, those hulking structures with 100-plus stores surrounded by vast asphalt parking lots. Since 1990, when 16 million-square-feet of mall space opened, building has tailed off, and 2007 was the first year in more than four decades when no large malls opened in the U.S. Only one has opened since then, in 2012.
Goodbye Malls of America (Bloomberg)
Built 24 years ago by a former subsidiary of Sears Holdings Corp., Steeplegate is one of about 300 U.S. malls facing a choice between re-invention and oblivion. Most are middle-market shopping centers being squeezed between big-box chains catering to low-income Americans and luxury malls lavishing white-glove service on One Percenters. It’s a time of reckoning for an industry that once expanded pell-mell across the landscape armed with the certainty that if you build it, they will come. Those days are over. Malls like Steeplegate either rethink themselves or disappear.

Malled: The hollowing out of an American Institution (Bloomberg)
Economic decline in certain areas − notably the mid-West − combined with an accelerating trend towards online shopping and new forms of urban shopping centres have pushed the once seemingly invincible and all-American shopping mall into decline. Many are thriving, and being renovated and extended, yet ‘ghost malls’ are fast becoming the ‘ghost towns’ of the early 21st Century, and photographers have begun to see them as fascinating, if decidedly disturbing ruins.

Inside, their acres of kitsch design seem even sorrier than a seaside funfair out-of-season. All that marble, those wall tiles, the broad, Hollywood-like stairs − leading nowhere today − and sorry details like a sign on a wall of the Crestwood Court mall, St Louis, reading “Rest Easy”, is both a little trashy and rather poignant.

All the more poignant, in fact, because the first US malls were not meant to have been sited miles from anywhere and reached only by big, air-conditioned automobiles with automatic transmission and power-everything. No, Victor Gruen, the ‘father of the shopping mall’ meant them to be the core around which new settlements would cluster, with apartments, clinics, schools and, one day soon enough, all the facilities and life that go together to make thriving urban settlements.

Gruen’s homes, schools, lakes and parks remained a pipe dream as Edina, Minnesota and, subsequently, the US as a whole went on a prolonged air-conditioned shopping spree in buildings that waxed ever bigger and yet more kitsch. The mall became a place to hang out as well as to shop, a central part of contemporary US culture and a model for much of the rest of a world keen on emulating an American way of life.

There had, of course, been malls of a sort long before the Southdale Center, beginning with Trajan’s Market in Ancient Rome, built around 100AD by Apollodorus of Damascus, a Syrian-Greek architect and engineer, while the great souks of Aleppo, Istanbul and Damascus itself were nothing less than spectacular shopping centres. What was new about the US malls is that they were fully enclosed, inward-looking structures designed to be serviced by the car, encouraged by relaxed tax and planning laws and set in isolated locations.

In the mid-1990s, US malls were being built at a rate of 140 a year. The brakes went on in 2007, the first year in half-a-century that no new malls were built in America: recession had bitten deep into the US economy. Now, malls began to close, although some had become unpopular for reasons other than purely economic ones.
The death of the US shopping mall (BBC)
Within 15 to 20 years, retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America's shopping malls to fail. He predicts that only upscale shopping centers with anchors like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus will survive.

"Middle-level stores in middle-level malls are going to be extinct because they don't make sense," said Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, Inc., a retail consulting and investment banking firm. "That's why we haven't built a major enclosed mall since 2006."

Of the roughly 1,000 malls in the U.S., about 400 cater to upper-income shoppers, he said. For those higher-end malls, business is improving, according to data from Green Street Advisors. It's the lower-end malls that are being hit by store closures.

Shopping Malls Are Going Extinct (Business Insider)
Across the U.S., shopping malls have seen better, more lucrative days. Such traditional anchor tenants as Sears and J.C. Penney are hurting, putting entire shopping centers at risk. Consumer habits have changed, and the same people who begged their parents to let them browse Hot Topic and Aeropostale are now cheering on the mall's demise. Vacancy rates at regional malls (defined as large, enclosed centers, as opposed to strip malls) were 8 percent at the end of last year—up from 5.4 percent at the end of 2006, according to commercial real estate research firm Reis. And a mall without tenants is a hunk of concrete that's got a date with a wrecking ball. Dozens of malls have shuttered since 2010, and additional hundreds could close in the next decade.
The Average American Mall Explained In 6 Charts (Bloomberg)
Say good bye to the Randall Park Mall on the edge of Cleveland. The demolition crew started working Monday on what was billed as the biggest shopping center in the world back when it was built in 1976. It is a potent symbol of the end of a different era. Once the centers of American retail and culture, many malls have slipped into decline, and even ruin. The trend is especially true for malls that once served the working class people in areas that have slipped into economic despair. Not all malls are dying. In fact, many luxury malls are thriving, especially in rich urban centers of New York and Los Angeles.

Randall Park Mall (pictured here) has been a corpse for years after being abandoned in the midst of the Great Recession in 2009. Dead malls like this one dot the landscape in less fortunate regions of Ohio and Michigan, according to Seph Lawless, a photographer who captured Randall Park Mall's decayed interior in his book, "Black Friday."

Once the world's biggest mall is being torn down today (CNN)
“It’s depressing,” Jill Kalata, 46, said as she tried on a few of the last sneakers for sale at the Athlete’s Foot, scheduled to close in a few weeks. “This place used to be packed. And Christmas, the lines were out the door. Now I’m surprised anything is still open.”

The Owings Mills Mall is poised to join a growing number of what real estate professionals, architects, urban planners and Internet enthusiasts term “dead malls.” Since 2010, more than two dozen enclosed shopping malls have been closed, and an additional 60 are on the brink, according to Green Street Advisors, which tracks the mall industry

Premature obituaries for the shopping mall have been appearing since the late 1990s, but the reality today is more nuanced, reflecting broader trends remaking the American economy. With income inequality continuing to widen, high-end malls are thriving, even as stolid retail chains like Sears, Kmart and J. C. Penney falter, taking the middle- and working-class malls they anchored with them.

“It is very much a haves and have-nots situation,” said D. J. Busch, a senior analyst at Green Street. Affluent Americans “will keep going to Short Hills Mall in New Jersey or other properties aimed at the top 5 or 10 percent of consumers. But there’s been very little income growth in the belly of the economy.”

The Economics (And Nostalgia) of Dead Malls (NYtimes)
Dying shopping malls are speckled across the United States, often in middle-class suburbs wrestling with socioeconomic shifts. Some, like Rolling Acres, have already succumbed. Estimates on the share that might close or be repurposed in coming decades range from 15 to 50%. Americans are returning downtown; online shopping is taking a 6% bite out of brick-and-mortar sales; and to many iPhone-clutching, city-dwelling and frequently jobless young people, the culture that spawned satire like Mallrats seems increasingly dated, even cartoonish.

According to longtime retail consultant Howard Davidowitz, numerous midmarket malls, many of them born during the country’s suburban explosion after the second world war, could very well share Rolling Acres’ fate. “They’re going, going, gone,” Davidowitz says. “They’re trying to change; they’re trying to get different kinds of anchors, discount stores … [But] what’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

It is hard to believe there has ever been any life in this place. Shattered glass crunches under Seph Lawless’s feet as he strides through its dreary corridors. Overhead lights attached to ripped-out electrical wires hang suspended in the stale air and fading wallpaper peels off the walls like dead skin...“You came, you shopped, you dressed nice – you went to the mall. That’s what people did,” says Lawless, a pseudonymous photographer who grew up in a suburb of nearby Cleveland. “It was very consumer-driven and kind of had an ugly side, but there was something beautiful about it. There was something there.”

Gazing down at the motionless escalators, dead plants and empty benches below, he adds: “It’s still beautiful, though. It’s almost like ancient ruins.”

The death of the American mall (The Guardian)
In the last two years, more than 400 of the largest 2,000 malls in the U.S. have shut their doors as "anchor" tenants (department stores such as Dillards, JC Penney) have pulled out, causing a cascade of smaller stores closing up. Mall vacancies reached 7 percent last year, the highest since 2001. In the last year, retail sales have dropped an "unprecedented" 9.8 percent, and with a projected 150,000 retail store closures this year, many malls will soon become empty.

Even before the recession, people were patronizing malls less and less, preferring to go to discounters like Wal-Mart where they can shop, buy groceries and fill a prescription without having to leave the store. People are shopping online more (see Collin's post on the weighing the pros and cons of shopping at malls versus online retailers).

People have not stopped shopping, but are just forgoing malls instead. "The most important fact about our shopping malls," says social scientist Henry Fairlie, "is that we do not need most of what they sell."
Dead Malls: Tragedy or Opportunity? (Treehugger)

Completely Surreal Photos Of America’s Abandoned Malls (Buzzfeed)

Then again, maybe things are not so different: World's biggest mall a China 'ghost town' (CNN)

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