Forget malls: Visit these 9 thriving pedestrian shopping areas
Monday, March 27, 2017
Dire predictions abound concerning the future of America's shopping malls. A recent CNBC report forecasts failure for about a third of the nation's 1,100 malls in the coming years. Enclosed malls are struggling, analysts say, primarily because of an overabundance of retail space and the fact that consumers are increasingly doing their buying online.
There may be another less obvious reason for the demise of traditional malls. A mall mania in the 1960s and 1970s saw retail stores abandoning urban locations for the suburbs. But that trend has seen a reversal in many cities during recent decades, thanks to the pedestrian street or mall — the development of which has helped reinvigorate urban centers across the country.
Sociologists and city planners see people-priority social spaces in urban centers, such as pedestrian malls and plazas, as crucial for a healthy and happy society. These spaces aren't nearly as common in the U.S. as they are in other places, such as Europe, but there are a number of successful examples across America — and here are nine of them.
1. Times Square, New York City, New York
Rightly described as "The Crossroads of the World," Times Square is arguably the planet's busiest pedestrian area, drawing an estimated 50 million visitors a year.
Pedestrianized in 2009 as a pet project of then Mayor Michael Bloomberg and reconstructed the following year, Times Square finally shed its seedy past to become the welcoming centerpiece of the Big Apple and the hub of the Broadway Theater District. It may owe its greatest claim to fame as the site of the annual New Year's Eve ball drop.
2. Ithaca Commons, Ithaca, New York
This four-block downtown pedestrian mall was created in 1974. It was developed to compete with a conventional shopping mall being built on the city's outskirts.
Boasting nearly 100 unique shops, restaurants and galleries adjacent Cornell University and Ithaca College, it has become the city's social center. Like all successful pedestrian streets, the Commons is maintained and promoted by a professional organization — the Ithaca Downtown Business Improvement District.
3. Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, Vermont
Downtown Burlington's four-block-long open-air mall is the city's hub of activity, notable for its historic architecture, year-round festivals, street entertainers and nearly 150 mostly locally owned shops, restaurants and bars.
Modeled after Boulder, Colorado's Pearl Street Mall and developed in 1981, it is a recipient of the prestigious Great American Main Street Award and is often cited as one of the most successful pedestrian malls in the country. Every Wednesday, Church Street restaurants offer food and drink specials as part of the Marketplace's Bite of Burlington promotion.
4. Downtown Mall, Charlottesville, Virginia
Maintained by the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department, the eight-block long Downtown Mall is considered one of the finest urban pedestrian streets in the nation.
Developed in 1976 and refurbished in 2009, it is home to a vibrant collection of 120 shops and some 30 cafes and restaurants. Most businesses are located in historic brick buildings along old Main Street — where, as locals are proud to point out, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe once strolled.
5. River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
In downtown San Antonio, a lazy little river directs the winding course of one of America's most popular (and romantic) pedestrian paths. Also known as Paseo del Rio, River Walk is a 2.5-mile network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River — and below the level of surrounding streets.
Lined by shops, bars, restaurants, luxuriant flora and some fine examples of public art, it is an important part of the city's urban fabric and one of its major tourist attractions. The lovely stonework along River Walk can be traced to its original construction in the late 1930s by the Works Project Administration (WPA).
6. Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado
It would be difficult to imagine a visit to Boulder that didn't include some time spent at Pearl Street Mall. Hundreds of shops, bars and eateries fill the red brick pedestrian-only throroughfare that runs along Pearl from 9th Street to 21st Street. Beloved by locals and visitors alike, it is the city's hub for shopping, dining, the arts and, of course, people-watching.
Most businesses are locally owned, bringing with them an "only-in-Boulder" character, described by promoters as "nestled between the mountains and reality." The mall is exceptionally well designed with multiple play areas for the kids, park benches, islands of greenery and other landscaping and architectural elements that help break up and define the space.
7. 16th Street Mall, Denver, Colorado
Designed by noted architect I.M. Pei in 1982 and managed by nonprofit Downtown Denver Partnership, the 16th Street Mall is a 1.25-mile, tree-lined promenade of red, white and gray granite that runs through the center of downtown Denver. It is one of the premier pedestrian environments in the country and is viewed as vital to maintaining an economically healthy urban core.
The mall is home to 300 locally owned/chain stores and more than 50 restaurants and bars. It is a popular venue as well for street performers, including musicians, dancers, impressionists and comedians. An all-electric shuttle bus service known as the Free MallRide operates daily along the mall.
8. Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas, Nevada
If ever there were a time to apply the trite term "cray cray," it would be to describe the Fremont Street Experience. This is the land of ultimate debauchery — where glittery and glamorous meet the just plain weird.
Lined with vintage hotels, restaurants and bars spanning a four-block corridor covered by a giant digital screen, this downtown Vegas destination is the ultimate block party. There are myriad things to see and do, including shopping at specialty kiosks, riding zip lines and watching live concerts and costumed buskers.
But best of all is what takes place overhead — on the Via Vision canopy. It's the world's largest projection screen, some 1,500 feet in length, and it features six-minute light shows every hour. Prepare for a jaw-dropping experience where people-watching is greatly enhanced by an alcohol-lubricated crowd.
9. Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, California
Situated just steps from Santa Monica's iconic pier, the Third Street Promenade features three open-air, car-free blocks of upscale shopping, dining, drinking and street entertainment. With plenty of choices, ranging from farm-fresh produce to designer fashions, the Promenade is a shopper's nirvana.
Foodies, too, rejoice over the long list of unique restaurants along Third and surrounding streets, many of them utilizing locally sourced ingredients. Street performers provide an abundance of free entertainment but for other things to do, there’s an athletic studio offering a variety of yoga routines, a bike rental agency, a comedy theater and the Santa Monica History Museum. Aiding access to the Promenade is a new terminus of the Metro Expo Line, which zips riders by light rail between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles.
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