I read an article recently on mindful.org in which a nurse revealed the top five regrets of the soon to be departed. As one might expect, there were no big surprises – the dearly departing regret not spending more time with family and friends and not living life to the fullest.
The article got me to thinking, though: What might be the top five deathbed regrets of a dying mall? On that question I pondered and deliberated until I formed a list on which I believe the caregivers of malls should focus. Number 5 on that list? Landscape Architecture.
First, let’s talk about the definition of landscape architecture and its recent trends. By definition, landscape architecture is the design of outdoor public areas, landmarks, and structures to achieve environmental, social-behavioral, or aesthetic outcomes, and according to the American Society of Landscape Architects, its use in park and recreation planning, urban development and office
design has become increasingly popular. This trend is largely due to studies that show that spending time outside improves the health, overall happiness and work performance of us humans. For that reason, recreational centers are adding more outdoor areas, urban cities are drawing young and retiring residents with lush green space, and companies are beginning to retain more of their workforce by providing relaxing outdoor environments for their employees in which to recharge.
Yes, malls and lifestyle centers have engaged in some placemaking and improvements to their exteriors in order to compete or maintain their dominance. But I think we can go much further. The outside of a mall today is typically dominated by hardscape and the placemaking is relegated to the inside. Malls need to find a way to connect the exterior and landscape of the mall to the inside so it is seamless from a design standpoint and more inviting. Lifestyle Centers and Town Centers have done a better job of placemaking compared to malls, but the landscape architecture could be improved. Adding more public spaces would not only improve the shopping experience but also give the lifestyle center or town center a competitive advantage.
Beyond public spaces, there are many ways to improve the landscape architecture. With the abundance of parking and unused exterior spaces, most malls are a blank canvas, providing the savvy developer an opportunity to create some placemaking on the exterior of their center. Wouldn’t some of that excess parking be better spent as an aesthetically pleasing outdoor food court area surrounding a beautiful fountain or a nicely landscaped open-air playground for children? Or perhaps a park. Adding a community event area for the public to gather or an area to host concerts and other events would seem to be a big plus too. A beautifully designed garden would be another great way to get people to linger. Improved landscape architecture leads to an improved design and a better aesthetic overall, but the end goal is to get your customer to spend more time at your mall or shopping center.
In short, using architectural landscaping could differentiate your mall from others in your area, increasing your market share, boosting traffic and leading to customers staying longer, which leads to increased sales. Am I saying that hiring a landscape architect or improving your placemaking will solve ALL of your woes? No. But I am saying that it might be a good place to start and in the future you don’t want to look back on your deathbed and regret not improving the landscape architecture of your center.