May 16 2013

Shopping, Shopping, Shopping: Urban Planning for a Better Mall Experience

Milan is rich in industrial history. A nearby site includes the former Innocenti factory, most notable for producing Lambretta Scooters in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The present service-oriented economy means that many old factory sites are claiming vast swaths of land, acting as holes in the urban fabric. Overcoming such obstacles is a contemporary theme in urban planning, and local participation should be encouraged in order to produce the best possible outcomes for these areas.

The scene is familiar in Segrate, a small town just outside the eastern border of Milan. A new shopping mall from major retail developer Westfield Group is in the works for this industrial area. “Westfield Milan” will be one of Italy’s largest shopping malls, and is set to open in conjunction with the 2015 Expo (whose theme coincidentally includes energy sustainability). This will surely enhance the visitor experience, as a high level of passenger traffic is expected to come through nearby Linate airport during this time.

Rendering of Westfield Milan, Leonard Design Architects

However, shopping centers are not always seen as positive projects. The mall-building era of the United States in the late 20th century encouraged suburban growth and negatively impacted decaying city centers. Now, a younger generation concerned with environmental impact and human scale is choosing to move back into city centers. What is left is an aging stock of huge, unattractive, and often unusable architecture.

An enduring example is Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, the most central mall of Milan, opened in 1877. Its scale is much smaller than many modern constructions, but its combination of size and integration of retail, dining, and offices into the central city fabric make it one of the most elegant examples available.

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele

Admittedly, the American case is in a different urban context than Italy, but there are still lessons to be learned. Locations that encourage automobile use should be approached cautiously, and provide close and frequent public transportation options.

Furthermore, the developmental link between Expo 2015 and Westfield Milano, as well as a physical rail link between Linate and these sites, suggests this is a strong opportunity to build a mall for the next generation. This will combine quality retail, transportation options, and urban contextual relevance in a sustainable, yet profitable package.

What elements would you like to see in future developments like this one?

Credits: Photographs by Maxwell Vidaver. Images and data linked to sources.

Maxwell Vidaver

Maxwell Vidaver is a graduate student in Urban Planning, Policy, and Design at Politecnico di Milano in Milan, Italy, and also holds a B.A. in Geography from Binghamton University, where he focused on urban economic analysis. He is originally from Baltimore, Maryland, and developed an early passion for urban planning and environmental design as an avid cyclist, mechanic, and commuter. His planning interests include exploring alternative transportation options, maximizing energy efficiency in new urban projects, and improving access between city users and government. Max’s goals are to help promote smart design initiatives, and facilitate community-city collaboration in order to create more sustainable, as well as comfortable, urban environments.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 16th, 2013 at 9:53 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Environmental Design, Land Use, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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