Avoid public wi-fi

Here is a helpful reminder:

And finally, don’t forget for one minute that public Wi-Fi is dangerous.

This one illustration is humorous:

Evan, now 11, programmed fake Wi-Fi portals and took them to food courts shopping centers across the Austin, Texas, area and waited to see how many agreed to some pretty outrageous conditions. For the love of free internet access, they’d have to give their OK for the Wi-Fi owner to do things like “reading and responding to your emails, monitoring of input and/or output, and ‘bricking’ of your device.”

More than half of the shoppers shown these terms accepted them.

I like that this the article ties this issue to shopping malls. This might primarily be due to this time of year when plenty of people are out purchasing gifts. However, it also works because shopping malls are about as close as we get as Americans to public spaces. Where else can you regularly go for a safe environment to be around other people to do one of the ultimate American activities (consume)? While this article reminds us that the mall may not be so safe, is it odd that Americans tend to think of it as a safe place? And if malls want to keep attracting people (who then spend money), shouldn’t they do something about protecting their wi-fi?

I see an opportunity for either malls or security firms: ensuring that your public wi-fi experience is a good one.

The suburban mall of today is an entertainment center

Stores alone are not enough to attract people to malls; they are now full of additional entertainment options including restaurants and movie theaters.

“The traditional mall with four department stores as their primary traffic driver is no longer the best model,” said Joe Parrott, a senior vice president with the Chicago offices of CBRE, a commercial real estate company…

“A lot of these big entertainment players are coming,” Parrott said. “And the malls are interested in bringing tenants that are more experiential and broaden the appeal of the mall beyond just department stores.”…

Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale is a perfect example of the changing dynamic. The mall is launching a multimillion-dollar renovation and tenant improvement project that features both interior and exterior improvements at the 1.3 million-square-foot center. It’s a continuation of an earlier renovation that included the 2014 opening of Round One, a 40,000-square-foot entertainment center that features bowling, billiards, numerous video games and karaoke…

Experts with California-based Green Street Advisors have predicted that 15 percent of malls nationwide will close or be repurposed over the next decade. But that doesn’t apply to successful malls listed in the “A” and “B” category.

On one hand, the major changes in retail – big box stores, online shopping – mean malls have to adjust as do a lack of public spaces in many suburbs – which can be approximated by private entertainment spaces at the mall.

One expert cited in this article says, “Bad malls disappear.” Within the next decade or two, we might expect to see fewer shopping areas in the suburbs overall but the ones that do survive becoming behemoths. This could have some interesting consequences for communities that are home to these entertainment complexes as well as for those who lost out on the chance to have a mall decades ago.

How many suburban entertainment centers can one region have?

Schaumburg is looking into creating a new entertainment district out of underused properties:

Schaumburg trustees Tuesday approved a $6.58 million offer to buy the two single-story office buildings just north of the village’s convention center and Renaissance Hotel to help develop a new entertainment district and reconfigure Thoreau Drive.

The 110,000-square-foot Woodfield Green Executive Centre lies on the north side of Thoreau Drive and just across Meacham Road from Zurich North America’s new headquarters…

The long-term plan is to hold the property to sell to one or more developers interested in building more restaurant and other entertainment venues near the southeast corner of Meacham and Algonquin roads.

This sounds like a typical suburban strategy today: take properties that are not doing well or even abandoned (see efforts to utilize closed grocery stores) and start generating revenues through new entertainment use. Stores come and go but theaters and restaurants can come together to create a vibrant distract that will generate property and sales tax revenues for years to come.

This did lead me to a question: within the Chicago metropolitan region, how many entertainment districts can the region support? If many suburbs are trying to pursue these goals, can most of them sustain successful districts? There are already a number of successful or established districts: Evanston, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and Woodfield, Rosemont, Gurnee Mills, the Oak Brook-Yorktown corridor, Naperville, plenty of other downtowns with lively scenes and regular festivals and events (Geneva, Aurora, Elmhurst, etc.) and countless shopping centers that are transitioning to lifestyle centers. I assume there is a saturation point where these districts start losing people to each other. Of course, this might be mitigated by two factors: (1) continued population growth so that everyone can share from a growing spending pie and (2) specialization among entertainment districts that could help each remain competitive.

Another thought: how often do entertainment districts simply reproduce existing patterns of wealth and the distribution of higher-end commercial properties?

Watching the planes in style at SeaTac

After walking through security at SeaTac, I entered the central food court and shopping area. I was greeted with this view:

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From this gallery, you can watch the main runways as planes takeoff and land and you can do so seated in wooden rocking chairs (close to the windows). I assume many airports are designed with providing sufficient gates and access to planes in mind. Think of O’Hare or Atlanta where the concourses are long. Yet, this view took the mall court airport plan – common across many newer airports including ones I’ve seen in Tampa, Orlando, and Las Vegas – to another level: providing a large view of the most interesting work of the airport as planes travel at high speed.

An overview of the airport feature from when it opened in 2005:

The feature attraction, however, is the 60-by-350-foot glass wall that overlooks the runways and, in amenable weather, the Olympic Mountains. It’s more than just a big picture window. The panes are wrenched into a compound curve, convex in the vertical plane and concave in the horizontal. It looks more like a portal to a space warp than a mere window. The web of steel cables, struts and attachment spiders that allow the curtain wall to flex up to 11 inches in a worst-case windstorm or earthquake is all exposed to view, a celebration of virtuoso building technology…

Architect Curtis Fentress, the terminal’s principal designer, is convinced that people want to feel the excitement of travel again, and that it touches a deeper place than momentarily marveling at the apparent miracle of 400-ton cigars storming into the sky. He recalls a boyhood visit to the airport to see his uncle off to the Korean War. “We watched him wave to us from the plane,” Fentress recalls — an impression half a century old, burned indelibly into his mind.

Bonus: this area seemed to particularly fascinate small children. This is no small feat in the harried realm of traveling.

Deadmalls.com

The site has not been updated for a year or so but there is a lot of interesting retail information at Deadmalls.com. You can even purchase your own memorabilia (though I was hoping for something more ghastly)!

Four quick thoughts:

  1. The shopping mall was a marvel of the post-World War II suburban era. Today, there are still thriving malls – even in urban locations as they figured out that they needed to play in this game – but plenty of dead ones (27 listed in Illinois alone). The wonder of having all of those stores in one location that is easy to reach by car.
  2. Have the shopping malls been replaced by anything? Shopping online is not the same visceral experience. Perhaps it is big box stores: occasionally when I wander into a Home Depot or Costco or Walmart, I am astounded by the vast size, the number of products, and the relatively low prices.
  3. There are a lot of efforts to renovate or revitalize shopping malls including turning them into lifestyle centers, adding housing, and incorporating new features like skating rinks. Such efforts will probably succeed in a number of malls..
  4. I’m reminded of the portrayal of a dead mall in the book Gone Girl which portrayed it as a suburban wasteland (along with the McMansions). It would be worthwhile to go back to these dead malls sites in a decade or two to see what has become of them. Urban/suburban ruins? New uses?

Should we take joy in photos of a dying suburban shopping mall?

One photographer has been chronicling the last days of a mall in the Chicago suburbs:

It can be a tough thing to see a historic building being demolished, but what about when a suburban mall meets the wrecking ball? After a 63-year run, The Plaza shopping mall in suburban Evergreen Park has been demolished to make way for a newer, more modern outdoor mall. While there are many like it, The Plaza was notable for being one of the early indoor shopping malls in the Chicago area, and despite its staying power, the mall had become underutilized over the last several years. So called “dead malls” are nothing new, and if anything, they’re becoming more and more common. With the age of internet shopping and the massive reverse migration of residents leaving the suburbs for the city, many suburban malls have fallen into disrepair and have few, if any, major anchor stores left. One photographer, Martin Gonzalez, has been keeping up with the demolition of The Plaza and has been posting photos over the last several months. Here’s a quick look at some of his images of the fallen Plaza mall.

The pictures suggest ruin and decay, images Americans might more commonly associate with places like Detroit rather than the suburbs. But, the question that starts this article gets at this issue: should we take pleasure in seeing the suburban shopping mall – example of American consumerism, tacky architecture, and the social lives of teenagers with nowhere else to go – destroyed? That this mall failed could be used as evidence that critics of the suburbs were right: the whole system was not sustainable. Yet, there is fallout from this: how will the land get used? What happens to those jobs? Where is the local money that used to be spent here now going? Does the demise of the suburban shopping mall lead to more concentrated and authentic spaces (perhaps the New Urbanist dream) or increased fragmentation (big box stores and online shopping)?

See posts from the last year or so – here, here, and here – about the struggles of suburban shopping malls.

Shopping malls adapting with new purposes and targeted groups

Joel Kotkin argues shopping malls aren’t dead – they’re changing their purpose and targeting wealthier and ethnic consumers.

To be sure, there are hundreds of outmoded malls, long-in-the-tooth complexes most commonly found in working-class suburbs and inner-ring city neighborhoods. Some will never come back. By some estimates, something close to 10 to 15 percent of the country’s estimated 1,000 malls will go out of business over the next decade; many of them are located in areas where budgets have been very tight, with locals tending to shop at “power centers” built around low-end discounters such as Target or Walmart.

But the notion that Americans don’t like malls anymore is misleading. The roughly 400 malls that service more-affluent communities—like those typically anchored by a Bloomingdale’s or Nordstrom—recovered most quickly from the recession, and now appear to be doing quite well.

To suggest malls are dead based on failure in failed places would be like suggesting that the manifest shortcomings of Baltimore or Buffalo means urban centers are not doing well. Like cities, not all malls are alike.

Looking across the entire landscape, it’s clear the mall is transforming itself to meet the needs of a changing society but is hardly in its death throes. Last year, vacancy rates in malls flattened for the first time since the recession. The gains from e-commerce—6.5 percent of sales last year, up from 3.5 percent in 2010—has had an effect, but bricks and mortar still constitutes upwards of 90 percent of sales. There’s still little new construction, roughly one-seventh what it was in 2006, but that’s roughly twice that in 2010.

In other words, shopping malls today can’t afford to try to target everyone at once. Rather, the retail market has both exploded with opportunities and fragmented, meaning that malls and other retailers have to target particular groups. This is going to be easier in areas that have money or lack other retailers or have growing populations.

Of course, Kotkin isn’t particularly worried that shopping malls are taking over the Main Street function for suburbs and other communities. There are issues with this: this is privatized space that often requires a car to get to and its primary activity is consumerism. Indeed, if people focused on activities other than shopping (which remains a very popular activity), our version of  capitalism might ground to a halt:

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Still, many communities will be happy if shopping malls continue as they are economic boons through sales taxes and jobs.