Sunday, April 29, 2012

More on Malls

A view of Riverside, Calif., in 1966 that I found here.
As it says in Ecclesiastes, "Of the making of malls, there is no end." Following on our experience on Fulton Mall in Fresno, we came across three more major pedestrian malls in California, first in Riverside, then in Pasadena, and finally in Santa Monica.

Riverside was almost entirely unknown to us, and so the mall there was a revelation. About the same length as Fulton Mall, Riverside's mall is anchored at one end by the convention center (which frankly looks sort of horrible) and at the other by the city hall, which is gracious and appealing despite its clear debts to brutalism. If you can envision Boston City Hall but smaller and friendlier, you're partway there. Riverside closed its main street to traffic just two years after Fresno closed its, but the city seems to have invested more in its upkeep and had more success in keeping the area lively than Fresno has. I imagine this has something to do with the growth of the city in that time and its relative wealth.

Beyond the mall and some related court and government buildings—including an imposing county courthouse designed by Franklin Pierce "No Relation" Burnham—downtown Riverside is anchored by the Mission Inn, the extravagant creation of a man who had too much money and, perhaps predictably, not enough taste. While it has had a tortured history, the inn today is a luxe place that seems to do a brisk business in weddings. It is not, nor has it ever been, as Rob and I had speculated, actually a Spanish Mission, like those we saw in San Antonio in 2008.

Pasadena, too, has an extravagant pedestrian mall downtown, the Paseo Colorado, which serves a markedly high-end clientele. This one is a little different in that it did not replace an existing street but was built upon the site of an enclosed mall that was demolished. So it's not quite the same thing.

The next day, we were in Santa Monica ("the home of the homeless"), which closed Third Street downtown in the mid-1960s as well—though they called the result a promenade instead of a mall. It too has been revamped a couple times, and it still contains curbs that separate the street from the sidewalk, though the street is closed to traffic. There are homeless people here, too, but in the words of our unofficial guide there, "no one minds because the downtown is so nice anyway."

From the malls we saw and from what I know of Kalamazoo's experience, it seems to me that pedestrian malls don't seem to drive economic growth the way Victor Gruen though they might, but they don't seem to cause economic ruin, either. If a town is doing well, a mall can be a nice amenity; if it's an economic tailspin, the mall will be, too. While some urban designers might not like the implication that design matters less than dollars, that is axiomatic in any corporate environment. All of which is another strike, for those of you still concerned, against the idea of breaking out the jackhammers in Fresno—the mall isn't salvation, but neither is it the problem.

One more look at Fresno, this time at the city hall, which essentially terminates a T off of Fulton Mall.

1 comment:

  1. The Santa Monica Mall--sorry, Promenade--was when first created in the 1960s such a failure that you could conduct artillery practice on it and not harm a living soul. Today, many updates and much infusion of cash and commerce later, it is as you and Tim saw, a thriving place. For all of its noise and semi-glitziness, it is a huge improvement over the first version 40 years ago.

    You might not know that Harry Shearer says Santa Monica's city motto should be "The Home of the Homeless." -- Phil Freshman, St. Louis Park, MN