More on malls


Bellevue Square Mall courtesy of Debs (ò‿ó)♪

I’ve written previously about how malls could provide the bones of solarpunk co-housing, and Grist recently produced a video about how some communities, most notably Seattle, are re-purposing their old malls as community hubs, as they were originally intended. Ellen Dunham-Jones from the Georgia Institute of Technology gave a more in-depth look at retrofitting malls in her 2010 TED Talk and in this interview with WIRED. As malls everywhere experience hard times due to the “retail apocalypse,” is this our chance to reorient these monuments to capitalism into something more community-minded?


An old map of Fashion Square Mall

Here in Charlottesville, Fashion Square Mall has been emptying out like so many others. Sears left in March 2019 and nothing has come to replace it. Instead of letting it sit vacant, you could retrofit apartments in the main store and put a makerspace in the old auto shop. I couldn’t find a square footage estimate of the store, but if we assume it’s around 50,000 square feet (~4600 square meters) and 10,000 square feet are set aside for the makerspace and community areas, it seems reasonable that you could still fit 50 to 60 apartments in the 40,000 square feet remaining.  With a mix of sizes from micro-apartments to three bedrooms, you could make some decently affordable housing for single people, families, and elders.

With the old store now affordably housing 100 or more people, people could start new businesses in empty store fronts like a food co-op or local restaurant. As the actual people in the mall slowly take over from the fleeing corporate interests, perhaps enough capital could be raised to purchase the mall from its current owners and turn it into a collectively-owned property.

Fashion Square Mall on the map

Fashion Square Mall on the map

Further development could include depaving some of the parking lots, adding rooftop solar panels, and building more housing in the former parking areas. Since a solarpunk future has a reduced dependence on personal automobiles, an improved frequency of bus service to the mall as well as improving connections to the local Rivanna Trail system would be critical. A car sharing station could round out the transportation options for our little collective.

None of these changes are particularly earth-shattering on their own, but each little adjustment to bad zoning and land use decisions inherited from the last century gets us a step further on the road to a sustainable future.

Is there a property in your area that could be turned to more positive uses? Let us know below!


4 thoughts on “More on malls

  1. Craig

    Dead mall reclamation is a fascinating topic for me. The fact that they are built to be so modular really means a lot can be done.
    The biggest thing for me is that they tend to have big spaces surrounding them for parking lots. if turned into urban farming centres a mall could become its own self sufficient community.

    1. Solarpunk Gnome Post author

      Yeah, there’s so much open space with the parking lot you could do all kinds of things like urban farming! Green space is really important for human physical and mental health, so you’d definitely want more greenery around. Some malls have central atria where you could put some bigger plants as well.

  2. Adamas Nemesis

    The intersection of a solarpunk future and dead malls is a very interesting topic and certainly deserves far more consideration than it has received to date. I’ve often thought that abandoned malls may serve as the creative spaces and artist colonies of the future (through the mid 21st century) in much the same way dilapidated downtowns did in the late 20th century before prices skyrocketed. After all, both settings have/had a good skeleton of infrastructure and culture, a strong sense of community and place, and affordable living costs. Of course with online shopping, malls might be ripe for conversion into warehouses, though in a solarpunk future it might be a highly-automated warehouse owned and run by a community of these same creatives (residing in another part of the mall) who 3-D print etc. products on-site, sold through what we now call the decentralized (dark) web. I particularly love the idea in your previous post of putting in stained glass windows doubling as solar panels; the former malls would become more beautiful than ever! It occurs to me that the huge roofs of these buildings would make great landing pads for electric delivery drones, an idea that could be combined with the stained-glass solar roof.

    1. Solarpunk Gnome Post author

      I think finding ways to economically sustain a solarpunk community within the shell of the current world is one of the trickiest parts to pull off. The powers-that-be are not interested in us taking back power to the people, and economics are one of the main weapons that are used to keep people in this current holding pattern.

      I like your idea for a combination manufacturing and logistics hub, but I’m not a big fan of drones outside of a few emergency-related purposes. I have some big concerns about delivery drones clogging airspace and making oodles of noise pollution. Not trying to shoot you down, just how I feel about the things. YMMV

Leave a Reply