1.0 Introduction – The Irony of the “Sustainable Shopping Mall”
Consumption is inevitably ingrained in Western human behaviour. This realization posits an undeniable irony when explaining sustainable shopping mall redevelopments, as North American suburban shopping malls are typically regarded as an unsustainable entity entrenched in, and dependent on commodity culture (Beardsley, 2000). To begin, these entities inhibit environmental sustainability as a result of automobile dependence, low densities, and high energy consumption. Further, a myriad of negative externalities arise with capitalist modes of production, extending the mall’s unsustainable character to the economic and social realms.
Therefore, a combination of materialism and consumerism presents the fundamental problem with shopping malls, by perpetuating an unsustainable culture through social, economic, and environmental/physical realms. In order to step away from this model, we must initiate a paradigm shift – a re-imagining – of what the purpose of a mall is, and how it can function to incorporate resiliency into its design and development. The irony lies in the desire to sustainably redevelop an inherently unsustainable entity, while keeping in mind the ingrained human attitude towards consumption. In order to address these issues, we must first examine the mall through the interrelated lenses of the economic, social, and environmental/physical realms.
1.1 The Economic Realm
The main problem with the economic realm is that it is over-emphasized. More specifically, the purpose of a mall is to maximize profits for the shareholders. Some flaws of this ideology are as follows:
Capitalist modes of production and consumption (mass production abroad through exploitative means to sustain consumptive patterns that are present in a mall)
Success is quantitatively measured through profit which does not account for other social or environmental factors
Inability to adapt to economic “sudden shock” (recession)
Is dependent on oil which is a declining resource, and it hasn’t shown an ability to adapt to the shrinking supply
Social and environmental realms are put on the back burner
1.2 The Social Realm
The present day suburban mall presents several social deficiencies, these include:
The devaluation of public and civic spaces through the creation of exclusionary pseudo-space;
Promoting a culture of un-relentless consumption, and facilitating a disconnection between the local natural environment through the constant commoditization of “exotic” nature, and a burgeoning relationship with the artificial;
An unrelenting desire for, and connection with natural simulation i.e. the use of “adjacent attraction” (Crawford, 1992), a clever marketing strategy which uses unlikely or exotic objects or environments to promote attraction to an otherwise mundane adjacent object or environment. In suburban malls this strategy can be seen through the creation of artificial natural environments and “nature advertising”. Through the constant commoditization of “exotic nature” (like the rainforest cafe), and the creation of fantastical themed environments, commercial culture is creating an affinity and connection with the artificial – why bother going to a mall or park with trees playgrounds and benches when we can go to a safe simulation (Beardsley, 2000)? and,
Social inequity i.e. malls can target specific social strata, creating an environment exclusionary to those outside the target group.
1.3 The Environmental/Physical Realm
Perhaps the most obvious of the three realms to observe, suburban mall development induces several threats to the natural and built environments due to:
Energy consumption and inefficient use of resources:
Urban heat island effect due to large swaths of parking lots;
Roofs do not absorb rainwater and have insufficient drainage systems;
Creates a large carbon footprint through auto-use dependency; and
The entire building is climate-controlled.
Being positioned and built within low densities and typically on greenfields
Being structurally designed and built for auto use
Selling products which induce “cradle to grave” production -inhibits recycling of materials once their life has been extinguished
To create a process of resilient mall redevelopment through the following five key principles:
Create environmental stewardship without impeding social inclusion or economic prosperity;
Apply an ecological systems concept to the redevelopment of malls;
Move towards a symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural environment;
Broaden the function of a mall beyond the standard commercial retail component in order to represent the complex interrelationships of a diverse ecosystem; and
Evolve in incremental phases to be relevant under the assumption that as oil becomes increasingly scarce, societies will need to change.
C.S. Holling (1978) notes that ecological systems are not static but in constant and continual change because of events such as flood, drought, cold, heat, fire and storm occur within. Regardless, the traditional paradigm of ecological evaluation is that the world ought to, or is designed to be static. A resilient worldview is an alternative to the static one, and it acknowledges that change happens. According to C.S. Holling (1973), resilience is a measure of a system to absorb change and still persist. More specifically, resilience is the amount of magnitude that can be absorbed before a system redefines its structure, and changes the variables and processes that control behaviour (Berkes et al., 2002). Malls in particular have been constructed through a static worldview, and are not adaptive to social, environmental or economic events. Our view was to take an existing mall and redesign it in a way that is responsive to change and disturbances.
2.2 Ecological Succession
Attempts to restore natural ecosystems often use the ecological concept of succession. In ecology, succession refers to an orderly and predictable change in the composition of species at a site that has undergone a disturbance, to eventually achieve a climax (Young, et al, 2001). Restoration ecology – the study of renewing a degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystem – often uses succession theory the likely sequence of plant and animal communities that is likely to occur on a site after a disturbance in its practice. Two ways that the theory is used is as follows: by influencing stages of a successional trajectory in order to achieve a particular climax or by jump starting the process (Young et al, 2001). We have chosen to apply the concept of succession in the redevelopment of suburban shopping malls. The way that we applied the concept is that in our design, we apply incremental changes that are based off of previous interventions, and such changes ultimately are meant to influence the successional trajectory of the mall so that it may begin to function in a way that is similar to an ecosystem.
2.3 An Ecosystems Approach
One shift in our thinking was that we approached Yorkdale as an ecosystem, which is a radical shift in the way such projects have been conducted in the past. Whereas, many of the previous projects have reduced their ecological footprint through a “think global, act local” paradigm (i.e., reduce greenhouse gases, carbon neutrality, reduce water usage etc.), we have approached it through a “think local, act local” one. Thus, rather than reducing impacts to external environments, we looked internally. In other words, our desired state was to be as self sustaining as possible. To achieve our objective, we envisioned Yorkdale to be an ecosystem which was not unlike a natural ecosystem. Much like a “natural system”, similar concepts of biotic and abiotic components which are linked by energy flows can be applied (Pickett and Cadenasso, 2006). In our approach we described the components that are required to make a system complete and applied them to our design of Yorkdale Mall.
Yorkdale Shopping Centre is a regional mall and anchor retail outlet within the Greater Toronto Area. Located in northwest Toronto, 240 units within 1.4 million square feet of floor space make Yorkdale the fifth largest shopping mall in Canada. The mall boasts the highest sales per square foot of any other mall in Canada at $1,000/ft2 and attracts 19 million shoppers annually (Oxford Properties Group, 2007). A majority of the retail floor space is located on the first floor of the building (including three anchor stores), while the smaller second and third floors are primarily occupied by a movie theatre complex, food court, and additional retail and office outlets. Yorkdale is surrounded by 7, 200 surface and above-grade parking lots – fitting for a mall with ease of access to Highway 401, one of the busiest highways in North America. Yet Yorkdale is also easily accessed by public transit, consisting of a subway station on the TTC’s Yonge-University-Spadina subway line (“Yorkdale Station”) sitting in proximity to the mall.
Yorkdale was originally built in 1964 and has been renovated twice since then: in 1999, the mall added a movie theatre complex, Indigo book store, and “Rainforest Cafe”; and in 2005, a three-year renovation/expansion project at a cost of $100 million added 40 new units and 108, 000 square feet of retail space (Oxford Properties, 2007). Such renovations have further solidified Yorkdale as a regional retail powerhouse and place making entity, which has yet to suffer a decline in vacancy across North American shopping malls even with rents reaching a 10-year high across the continent (Jonas, 2010). The most recent renovations earned Yorkdale an International Design and Development Award for Sustainable Design by the International Council of Shopping Centers Inc. (ICSC) in 2006 (the first award of its kind) for the following initiatives: infill development and adaptive reuse, opposed to building out; being in proximity to transit; all roof drainage is controlled for water conservation; exterior wall-mounted fixtures being dark-sky friendly, to reflect heat; the use of low water flow fixtures, faucets, and flush valves to conserve water; and a recycling imitative throughout the mall (Yorkdale, 2007).
3.2 Rationale for the Space
Yorkdale Mall is an ideal location for our pilot study because:
It is a well known mall in Canada, meaning that if our ideas get implemented they will receive greater precedence and attention
It is large, and has a large parking lot and therefore has lots of space and flexibility to work with
It is representative of the modern mall, and thus interventions could be applied elsewhere
The mall is highly successful at attracting/retaining higher-quality retail outlets while maintaining zero vacancy; if this mall is able to undergo such a re-imagining, then less successful malls may follow to increase place-making
The transformation of the North American suburban shopping mall from one that advocates consumerism and materialism to one that promotes resiliency and sustainability through an ecosystems approach will take time. Such process cannot be completed overnight due not only because of the time and costs of implementing technological interventions, but the time also needed to influence, to educate, and to reform present business processes, social practices, and cultural norms. Further, some processes build on the presence of other interventions. Therefore, a phased approach that leads up in succession is appropriate and necessary in the overall transformation of the North American suburban shopping mall. This pilot study identifies four of such phases, as follows: (1) pre-intervention analysis; (2) retrofit phase; (3) transition phase; and (4) holistic ecosystem phase. The following section is a discussion of the components, targets, actions, indicators, and participants involved in each of the aforementioned phases.
4.1 PRE:INTERVENTION ANALYSIS (where we are now)
Using the aformetioned sustainability deficiencies of the economic, social and environmental realms as a framework, this initial stage enables a site-specific analysis of current issues, and a direction of intervention for the site.
Currently, Yorkdale stands as the quintessential model for the modern-day sprawling suburban mall, explicitly serving one purpose – to facilitate consumption. Void of any social services, intriguing landscape or built form, Yorkdale is an ideal candidate for a holistic reconfiguration. Surrounded by sprawling asphalt on all four sides, the hulking concrete monolith serves as a regional black hole for consumption. However well-connected with major highways and public transit, the commercial hub stands alone and disconnected from its surrounding community. Community integration, beautification and an increase in operational efficiency are primary objectives of the initial redevelopment.
This stage is about making the building use energy more efficiently. What defines this time period is static or increased automobile usage. Though prices of oil may continue to increase, cars will continue to be a primary mode of transportation. Regardless, there are incremental steps to begin to be more sustainable and resilient, which are by implementing some of the following initiatives:greenroofs, solar panels, roof top gardens, geothermal heating, bioswales (landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water), rooftop water collection and reuse, waste incineration, collection of energy for use, and by implementing permeable parking lot surfaces.
4.3 STAGE 2: TRANSITION (what we will need to do soon)
As oil prices increase, there will be a need to both reduce reliance and find suitable alternatives to it. One trend that can be expected during this stage, is reduced automobile use. The mall will need to adapt to the reality that alternative forms of transportation will be adopted and that automobile use will decrease. Two issues that need to be addressed are that people may begin to travel less, and there will likely be an abundance of unused parking space. The question during this stage is how to address both of these likely realities. During this stage, we begin redevelop the mall so that it may resemble a complete community (or as we like to call it a “holistic ecosystem”). At the same time though, we advocate for incremental approach. Some initiatives are as follows:
Begin to get rid of some of the lawn and convert it to naturalistic ecosystems;
Add residential to the site as parking becomes less needed;
Bring in edible gardens to support food court;
Tear up parking lots slowly and remediate soil; and,
Diversify the service sector
4.4 STAGE 3: HOLISTIC ECOSYSTEM (what we forsee for the future of the mall)
During this time we expect that oil will be a far too valuable resource for automobile transportation to continue to be the most prevalent form of commute. Thus, the size of communities will need to be scaled down from what they had previously been. In order to adjust to changing realities, during this stage, we envision Yorkdale mall to be a complete and integrated ecosystem. In other words, during this phase, we have applied concepts of production and consumption, energy flows, as well as process and functions of natural ecosystems and applied them to Yorkdale mall. A complete resilient and diverse ecosystem should have internal production and consumption, diversity, and self sufficiency. Consequently, we have chosen to apply the following to Yorkdale mall:
Internal Production and Consumption
Living machines (a method of treating waste water using natural processes)
Add light manufacturing facilities
Local banking systems/micro lending programs
Cradle to cradle production and consumption
Multi-faith/multi-ethnic representation and celebration
Disabled accommodations and adaptations
Different forms of residential ownership (lease, condominium, seniors housing)
24 hour use
Self governance – board of community residents to regulate and discuss internal matters.
This model represents an alternative approach to resilience that is uncommonly used. The following is a list of ways that this model differs from others:
It looks at interactions
It understands the mall as an ecosystem
It uses a think local act local approach (many other initiatives are paternalistic and look at how they can “save the environment”, we move away from such an approach in order to be receptive to changing environmental conditions. In other words, how can we better adapt to environmental conditions)
It uses incrementalism over a large number of years that is related to resource supply
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