When was the last time you saw a mall with every retail space occupied?
I was out and about yesterday, running various errands and picking up some odds and ends I needed, and it hit me -- every place I went, regardless of whether it was a traditional enclosed mall, an aging strip mall, or a relatively new shopping center (the 21st century's return to the strip mall concept), had vacant retail space.
Then I started wondering. . . just when was the last time I saw a shopping center that did not have at least one vacancy?
I don't know about you, but I'm thinking it was maybe the Carter administration for me. The 1970s. For almost as long as I can remember, the business model has been constant expansion, just keep building more and more retail outlets regardless of the size of the potential customer base. End result was that with rare exceptions, every town in the country has a retail zone that keeps shifting. A new mall or shopping center opens; an existing one loses customers and storefronts start going dark.
I happen to think mixed use is a great idea. It makes perfect sense to try to plan development so people can live close to where they work. However, just how viable is this as an economic model? What's the point of building more retail space when there's existing space standing empty? Ditto office space and condos.
There is no answer to my question, of course. Our entire economic way of life is predicated on constant expansion, constant growth. The idea of a healthy stability, a steady state that didn't involve continual new construction and abandonment of the old, is completely alien in modern society. You grow or you die -- there's nothing in between.