Shopping mall is inevitably the main focal point in many Malaysia city and shopping has become the Malaysian favorite pastime during weekends. Moreover, series of mega sales and discount events have encouraged the act of consumption, turning the shopping center become one of vital element in our lifestyle.
The role of shopping center is gradually replacing existing public space in many modern Asian cities where the people do not have public parks or squares to hangout. Instead, a weekend family affair may just spend in the movie theatre or restaurants inside shopping mall. Therefore, shopping center is evolving into a new force whose impact should not be neglected.
Nowadays, a new kind of shopping center known as the “lifestyle center” began emerging in Malaysia. According to International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the lifestyle center features an open-air architecture, typically high-end retailers, may or may not include anchor stores, and has a large concentration of dining and entertainment facilities. The properties are usually well landscaped and offer outdoor artwork, music, and trams or trolleys for on-site transportation. It is intended to support a “shopping as entertainment” mindset and has become highly popular in affluent communities. We can see the emerge of lifestyle malls in Greater Kuala Lumpur especially suburban Kuala Lumpur such as 1Mont Kiara, The Curve, Jaya One, Wangsa Walk, Sunway Giza, Alamanda Putrajaya and the list goes on.
Originated in US, lifestyle center combining the traditional retail functions of a shopping mall with leisure amenities in a town square or main street setting have become common in affluent suburban areas and are now one of the most popular retail formats in US. However, in Malaysia, the professionals are keener to recognize it as “Lifestyle Mall” since most of them are indoor setting but incorporated with outdoor walking mall. Thus, hereinafter, I will use the term ‘lifestyle mall’ in describing the Malaysia context.
2.0 Problem Statement
The emergence of lifestyle malls poses interesting question for urbanism in Malaysia. Cities in the Malaysia especially Greater Kuala Lumpur are characterized by sprawling suburban, which a pattern of development being criticized by several theorists. According to Jane Jacobs in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she arguing that modernist planning policies that promoted highway construction has been destroyed many existing inner-city communities (Jacobs, 1961). After that, others writers such as Joel Garreau, Dolores Hayden and Robert Bruegmann agreed that suburban sprawl occurred to the destructive of urban life in America (Garreau, 1991; Hayeden & Wark, 2004; Bruegmann, 2006).
Furthermore, most of the critics on the rapid suburbanization that occurred in America as well as Malaysia, is the changing of urban and social fabric in several ways, both physically and socially. According to Harriet Tregoning, he states that cars have become necessary to working, shopping and living in suburban cities. The growing dependence on automobiles necessitated by low density, sprawling land use has important implications. People living in more sprawling regions tend to drive greater distance, own more cars, breathe more polluted air, face a greater risk of traffic fatalities and walk and use transit less.
One of the most common arguments is that suburban development isolated residential areas from the commercial areas and working places that served them, thus creating sprawling, inharmonious mix of single family houses, shopping centers and office parks across the suburban landscape (Duanny, 2000; Kunstler, 1993). Many of the physical and social elements that constituted the spirit of the city – civic art, civic life as well as public realm were lost in the process of spatial segregation (Garreau, 1991; Duanny, 2000; Hayeden & Wark, 2004; Bruegmann, 2006). Suburbanization tends to isolate large groups of society preventing the contact between diverse members of the population that is common in more traditional urban settings. According to Fellmann et all, the upwardly mobile resident of the city-younger, wealthier and better educated- took advantage of the automobile and highway to leave the central city. The poorer and older people were left behind. The central cities and suburbs became increasingly differentiated. Krueger and Gibbs stated that “Suburbanization produces enormous obstacles to the creation of a sense of identity with the neighborhood of residence, since the links generated are minimal and the lack of social ties makes the construction of a sense of belonging to a place very difficult” (Krueger & Gibbs, 2007). Duany writes “It is difficult to identify a segment of the population that does not suffer in some way from the lifestyle imposed by contemporary suburban development” (Duany, 2000). From a social perspective, most critics argue that in suburbia, the private realm is privileged over that of the public. Thus, without adequate public space, there is a severe shortage of venues where social interaction can take place because “sharing the public realm, people have their opportunity to interact, and thus come to realize that they have little reason to fear each other.” (Duany, 2000)
The evolution of shopping center development in Kuala Lumpur began with the opening of the first purpose built supermarkets and emporiums such as Weld Supermarket, Yuyi Emporium and so on. The first shopping complex, Ampang Park arrived in 1973, followed by Campbell Complex, Wisma Stephen, Wisma Central, Sun Complex, Pertama Complex, Wisma MPI and Angkasaraya. These shopping complexes are essentially retail developments located within a podium block of a shopping cum office development. Anchor tenants are nonexistent and the complexes have poor amenities and parking facilities. The retail outlets are generally small and the layout design is poor with little pedestrian circulation and inefficient use of space.
Pertama Complex in Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman is among the first generation shopping complexes in Kuala Lumpur.
The second generation of 80’s shopping complexes were purpose built shopping complexes such as Sungai Wang Plaza (1978), Bukit Bintang Plaza (1979), Kota Raya (1982), Yow Chuan Plaza (1983), Imbi Plaza (1985), KL Plaza (1985), The Mall (1987), The Weld (1988) and Pudu Plaza (1989). These complexes enjoy good accessibility as they are located on main roads or at busy junctions of arterial or main roads. Ample parking lots are provided and easy entrance and exit points are strategically located for the convenience of shoppers who travel by car.
Sg Wang Plaza, one of the popular shopping centers situated in Bukit Bintang shopping district of Kuala Lumpur.
The shopping complexes have much better design and the adoption of a balanced tenant mix has taken stage in the overall planning, leasing and design of the complexes. The size, distribution and layout of the retail lots are also carefully planned and designed. Anchor tenants such as Metrojaya, AEON Jusco, Isetan, Parkson are used as magnets and are purposely located to facilitate the flow of shoppers in the complexes.
With rapid economic growth and urbanization in the Klang Valley, a wide range of social and economic factors have combined to influence the trends in shopping center development. The third generation of shopping centers, from the 1990s to the present, has seen the birth of new giants, with the size determine the winner of competition. Mega sized centers with vast retail space, often spanning more than two million square feet and with multiple anchor tenants, multiple mini anchors and a host of shop lots. Huge car parks accommodating more than 3000 vehicles are common, with a network of internal roads and access to main roads and highways.
These mega shopping centers are usually located in the suburbs and they include Sunway Pyramid, Mid Valley Megamall, One Utama Shopping Center, and Tropicana City Mall and so on. Perhaps being huge assures success. All the mega sized shopping centers have their individual niche markets and are thriving even facing competition with each others. For example, Sunway Pyramid integrated with its own planned resort – Sunway Lagoon. Without exception, all shopping centers must have good or exceptional merchandise mix and strong retail attractions in order to succeed in the face of stiff competition.
Mid Valley Megamall, the Malaysia’s largest suburban shopping center with 3 anchor tenants located in Bangsar.
The trend is moving towards hypermarkets, which may be supplanting some of the old “pop and mom’ style grocery business. Hypermarkets are typically huge stand alone supermarket and department store type retail outlets. Carrefour, Tesco, Giant are mushrooming over the suburban cities throughout Peninsular Malaysia. For example, Giant, the largest retailer in Malaysia are currently operates 107 stores nationwide and there are more stores opening soon. On the other hand, Tesco has operates 36 stores throughout Peninsular Malaysia to date.
Giant Hypermarket, the largest retailer in Malaysia is operating more than 100 stores throughout Malaysia.
The major factors which have contributed towards the emergence of suburban shopping centers and hypermarkets are due to the suburbanization of residential development. With limited land available for residential development in the city, housing has spread to the surrounding land at the city fringes with vast space of available lands. With provision of road infrastructure, the young, mobile, rich and middle class families who demand for bigger homes and more luxurious features and better quality of living have migrated to the suburbs. Many of these residential developments have taken the form of new townships and self contained neighborhoods such as Subang Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Damansara and the list goes on. Retail followed as families continued to move from central cities to the suburbs.
Besides, the increases of female employments also lead to the emergence of suburban shopping center and hypermarkets. More females are entering the workforce which will directly affect the retailing pattern. It is because the addition of household incomes has increased the purchasing power. Moreover, women engaged in full time employment have less time for shopping. Thus, it results the increase of bulk buying and reduction in frequency of shopping trips. However, the shopping has turned into a family affair. Thus, it is essential to provide all in one shopping activities including shopping, food, entertainment and leisure with more emphasize on convenience, comfort and family oriented attractions and entertainment.
While suburban malls only served the retail needs of suburban residents, critics began to argue that they eliminated any chance communities have for possessing physical continuity on the urban fabric since they usually located along the main route (Torino, 2005). Developers of suburban malls tend to overlook the role of shopping center as a forum of public gathering and social interaction. However, the suburban malls are not public spaces at all; they are designed for single purpose: consumption.
Victor Gruen, the architect of the first modern suburban shopping mall in United States, recognized the breakdown of traditional community bonds are driven by uncontrollable suburban sprawl. Thus, Gruen envisioned the suburban mall to serve as the new town center which is dense, mixed use environments that could take place of traditional main streets and town squares. Gruen realized that the process of suburbanization was weakening the social bonds in a society that was fostered mainly in close knit rural communities and dense urban settlements. (Torino, 2005)
Gruen’s idea was to make shopping malls more pedestrian friendly, which he achieved by putting the entire development under one roof, with stores on two levels connected by escalators and fed by two-tiered parking. In the middle of the mall was a “town square”, which featured a garden court under a skylight, a fishpond, enormous sculpted trees, a twenty-one-foot cage filled with exotic birds, balconies with hanging plants, and a café (Gladwell, 2004). However, Gruen’s vision of shopping mall failed to function as town centers due to several reasons. In contrast to traditional town centers, which were “extroverted,” meaning that store windows and entrances faced both the parking areas and the interior pedestrian walkways, indoor malls were introverted: the exterior walls presented a blank façade, and all of the activity was focused inward (Gladwell, 2004). According to Michael Sorkin, the design of shopping malls tends to reinforce the domestic values and physical order of suburbia, rather than rectify it. In his book Variations on a Theme Park, Sorkin states, “Like the suburban house that rejects the sociability of front porches and sidewalks for private back yards, malls look inward, turning their backs on the public street” (Sorkin, 1992). Since most malls are located in the middle of vast parking lots set well off the street, what Sorkin refers to as “pedestrian islands in an asphalt sea”, their physical setting represents yet another crack in the already fragmented suburban landscape (Sorkin, 1992).
Another reason why malls have failed to function as the traditional town centers that Gruen envisioned is that they are, by and large, built for a single purpose – retail. According to Kevin Mattson, “Whereas in cities, towns, and villages, public space invites mixed usage and contains churches, schools, courts, theaters, civic buildings and stores, malls are exclusively commercial. Access and architecture together conspire to make buying and selling the only thinkable activities” (Mattson, 2009). Mattson argues that since malls are the only public spaces left in many parts of the country, they must become more like real towns with a mixture of uses: “If commerce is not to become the sole activity we engage in when we are in public, malls must offer alternative activities – civic, cultural, athletic, political, and recreational – that define us as citizens as well as consumers” (Mattson, 2009).
Many urban scholars have pointed to the obvious fact that shopping malls are not true public spaces, but privatized ones where management ultimately reserves the right to limit access. In his book The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space, Don Mitchell touches on the idea that malls are exclusive places, where certain groups and behaviors are not welcome (rowdy teenagers, the homeless, and political demonstrations, for example). Mitchell also comments that malls are heavily patrolled by private security forces and are subject to constant surveillance (Mitchell, 2003).
Malcolm Voyce has noted that malls do not coincide with the need for an open and democratic public space and that their private nature limits and controls diversity (Voyce, 2006). Private ownership and restricted access, therefore, undermine the shopping mall’s ability to function as a true, democratic public space.
The recent trends mark the emergence of lifestyle malls mushrooming at the suburban Klang Valley. To be named a few: The Curve, the pioneer lifestyle mall in Malaysia; Sunway Pyramid, Jaya One, Wangsa Walk, Alamanda Putrajaya, Axis Atrium, Sunway Giza which are operating; SSTwo Mall, 1Mont Kiara, Subang Avenue, Citta, Setia Walk, Setia Avenue and the list goes on which are on construction to join the “lifestyle demand”. Therefore, it is not strange that Business Week Magazine has referred the lifestyle malls as the “Shopping Center of the 21st Century”.
The above lifestyle malls share several commons. Design ambience reflecting a main street motif is great emphasized. The developers often cite a large emphasis on food and entertainment, elements that further contribute to the atmosphere of the project. Parking is also a major concern where it is usually arranged in structures or placed underground (Malmuth, 2005). Moreover, the inclusion of mixed uses also can be found in the quality of lifestyle malls. The inclusion of non retail uses is what sets apart lifestyle malls from other retail developments, to the extent that certain developer, such as Sime UEP Brunsfield, will claim that the word “lifestyle” is meaningless if residential component is not incorporated.
The rise of lifestyle mall also raises other important questions, particularly about how and whether the shopping centers also function as public spaces. Perhaps the most important factor leading to the emergence of lifestyle malls, however, and the focus of this thesis, is the recognition of the increasing importance of shopping centers as public spaces in suburban life. Outside of urban centers, suburbia offers very few public gathering places. Therefore, strolling through suburban malls has become the favorite pastime during weekends. It is however important to realize that the main concern of shopping center is still concern about commercial activities. While the fact is, people do not only shop in a mall, they do hangout and socialize in the same time. Besides, there are also critics on the suburban shopping malls that reinforce unsustainable suburban sprawl. Some argue that lifestyle centers represent part of an effort to reduce the effects of suburban sprawl, through the reintroduction of traditional mixed use setting. Other argues that they are only tools to earn since they are privately owned, carefully controlled. Therefore, do lifestyle malls truly represent better forms of public space than conventional malls? Developers of lifestyle malls seem to have realized that improved retail design can act as a forum for social activity as well as a source of increased revenue (Torino, 2005). If so, are they alternatives to malls as models for public space in suburban? Do lifestyle malls represent a new typology of quasi public space? And how “public” are those lifestyle malls?