Architecture Lab

The Death and Life of Downtown Shopping Districts

After years of neglect, decline, and abandonment, downtowns across the United States are poised to come back—and not just as redoubts for hipsters, artisanal food, indie music, and trendy boutiques, but as major shopping destinations.
The Death and Life of Downtown Shopping Districts


The past decade has seen a shift to downtown living. For the first time in 20 years, the annual rate of growth in American cities and their immediate surroundings has surpassed that of exurbs, according to projections from the U.S. Census released in July 2011. This is not just the case in cities of talent and advantages, like New York, San Francisco, and Boston, but in older industrial cities like Cleveland and Detroit.

Downtowns have become veritable “entertainment machines,” in University of Chicago sociologist Terry Clark’s words, with an influx of restaurants, bars, cafes, clubs, and other venues catering to urban dwellers and suburbanites seeking something new and different.

But when it comes to shopping, most of the big department stores and luxury stores have remained in the malls. That is until now.
It’s amazing really how fast the shift from downtown shopping districts to suburban malls happened. Though people had been moving out to the suburbs since the 1950s and earlier, high-end shopping was something that required a trip back into the city until the early 1970s…

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