Old Malls Grow Green

These big malls were constructed during the 70s and the 1980s. The kind that featured a significant anchor or two, numerous, often smaller stores, a multi-plex theater, and a food court? They’re starting to close entirely with increasing frequency.

According to the mall-tracking company Green Street Advisors, a little over two dozen have shut down across the United States since 2010. Robin Lewis, co-author of The New Rules of Retailing, forecasts that 30 percent of the massive retail complexes will shut down within the next few years. How will you take up all the vacant space?

This is Vicky Poole’s vision for the shaky Galleria At Erie View in Cleveland. Poole was the Galleria’s marketing and events director who was a part of her grandfather’s farm as a youngster and thought that the Galleria’s huge domed ceilings, made of glass, were like a greenhouse. Therefore, she suggested that in the space where shoppers used to walk between jewelry, clothing shops, and sporting goods shops, she would plant plants, tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables available to families and restaurants. The garden would attract patrons to the small number of businesses that remain.

Poole was thinking of bringing schools and other groups into the Galleria for a visit to learn about the cultivation of vegetables and sustainability. She coordinated the local restaurant’s fresh food needs and the kind of project it would produce. She found an organic local distributor, mulch, to contribute to the project. A visiting student suggested that the group try growing using Aeroponics systems.

The location was designed to be a functioning farmers market.

Poole collected grant money to help get the project going. She was hoping that volunteers would help with the work of growing. Initial plots, which consisted of two six x 12 feet raised beds, were put in 2010.

In 2012, however, 2012, the “Gardens Under Glass” project was put on the back burner. Poole could not find the right amount of volunteers who were consistently engaged. The money for maintenance was not forthcoming. The mall was rebranded as a community gathering spot. Changed the mall’s role to an area for community gathering that has now become an art gallery, a public sculpture and office space for the Local Bar Association, and even an ESPN broadcast center. Local vendors sell their goods in the halls. The local YMCA has relocated, and the Galleria remains the food court, which is always bustling.

Poole has planned to get the construction LEED-certified in a continuous campaign to encourage sustainable development.

All this is great. It is a good indicator of the intelligent use of commercial areas that the traditional retail stores and shops in malls and urban centers can no longer sustain. But how do you provide fresh, locally grown organic food for these restaurants? Nothing can bring people closer than gardening.

Urban farming, typically on roofs and in greenhouses, has become a flourishing activity in cities. It’s grown so popular that one urban-oriented website lists its “Top Five” urban rooftop gardens. These gardens are typically constructed in commercial ventures like those in Brooklyn. Most often, they’re community initiatives, like this one on the top of the car park in Seattle. They’re usually focused on education, like in this roof garden in Cincinnati. A few provide food to the hungry.

There are companies committed to creating rooftop gardens across the United States. Look at this illustration.

Over the years, increasing amounts of agricultural land were reclaimed by urbanization. Mall construction was an essential element of this. The current trend in agriculture is getting some of that land and bringing new and experienced gardeners together. It’s a trend we could support.

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