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The Guardian  comments on the “Oculus”, the  1.4 billion dollar mall linking New York City’s One World Trade Center, the subway lines and trains. Michael Sorkin, an architecture professor at New York’s City College pinpoints the new trend in these downtown shopping malls which he notes “is virtually indistinguishable from Dubai duty-free. The effect is compromising and imperial – a real estate formula.”

The 100 shops contained in this downtown mall are the same multinational shops you’d see anywhere in the world. But what is curious here is that while malls in suburbia are declining, the urban mall contains a commercial mix that   integrates “so seamlessly into its urban surroundings that it can be difficult to draw any line between city and mall whatsoever. London’s Boxpark, Las Vegas’s Downtown Container Park and Miami’s Brickell City Centre are examples of mall-like environments that try to weave into the street life of a city.”

Using the principles that attract people to downtowns, these urban malls attempt to  offer a physical experience that is different from that of being online.  As one mall  builder noted Customers prefer to be outside and to feel less artificial”.  Landscaping, paving of open spaces and how the space will be used for public space is now taken into account.

There are also cost savings with these urban malls, where  spaces and buildings are exposed to open air and are naturally ventilated, as opposed to heating and cooling the massive big box mall.

Hong Kong has over 300 shopping malls built with subway stations and as part of skyscrapers. Hong Kong’s transit system also develops property so that transit riders can seamlessly move to shopping experiences and to the office. But is this the way forward, with international brands and downtown shopping experiences? And how can independent shop keepers and regional stores compete with the international brands?

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