A research collaboration with Gladki Planning Associates and the City of Mississauga was established in developing strategic recommendations on the future of suburban malls in the area. The study aims at providing policy direction for these shopping malls and their surrounding areas to ensure that any future development is done in a way that will contribute towards healthy “complete communities".
The implications of the ongoing evolution of the retail market extends far beyond the commercial sector, impacting quality of life, neighbourhood affordability, and community ties. The following STEEPV trends (social, technological, economic, environmental, political and values) were collected as they all have the potential to impact the evolution of suburban shopping malls as they move towards contributing to complete communities.
The first theme revolved around trends that spoke to how society was changing in regards to demographics and how this might affect the future of malls. Who the mall serves in the future will greatly affect how they are to be designed and operated. Changing demographic trends point to increased diversity emerging in Canadian suburbs like Mississauga.
The second theme revolves around the changing policies and behaviours with respect to retail service delivery trends, and how this might affect the future of malls. Changing market and development trends point towards the mall moving away from strictly meeting retail demand and into services that meet a wider range of consumer needs.
The two main identified critical uncertainties above were used to create a 2x2 matrix to frame the development of four future scenarios that explore the overarching research question of “how might the role of malls contribute towards complete communities in the future?”. The critical uncertainties are explored as tensions that exist between two extremes at opposite ends of a spectrum.
Scenario A "Members Only"
In this future, malls contribute towards complete community by providing essential needs services that are mandated by policies to exist in all malls and that are to be equally distributed between cultural communities within each mall. These regulations “formalize” equality in a way that can be seen as “forced inclusivity”, and that is not necessarily reflective of shifting demographics around the mall, which can sometimes lead to wasted resources. Access to services are policed and monitored based on mall patrons’ engagement with their communities, which pressures patrons to maintain sometimes inauthentic relationships with specific cultures, and leads to program abuse by patrons who claim to be part of many communities.
Scenario B "Cultural Turfs"
In this future, malls contribute towards complete community by providing a free open marketplace for authentic cultural expression, to the extent that communities compete with each other for cultural dominance over the marketplace. Community leaders emerge as advocates of their culture for mall resources, leading to clear cultural hierarchy and exclusion from public spaces based on cultural identification. Dominant community bubbles emerge as there is no need to interact with other communities.
Scenario C "One Mall for All"
In this future, malls contribute towards complete community by providing space and essential needs services that support the fulfillment of civic needs. Mall patrons are identified by their city and nation, and the mall itself is a place to celebrate all things Mississagian and Canadian. The mall provides citizens with resources, such as utilitarian public services and neutral facilities like professional offices and recreation centres, as well as programming to celebrate broad civic cultural events, enabling patrons to better connect with Canadian culture. In this sense, the mall aims at providing for the common needs of the wider community it is part of. It excels at providing for the common basic needs of larger demographic groups that include families, seniors, and youth, but faces challenges in providing for the specialized needs of newcomers and ethnic groups.
Scenario D "Marketplace of Cultures"
In this future, malls contribute towards complete community by providing a free open marketplace for novel experiences of remixed cultures. Cultural appropriation is the norm, and is widely accepted as the practice of cultural remixing is necessary to constantly create new cultural experiences for profit. This leads to the complete erosion of authentic traditional cultures. Mall programming is developed to appease to trends set by “tastemakers” that shape the demands of mall patrons, and performance of services is measured by the financial value that is created in meeting popular community demand.