Main Street, Shopping Mall and Power Centre: Retail Assemblage and Resilient Urbanity

By Fujie Rao

This research is curious about the future of urban retail development. It focuses on the synergies between three significant retail types: main street, shopping mall and power centre, and is eager to investigate how these synergies could contribute to a strong public urban life in a resilient way.

Emerging in the pre-automobile era, main street is a public traffic route lined by a mix of stores. Arriving at the city in the 1950s, shopping mall is an enclosed shopping area which embodies a dumbbell diagram and is surrounded by ample parking. Rising up in the market during the 1980s, power centre incorporates a central parking ground surrounded by various big box stores. The rapid proliferation of shopping mall and power centre has led to critical losses of the public urban life (Crawford, 1992; Dovey, 2016; Sennett, 1996, 2007; Sorkin, 1992; Zukin et al., 2016) and an accelerating boom-&-bust cycle in retail development (Christensen, 2008; Hahn, 2000; Hallsworth et al., 1995; Lowry, 1997; Mitchell, 2006).

The identity of a place emerges from differences, rather than being rooted in a fixed location, social status, or time

These retail types are noticed to form new synergies in two approaches: convergence and co-functioning. Convergence refers to the case that one retail type learns from the other and becomes significantly similar to it (Ford, 2003; Storper and Manville, 2006; Thrift, 2011). Co-functioning refers to the synergy in which each retail type adds to the other but remains identifiably different (Kärrholm et al., 2014; Ozuduru et al., 2014; Teller et al., 2016). Although these synergies have created a myriad of new retail morphologies, they are not well explored by the existing literature.

This research aims to examine the ways in which the morphologies of main street, shopping mall, and power centre converge or co-function into new retail synergies, the morphologies of these retail synergies, and their resilience in terms of fostering a strong public urban life and vibrant economic productivity simultaneously. Deleuzian assemblage philosophy and the theories of ‘emergence’ & ‘place’ are used as the epistemological basis of this research. A retail type is regarded as a retail assemblage; a synergy between different retail types is the retail assemblage emerging from them.

Qualitative case study is adopted as the primary strategy of inquiry. Various sources of data will be used, including archived material, observation, photo survey & video recording, and semi-structured interview. Morphological mapping will be employed as the core data analysis approach. This project will mainly produce diagrammatic knowledge in relation to how the morphologies of main street, shopping mall, and power centre are interconnected as a synergy. It may also identify some clues of how future urban retail development could cultivate a more sustainable and resilient urban form.