Rethinking & Rebranding Malls

Reflections by a former mall cop and current author….

I live 1 block from the mall. Sirens wale and cop cars zoom to the mall, especially on Friday and Saturday nights responding to fights and roving crowds of loud, beligerent youths. I certainly don’t miss those mall cop days. Since I’m also a retired city planner and economic developer who is currently working in the mental health field, I suggest the following big-picture, long term strategy for systemic change and an entirely different dynamic:

Maybe it’s time for my mall (and malls in general) to transition away from the term “mall” and move to the term/concept “campus”:

Education scene vector illustration. Cartoon young happy student characters sitting on summer park green grass together, girl boy teens studying near university or college building facade background


  • Mixed use sites including residential, commercial/retail, entertainment and education create a natural synergy. Residents in proximity to retailers are likely to be shoppers. Workers on-site will frequent restaruants for lunch and dinner. Entertainment venues will generate repeat visitors. Educational and enriching events might offer inspiration to youths as a replacement for rumbling. Such events could include (but not be limited to), book launches (selfishly suggesting my Mall Child novel), poetry slams, debates, cooking demonstrations, and all sorts of DIY events. Imaging that, a trip to the mall where you learned something, got inspired and did not get into a fight. Last, but not least, let’s consider establishing “Maker Spaces” at malls where entrepreneurs can experiment with “making/inventing” stuff. Let’s re-create the Yankee Ingenuity that New England is famous for.
  • Transit oriented development emphasizing mass transit and pedestrian orientations encourage a “village atmosphere” which includes mixes of generations, cultures, services and goods. Maybe we could get back to the New England tradition of the “town square”. Maybe even go further back to the European and Middle Eastern notion of “market place” or “bazaar” rather than the bizarreness of a sterile, hostile cavern of shallowness in the midst of isolating suburban sprawl.
  • Once malls transition to mixed use spaces occupied by persons who have a legitimate reason for being there (rather than hanging out and causing trouble), they become livable spaces enticing visitors. If the ratio of purposeful patrons far exceeds the proportion of mischeiveous patrons, the overall atmosphere and appeal of the site imporves.

The word “mall” has developed such a negative connotation that maybe “campus” is preferable. It harks back to college memories of a self-contained, identifiable area that includes sports/athletics, education, entertainment, residential areas and of course “retail” albiet on a smaller footprint since, after all, the site is still a “mall”.

Last but not least, college campuses engender a sense of pride and belonging (i.e., school spirit, mascots, alumni, etc.) so maybe if “malls” could transition to “community campuses” we might vere off the “mall decline path” that paralles the “downtown decline path” which ironically declined thanks the the malls.

As for some more specific proposals and logistical procedures, I highlight the following:

  • Maintain a police sub-station since the cops need an on-site place for paperwork, processing, meeting and temporarily holding persons subsequent to incidents/investigations.
  • Adjacent to the police sub-station, add what I call a “Recovery Room” staffed by counselors/therapists who can immediately provide counselling and redirecting to the disruptors (the belicose, disorderly, fighthing individuals). This room should be equiped with a large screen video feed which documents the incident (the fight, the disruptions, the rage, the arguments) so persns of all ages and juvenilles (with their parents/guardians present) could review what actually happened and how this behavior could be avoided going forward. To accomplish this level of video documention of incidents, I recommend a level of camera surveillance that mirrors that of the casinos. This level of camera documentation would leave no question as to “who did what to whom and what precipitated the incident”. The mall can still require the parties involved in disruptive behaviors be banned from the mall. The camera system would augment this policy. Likewise, charges can still be levied depending upon the severity of the infraction, the desire of aggrieved parties to press charges or the mall management should they also opt to press charges. Lastly, the option to apply criminal charges could be applied if the combatants (guardians/parents in the case of juvenilles) opted out of receiving the counselling and theraputic intervention offered in the wake of incidents. For a relatively minor infraction this “on-the-spot” theraputic intervention could be a “one-and-done” event. For more severe infractions (and following the recommendation of the police), a series of such theraputic interventions could be required. If the adult combatants or the parents/guardians of the juveniles reject the offer for theraputic interventions, they could always be required to go the traditional court/criminal justice route. In sum, this proposal offers a restorative justice scenario that might actually get to the root of anti- social issues rather that the traditional method of clogging up the courts. Getting to root causes is important is light of increasing gun violence and the cycle of retribution. The video documentation format would counter the claim by combatants that “it wasn’t me” or “he started it”. Making the combatant wait till the parent/guardian arrives and requiring everyone to view these videos while receiving counselling and guidance might be more effective than just requiring a Promise To Appear (PTA) at some future court date. The goal here is to get to the source of the destructive, anti-social behavior and immediately apply a sense of restorative justice and closure. This proposal is not just for unruly youths. In my years of working as a mall cop, I lost track of the number of shoplifting incidents and patron-merchant disputes that escalated to verbal threats and in some cases physical outbursts. What I have observed over 15 years is an escalation of rage (in the parking lot, in the store) with more and more persons living in an emotional hair-trigger mode. My proposal for the “Recovery Room” is to deploy the use of camera technology and professional mediators to “decellerate toddler outbursts” and address root causes to achieve lasting change. Many a time, I recall commenting to a youngster that if they continue on their angry path, they will not be successful or happy in life. Maybe my proposal could formalize this chat and actually bring the message home to them.
  • If this process consistently reinforces the notion that continued bad-behavior will result in criminal charges and banning from the site, those persons who are hell bent on raising hell at the mall will avoid future visits to the mall.
  • Design this “Recovery Room” to be a professional, inviting space with the technical video capabilities that will enable participants to review the circumstances that let them to this room This should be designed and staffed so participants (both juvenilles and parents/guardians) receive the counselling and guidance they need to understand why they act the way they do and what are some coping strategies to avert this negative behavior in the future. If done properly, this room, procedure and the strategy of tough-love should accomplish more lasting results that the traditional “catch em, charge em, release em”. The “Recovery Room” should not feel like a cinderblock cell from the Soviet Union era.
  • Maybe adjacent to the Recovery Room there could be the “Rage Room”. This could be a place where pent up anxieties could be released on items such as heavy boxing bags and other apparatus enabling persons to “blow off steam”. As someone who punches a heavy boxing bag to reduce stress, I vouch for the effectiveness of this. Rage Rooms are even gaining some traction as a commercial venture just as “Escape Rooms” have cropped up on the commercial market. Maybe there’s even some money to be made here among all sorts of patrons since after all the “mall” is still a retail space marketing.

So that’s my long-winded observation and proposal. I’d love your feedback and brainstorming on this topic. Some of these “outside-the-box” ideas have also been baked into my novel Mall Child so check it out on Amazon if you are interested.

Published by dunnwriteswell

Boomer who is late bloomer to writing. Healthy addictions include Book TV and exercise. Track all things historic, political, cultural, economic and social. Mixture of tough-love. Minimalist who is fiscally conservative and socially progressive. Realist not afraid to see the glass as half empty. However, still willing to consider outside-the-box, long term solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Old enough to appreciate the greater arc of history while remaining young at heart.

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