As an organizing principal for the regional shopping center, the ring road morphology presents an elegant and efficient method for distributing parking and traffic evenly over a variety of site configurations. The ring road model represents roughly 70 percent of all traditional shopping malls. As in the case of Phipps Plaza in Atlanta or Old Orchard in Skokie, Illinois this vehicular circulation is both internal to the site and incorporates municipal streets to complete the circumference of the road network. Many exceptional sites such as Oakbrook Center in suburban Chicago and at Short Pump Town Center near Richmond, Virginia, provide completely contained circulation within the boundaries of the property. The former condition relies on integration into an existing city while the latter holds the allure of control over the development surrounding the center.
Throughout the western world, the Main Street, Market Street, Rue Principale, Front Street, King Street, Queen Street or High Street occupies a vertically integrated mixed-use solution to both retail concentration and a feedback loop of commerce and consumption. As the primacy of national retailers has dimmed in the enclosed mall, the proliferation of local purveyors of bespoke goods on thriving commercial corridors may provide inspiration for ring road redevelopment. Transforming an existing vehicular transportation network into a pedestrian and multi-modal commercial street might provide an alternative experience to the existing mall. By creating a more authentic retail street experience with a mix of uses surrounding and protecting the enclosed center for future development, the borders of the mall proper can begin to blur with the High Street.
As a historical analogy, the Ringstrasse in Vienna, Austria provides the most poignant example of a protective wall being converted over a relatively short period of time. From the 1860s to the 1890s a series of municipal buildings, commercial landmarks and institutions occupied the site of the city’s former fortified walls. A distinctive architectural eclecticism adds to the heightened sense of place unique to the time and place. Instead of the mall property being in isolation as an island in a sea of parking, a mixed-use buffer might be the answer for many ring road malls. Rather than imposing an urban grid or demolishing the retail asset, a move toward meaningful density along existing infrastructure can be an innovative new morphology in this time of rapid and constant change.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to the future of the mall's redevelopment. With smart planning that considers typologies that make retail a destination and solutions that take into account existing layouts, pedestrian and other related traffic and demographics, the future holds many exciting possibilities. Despite the changing face of retail, consumers still seek that interaction and what Gruen dreamed up many years ago: a community-oriented center where all can thrive.