A Mall and a Dream

This is a story that sparks the imagination, one that dares you to dream big.  This is the story of a remarkable student and a revolutionary idea to completely transform Shoppingtown Mall. 

In the spring of 2016, our friends at the SUNY ESF Landscape Architecture Department took an interest in the Elevating Erie project.  They assigned various design teams with the monumental task of providing solutions to the many design challenges along the historic Erie Canal corridor in DeWitt and Syracuse. 

A number of LA students made this project their own and took their design concepts to the next level.  One of these highly passionate students was Kaitlin Campbell. 

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Figure 1: Kaitlin Campbell, Senior Architecture Student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Figure 1: Kaitlin Campbell, Senior Architecture Student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Kaitlin Campbell Biography

Kaitlin Campbell is currently a fourth year Bachelor of Landscape Architecture student at SUNY ESF.  At the moment, she resides in Latham, New York.  Kaitlin became interested in landscape architecture because it let her creative mind mesh with her love for the outdoors; spurred from summers spent at camp on Lake George. Kaitlin participated in the Erie Boulevard revitalization project assigned during the spring semester third year studio.  She took a keen interest in the Shoppingtown area, and quickly became engrossed in the project, which has inspired her to pursue a future career in planning.

 

Why Shoppingtown?

Why did Kaitlin choose to focus mainly on Shoppingtown Mall?  When she looked at Shoppingtown, she saw what was once a vibrant 988,000 square foot regional mall packed with bustling businesses and heavy foot traffic, now in an extreme state of decline.  Sadly, this decline started 10 years ago and has continuously eroded the mall’s vitality, with many businesses fleeing to locations just down the street.  Only two major businesses now anchor the Shoppingtown to the community and keep the mall alive; Sears and Regal Cinemas.

Shoppingtown first opened in March of 1959 as the region's largest outdoor strip shopping center.  Years later, the strip mall was expanded and redeveloped into the single structure that we see today.  It enjoyed great success in its early years, bringing customers from all over the region, and providing a home to dozens of businesses, both large and small.  Shoppingtown Mall is now a shadow of its formal self, a ghost town filled with the eerie silence of dark store fronts and a few wandering customers.  Its deserted parking lots form a bleak ocean of grey and black asphalt as far as the eye can see.  The mall is an island unto itself with little to no connection to the community that it is supposed to serve.  However, instead of seeing a future of vacant lots and condemned structures, Kaitlin saw a wonderful opportunity waiting to emerge.

While the mall may consist of nearly abandoned and outdated structures, this does not change the fact that it remains a highly valuable central location, one which grants it a unique advantage going forward.    

Proposed Concept

Kaitlin’s design proposal is nothing short of transformational.  She envisions a mixed-use community, accommodating residential, commercial, office, and recreational spaces that would convert Shoppingtown into a town center for DeWitt.  The proposal strategically places buildings along a central street where pedestrians are given priority. Parking spaces are located behind the buildings.  See figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Kaitlin Campbell’s Proposed Master Plan for Shoppingtown Mall & the Bordering Section of Erie Boulevard

Figure 2: Kaitlin Campbell’s Proposed Master Plan for Shoppingtown Mall & the Bordering Section of Erie Boulevard

Furthermore, the design makes use of beautiful and carefully designed outdoor spaces for users and residents.  These spaces not only provide enjoyable landscapes, but easy access to public transportation as well. The boulevard style from Erie Boulevard would also be continued into the proposed town center site, a style which includes median swales with natural landscapes for enhanced stormwater management.

This concept proposes widening the Erie Boulevard median, and decreasing the number of lanes from three to two in each direction in order to slow traffic. Sidewalks would be widened on the boulevard to give priority back to the pedestrian. In addition, this design features dedicated bicycle lanes along the boulevard to ensure bike safety and an uninterrupted connection for bike traffic to and from the canalway path.  See figure 3 below.  All in all, what Kaitlin is proposing is not a new mall, but what is known as a Lifestyle Center.

Figure 3: Kaitlin Campbell's Proposed Street Configuration for Erie Boulevard & the Shoppingtown Area

Figure 3: Kaitlin Campbell's Proposed Street Configuration for Erie Boulevard & the Shoppingtown Area

Hello Lifestyle Center!

All in all, what Kaitlin is proposing is not a new mall, but what is known as a Lifestyle Center.  Good-bye indoor shopping mall!  The lifestyle center is a new design concept that has gained momentum across the U.S.  They draw their inspiration from the traditional concept of the ‘American Main Street’ where stores were not separated from the community, but were directly woven into the fabric of the neighborhood itself.  People could do their shopping, and then walk a few feet back to their homes, or stop at a café to enjoy a coffee while they watched their kids play in the park.  See figure 4 below.

Figure 4:  Kaitlin Campbell's Proposal Street View 1

Figure 4:  Kaitlin Campbell's Proposal Street View 1

The lifestyle center aims to recapture this sense of community, creating a new kind of retail space in which people are provided with the best of what private and public services have to offer.  See figure 5 below. 

Figure 5: Kaitlin Campbell's Proposal Street View 2

Figure 5: Kaitlin Campbell's Proposal Street View 2

Implications

Kaitlin’s design is important to us at Elevating Erie for two main reasons.  First, it takes what is currently a dying commercial area and gives it new life, thus creating a new source of pride for the community. 

Secondly, it would shift the focus away from cars toward pedestrians, bicycles, and other forms of transit.  This is revolutionary for Central New York where the car still reigns supreme, dominating both our neighborhoods and road systems.  Kaitlin's design combines aspects of old and modern design that can be applied to not only Shoppingtown Mall, but the rest of the region as well.  It would set a powerful precedent going forward for multi-modal and mixed-use roads and districts.  Let’s make it happen!