Pedestrian Malls and their Future

By Dr Dirk A Prinsloo
Urban Studies

The Randburg pedestrian mall was the first of its kind to be built approximately 30 years ago. At that stage pedestrian malls became a very popular trend to influence retail development. The focus was especially on creating a pedestrian walkway, linking retail facilities along street level and to create an attractive environment with plants and trees. Subsequent to the first pedestrian mall in Randburg a number of different formats of pedestrian malls were established throughout South Africa. The success of these pedestrian malls varies from very good to very poor in terms of attracting people, linking retail facilities and creating large volumes of pedestrians going through a particular mall.

Most pedestrian malls link retail facilities in the old established CBDs of cities of various sizes. The most successful malls are linked to important anchor areas or tenants forcing people through the mall. In this regard Church Street in Pretoria is a very good example of the cross flow of traffic through the entire mall. The majority successful malls are within the major CBDs of our metropolitan areas with very large pedestrian volumes going through the mall per day. The less successful malls are those in the smaller CBDs with lower pedestrian volumes and fewer strong anchor tenants.

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Negative aspects regarding underperforming malls are the following:

  • no major attraction at the ends of the mall;
  • no major drawcard to the area;
  • the problem of maintenance and the upkeep of malls;
  • cleanliness in especially high pedestrian malls can become a major problem;
  • the lack of quality retail facilities along the length of the mall;
  • vacancies occur in poorer, unsafe locations along the malls;
  • the lack in commitment of property owners along the length of these malls, resulting in the deterioration of the areas;
  • safety and security in these malls can also be very negative, creating a negative image of the area;
  • many of the malls have large trees and other vegetation obstructing the views required by retailers regarding their signage, shop fronts and window displays;
  • some malls also have fast moving vehicle traffic across of through these pedestrian malls, making it dangerous for pedestrians;
  • some malls cover a number of street blocks which have an adverse effect on the flow of pedestrians through the mall
  • climatic conditions can also have a negative impact on pedestrian volumes and flows.

Most of these malls are getting older and are in a desperate need of an upgrade or a revamp. The last mall that was built in South Africa is the Church Street mall in Pretoria that opened approximately 6 – 8 years ago. Development of shopping centres throughout our metros, cities and towns has seen tremendous increase in the supply of retail space as part of a shopping centre. (See Graph 1) Since 1985 there has been acceleration in the construction of enclose malls and during that period pedestrian malls have become under threat from the enclosed malls.

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 The outstanding aspects offered by the large shopping centres are the following:

  • one-stop shopping – according to research conducted by Urban Studies the most critical aspect shoppers prefer and like is the one-stop destination created by large regional malls;
  • a safe environment – shopping centres will remain the target for robberies, but generally speaking the enclosed mall offers a safe environment. Shoppers move through the centre without looking over their shoulders;
  • easy movement from one area to the next – some centres are becoming so large and shoppers complain about long walking distances and also that they get lost in these large centres.
  • climate conditions – all these centres are protected from climatic conditions e.g. rain, heat and wind;
  • comparative shopping – these large centres offer comparative shopping and offer a concentration of specific retail categories in certain precincts in the centre. In most of the pedestrian malls this is not possible and long walking distances have been created along street front.

There is always reference to one of the most important key success factors of any retail outlet and development, namely location. It is important to realise that a location that is dangerous or not well positioned can be very negative for a retail operator. Unfortunately most of the pedestrian malls create poor retail locations especially along arcades. Pretoria CBD is well known for its side arcades with low pedestrian volumes.

The next most important aspect regarding retailing is one-stop shopping and safety and security. The grouping of comparative stores in a specific part of a centre is also very important. Based on these aspects it is clear that some of the pedestrian malls in the South African context do not meet these requirements. The question is: What could be done to enhance the performance of these underperforming pedestrian malls? Most of these pedestrian malls have three very distinct customer profiles namely:

  • shoppers especially from the township areas, but it could also include shoppers from all over the city;
  • workers – in most cases a large number of office workers and residents living in the CBD. These shopper profiles can vary from poor to affluent.
  • in some areas there are also tourist components, contributing to the enhancement of the environment.

BID districts are being implemented in a number of areas to take care of the cleaning, management, security and maintenance of these pedestrian malls. The impact is normally very positive.

An attractive environment, offering street cafes, safety, movement of people and activities can all contribute to create a very positive atmosphere and to attract people to these pedestrian malls to shop and to enjoy the uniqueness of these malls.

Pedestrian mall in the CBD of Windhoek.
Very few shops are located along the road and mainly walkways with retail facilities as anchors at the end of the mall.

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 St George Street, Cape Town.

Very good example of a pedestrian mall.

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Alberton Boulevard is partially open for traffic. 

Most facilities along the mall are of good quality. One side of the pedestrian mall is part of the Alberton City with a ‘dead’ wall offering no shop fronts or any shopping facilities.

Based on the latest trend in redevelopment of town centres in American cities, the focus is on pedestrian malls which are totally or partially open for through traffic. Most of these redeveloped town centres form part of the broader lifestyle concept where the focus in not only on retail but all other associated land uses including restaurants, theatres, cinemas, office development, hotels, convention centres as well as retail and residential units.

Lifestyle centre – West Palm Beach, Florida USA

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  • 60 000m² retail;
  • Home Decor
  • Theatre
  • 20 cinemas
  • Restaurants
  • Office
  • 600 private residents
  • Convention centre

Can this be achieved in our pedestrian malls? St. Georges Street Mall is part of the whole redevelopment and revitalisation of the Cape Town CBD. The mall is also part of a large tourist component visiting the Cape Town CBD.

It all relates back to creating a unique atmosphere within a safe environment. The retail must also offer something different in a pleasant atmosphere. Most of the older pedestrian malls are in a desperate need of a total revamp. The key aspects are:

  • strong anchor tenants,
  • a safe, attractive and clean environment.

Critical to the success of the retail is the pedestrian volumes, shopper profiles and the likely spend in the area. Most of the United States pedestrian malls have been opened for vehicle traffic. Each situation is however unique and should be evaluated in the context of the broader environment. The success rate in most cases will probably remain average and large amounts of redevelopment costs would have to be spend to make these underperforming pedestrian malls more attractive and financially viable.

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