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As marketers and retailers the world over lather up their hopes and dreams of another landmark gift-giving season, we here at Geek Trivia have decided to take a good, long look at the origins of the suburban institution known as the shopping mall. Our story—somehow not surprisingly—begins with a fine European tradition of whacking things with hammers.
The word mall shares an etymological origin with the word mallet, as in the mallets used in games such as croquet. The connection between croquet hammers and shopping centers is a bit circuitous, but it all starts in Renaissance Italy.
A game known as pallamaglio—which translates very roughly to ball and mallet—was a popular pastime. Essentially, it involved hitting a wooden ball down a lane and through an iron hoop—sort of a bowling-croquet hybrid—and it became popular enough to emigrate from its birthplace in the land of pasta.
By the time pallamaglio popped up in England in the 16th century, locals called it pall-mall, and they dubbed the long, often grassy lanes used to play the game malls. These malls shortly became popular simply as walking spaces, and soon one could reasonably call any pedestrian-friendly promenade a mall.
You can probably guess what happened next—as they say in real estate, "location, location, location." Retailers soon started setting up shop along these malls because that's where the public was.
Shopping malls started their slow but steady evolution toward their modern all-indoor incarnations as early as 1865. That's the year builders began erecting the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy, which featured a walled promenade covered by a glass roof.
Several U.S. retail centers claim to be the first "modern" indoor shopping mall, and the accuracy of such claims varies depending on how you define a modern mall. One of the leading contenders to the throne is the Harundale Mall, which opened in Glen Burnie, Maryland in 1958.
Offering itself up as the first fully enclosed and temperature-controlled shopping mall in the United States, Harundale was the brainchild of one of the foremost urban planners of the 20th century. How influential was the creator of the Harundale Mall? He often receives credit for coining the term urban renewal.
WHAT SHOPPING MALL PIONEER COINED THE TERM URBAN RENEWAL?
What influential 20th-century American real estate developer and shopping mall pioneer often receives credit for coining the term urban renewal?
The late James Rouse, founder of the Baltimore area Rouse Company, all but invented suburban shopping mall development in the eastern U.S. in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Yet, before you condemn this man for condoning and exacerbating suburban sprawl and accelerating the death of the urban social center, take a good look at his resume.
Rouse was a college student during the Great Depression, and one of his first jobs was as an employee of the Federal Housing Administration. After Rouse worked more than a decade in real estate, the government tapped him in 1953 to join President Eisenhower's National Housing Task Force, one of the first government agencies to deal with urban decline. Rouse played a major role in shaping that group's goals, using his signature term of urban renewal.
Rouse espoused the view of designing communities around communal spaces where neighbors interacted both commercially and socially. He originally envisioned shopping malls as focal points for rapidly growing post-World War II American suburbs, with centralized shopping and social spaces helping knit communities together.
Unsatisfied with the results of early mall development, Rouse went so far as to plan an entire town in 1967: Columbia, MD. He orchestrated the entire layout of Columbia, hoping to create mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods that would ensure social interaction, social cohesion, and thus social good.
And, lest you think Rouse ignored the urban centers he sought to renew, Time dubbed him "the man who made cities fun again." The magazine's Aug. 24, 1981 cover article detailed Rouse's work in revitalizing downtrodden downtowns, thanks to developments such as the New Orleans Riverwalk, Baltimore's Harborplace, and Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
Shortly before his 1996 death, Rouse received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 in recognition of his life's work, which included the creation of the philanthropic Enterprise Foundation.
The Quibble of the Week
If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.
This week's quibble comes from the Dec. 1 edition of Geek Trivia, "Space to move." TechRepublic member Ed Woychowsky wanted to add another contender to early theorists on imaginative ground-based space propulsion systems.
"Technically, [H.G.] Wells invented the idea of ground-based propulsion in his novel, The First Men in the Moon. The material cavorite was repelled by gravitational fields, which originate from both the Earth and the Moon. While the material cavorite is fictitious, the manner by which it operates is essentially the same."
While we were looking for something a little more scientifically sound, we'll accept your answer on the grounds that H.G. Wells was a genius. Thanks for playing, and we'll see you next week.
The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.