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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

A game known as pallamaglio—which
translates very roughly to ball and
—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 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.