NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 4, 2009

In the United States, urban boosters and planners like to predict that malls are "vanishing."  But while consumer-deflated America may suffer from mall fatigue and a hangover from overbuilding, much of the developing world has experienced no such malaise.  In 2000, for example, India was virtually mall-less. Today it has several hundred, with scores of new ones on the drawing boards, says Joel Kotkin, Presidential Fellow and director of the Urban Futures Program at Chapman University.

Malls are particularly attractive to India's "aspiring" middle class, including those who have returned from work, study or travel abroad, suggests Vatsala Pant, director of client solutions at AC Neilson in Mumbai.  Indian novelist and Mumbai blogger Amit Varma suggests that these folks like malls "because they are relatively clean and sanitized" as opposed to the city's pollution-choked, beggar-ridden and often foul-smelling streets.

Mall mania extends well beyond India, says Kotkin:

  • Today Asia is the site of seven of the world's 10 largest malls, mainly in places like Beijing, Dongguan, China, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • By 2010, China alone may be home to seven of the biggest shopping arcades on the planet, says

The rapid growth of mall culture in Asia and elsewhere reflects the rising incomes and expectations taking place across the globe, says Kotkin.  So while many malls struggle in North America, they are thriving in Asia due in part to suburbanization and automobiles. 

  • In the first 10 months of 2009, Chinese consumers alone purchased more cars than their American counterparts.
  • India is also going through an automotive revolution, with sales up 20 percent since April and local firms like Tata, developer of the $2,500 minicar, Nano, gearing up for long-term growth.

These malls also play a surprisingly democratic function often under-appreciated by urban theorists, planners and purveyors of architectural nostalgia, says Kotkin.  While Mumbai's malls may not host the city's scores of beggars, they cannot be described as the exclusive province of the rich.  The affluent may be there, of course, but so would their drivers, the factory workers and others of India's growing aspirational population.

"You get to see a massive cross-section of people, there for different reasons, all breathing the same air conditioning," Varma observes.  "And really, these people only come together in the malls."

Source: Joel Kotkin, "It's a Mall World After All,", November 24, 2009.

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