By day, Stratford Shopping Centre is an ordinary shopping mall. But after the shutters are rolled down, the doors stay open and the rollerskaters, rollerbladers and skateboarders roll in. The mall includes a 24-hour, public right of way and — as you can see — it is well-used.
And it’s not just rollerskaters who are looking for this kind of indoor space.
When I lived in Japan many shopping concourses would come alive with young people practicing different styles of dance –popping, locking, house, bboying — from the moment the shutters rolled down until very late at night. These photos are from under Hirakatashi station outside of Osaka, but similarly scenes can be witnessed each night throughout the country. Middle-aged couples and seniors would often stop to take a look at what was going on. No one seemed to mind.
It’s a massive waste to leave spaces like these empty all night when there are so many people desperate for places to exercise, dance, rehearse and perform. I understand that there are security issues, but surely they can be solved if police, property managers and local people put their heads together. The benefits of this public access are immense and the costs are quite low. While governments are spending millions on motivating people to exercise, just unlocking a few malls at night would make exercise more accessible for many, many people. It would be a great chance for shopping malls to give back to the community and get some positive publicity. If they are reluctant, municipal governments might consider requiring a certain amount of space with continuous public access in order for new shopping centres to receive zoning permits. Although shopping malls are ostensibly dying out, they are still the closest thing we have to public squares in many neighbourhoods, so we need to think about how we can ensure that they serve public needs. This is a topic this blog will return to, but, for now, just imagine what young people in your city could do with a few thousand extra square feet of warm, dry, smooth floors each evening.