Research Projects

Stop the Video

Research Projects

STATUS: Complete YEAR: 2021 TOPIC AREA: Public transit, land use, and urban mobility Sustainability, energy, and health CENTER: PSR

Redeveloping Failing Malls: Opportunities for Reducing VMT and GHG Emissions and Increasing the Housing Supply through Urban Villages

Project Summary

Project number: PSR-21-26
Funding source: Caltrans
Contract number: 65A0674
Funding amount: $99,400
Performance period: 10/1/2021 to 9/30/2022

Project description

Building on related recent research (2018, forthcoming 2021), this research aims to develop a model process to assist the State and local governments in the redevelopment of failing shopping malls as mixed use centers that optimize opportunities for housing, providing neighborhood commercial and other residential amenities, i.e., parks, pedestrian and bike oriented streets.
California, even pre-pandemic, has had persistent housing shortages, and homelessness (over 151,000 people), and the unsheltered homeless (over 108,000) were already the highest numbers in the country in 2019 (USHUD 2020). Even before the pandemic in January 2020, the yearly homeless count in Los Angeles County showed a 12.7% rise in homelessness despite increases in the number of people rehoused (LA Homeless Services Authority 2020).

In this context, the pandemic has brought about dramatic increases in remote work and projections that such increases will continue post-COVID, as well as increasing moves to the suburbs from major cities. While increases in remote work, if continued post-pandemic, will reduce work tips, moves to the suburbs will likely increase non-work trips. This strengthens the case for mixed-use development in urban villages, even without increasing transit access.

At the same time, the rate of failure of shopping malls in California and throughout the country before the pandemic was high, and accelerated during the pandemic (Fung 2020), increasing redevelopment opportunities. Given the large acreage of major shopping malls, from 40-120 acres, thousands of housing units could be generated through the redevelopment of a single mall. The redevelopment of failing malls could not only produce needed housing in California, but their redevelopment, as remote work becomes normalized, could ensure that non-work trips do not significantly increase, but rather decrease by the provision of neighborhood-scale services in mixed-use communities. Such a provision would increase access for residents to a multiplicity of services within walking distance, biking or short transit rides. In effect, the redevelopment of failing malls as mixed use centers responds to a new emphasis in transportation scholarship on access (Handy 2020; Levine 2020) rather than mobility. This revived interest in the criterion of access in contrast to the prevailing criterion of mobility to guide urban development is also consonant with the interest that the experience with COVID has revived interest in 15 or 20-minute city, a model that has been implemented in Paris and Melbourne (Moreno et al. 2021; Pozoukidou and Chatxiyiannaki 2021). Thus, redeveloping failing malls into mixed use, accessible neighborhoods would not only address the housing crisis in the State, but also provide a good testing ground for the new interest in accessibility.


Hilda Blanco
Research Professor, USC Price School of Public Policy
650 Childs Way
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
[email protected]