Malls, in short, have spread across the American landscape -- and defined it -- with remarkable success, adapting to our changing tastes along the way. And this is at least a rough animation of what that history has looked like (press the play button embedded below):
Sravani Vadlamani, a doctoral student in transportation engineering at Arizona State, created that "MapStory" with historic information from the ASU GIS Data Repository (a data set that in this case draws on the Directory of Major Malls). Her animation includes the spread of more than 6,000 malls of many kinds: strip malls, outlet malls, indoor and outdoor malls.
Over a century, the animation gives a good sense of how malls crept across the map at first, then came to dominate it in the second half of the 20th century. In the legend, the dots are colored by the number of stores in each mall (those dots do not, however, disappear as once-celebrated malls close down).
In the 21st century, this trajectory poses two questions for planners, architects, developers and anyone invested in retail going forward: If the mall continues to evolve, what will it look like in the future (even if it comes to look consciously not like a mall at all)? And what should we do now with all these very quirky, massive boxes we've already built?