Whether it’s the invisible malls of the future of New York, Hong Kong and China, the mixed-use precincts of self-contained living in Johannesburg, or Cape Town’s Central Improvement Districts (CIDs) – these very different mall configurations all have one thing in common.
Each may be a unique reimagining of shopping, living, working and leisure, but all are examples of re-urbanisation after 50 years of sprawling suburban malls. And all are crying out for better, integrated multi-service management.
You wouldn’t expect to see shops inside the magnificent bird-like architecture of the Oculus – the head house of the new World Trade Centre main station. Yet amid the usual facilities of a distance transport hub it’s also a mall with more than 100 stores, and it connects office buildings with 11 subway lines and trains, serving 50,000 commuters per day.
The $1.4 billion creation of mall company Westfield is “The new New York place to be”, where you can shop, eat, drink and play under one roof. It’s also one of a new breed of shopping centres that integrates so seamlessly into its urban surroundings that it’s difficult to distinguish mall and city. London’s Boxpark, Las Vegas’s Downtown Container Park and Miami’s Brickell City Centre are other examples of mall-like environments that weave into the street fabric of cities.
The same blurring of lines can be found in different mall configurations in South Africa. In Cape Town, the area in and around the world-famous V&A Waterfront mixes up city and sea-shore elements, residential and commercial tenancies, leisure and retail use. In Melrose, Sandton and Midrand, Gauteng residents are irresistibly drawn to residential-commercial-retail-leisure spaces such as Melrose Arch in Johannesburg.
Complexity without control
The net effect of integrative malls is to turn cities into malls (Michael Sorkin, The Guardian, March 2017). But while this is appealing from the perspective of a new wave of urban regeneration, it overlays huge logistical and multi-service management complexity onto city planning and service paradigms.
Crucially, none of the modern configurations have the advantage of the suburban malls of old, where every aspect of public safety, access, transport, parking, security and maintenance is managed centrally – often by one company.
“In integrated malls, this multiplicity of services is often managed separately, by different companies, groups, and both public and private authorities – each using their own system or software, few of which collaborate with each other,” says Tiaan Janse van Rensburg, Commercial Director of Cape Town-based software and solutions developer Solution House.
“So typically, we end up with a mashup of different services that fail to take advantage of potential synergies. For example, the security camera system of one service provider will cover the same area as an access checkpoint system of another provider, but information won’t be shared between the two. Zooming out, information in one district or property that could affect the security of adjoining districts or properties, like stolen vehicles, isn’t readily shared between them. The same applies to other services, such as urban or maintenance management, delivered by different service providers to different customers, yet still having an impact on each other.”
What is lacking, says Janse van Rensburg, is integrated management software that addresses the needs of integrated communities by merging information from multiple systems into a cohesive, geospatially-underpinned, real-time management platform that can scale up from one room in one building to entire districts and cities.
“Multi-services – metros, maintenance, buildings, security, crime prevention and vehicle checks – all currently exist as separate entities while our lives do not, which makes it very challenging for service providers to provide a seamlessly integrated service. They simply haven’t adapted as quickly as these multi-tenant environments have developed.”
Something new and strange is happening in our cities. And only integrated incident mapping and management services have the wherewithal to frame and control its complexity.
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