The number of shopping malls in the US quadrupled between 1970 and 2017, and for decades, they served an important social function. Malls were a gathering place for people of all ages, particularly in suburbs where there were generally few places to hang out. Even today, they have a unique place in the American psyche and in our pop culture.
This Vox video explains that we mainly live our lives in three places: work, home, and other places like restaurants, houses of worship, parks, and yes, shopping malls. These areas where people can enjoy themselves, exchange ideas, and build relationships are called “Third Spaces.”
While malls are ideal Third Spaces in some respects—they're generally well-lit and protected from the elements, and allow people to gather—they're not so great in others.
Malls are generally not accessible by transit. They're obviously geared towards shopping, which makes them much more fun for people with disposable income. Teenagers are sometimes barred during certain hours, and people of color often report being more policed (sometimes violently so). Put simply, malls are not designed to be accessible to everyone.
Today, with the 2008 recession, advent of online shopping, and other factors, malls are on the rapid decline. It's up to us to replace them with Third Spaces that are genuinely welcoming to people of all walks of life.