Mall walking is something that has been around for decades under the radar. Its origins are unknown, but what we do know is that it allows pedestrians, oftentimes senior citizens to walk around the mall, to benefit their health. It gives people the opportunity to stay fit in a safe and controlled environment. Traditionally the mall is the shopper's paradise, where one can find anything that is in high demand. However, the mall is becoming more than a shopping haven. Nowadays, the mall management is embracing programs and activities such as mall walking, for improving the health and social well-being of the community.
The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy launched a national campaign called Step It Up! The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities. This program is meant to address major health issues such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It is expected that this campaign would become prevalent in malls, since the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention listed shopping malls as the second most popular venue for walking in the country, just behind neighborhoods.
The Mall of America, for example, is embracing mall walkers. Tara Niebeling, a public-relations coordinator at the Mall of America, welcomes mall walkers when she says, “We love our mall walkers – They are very special to us.” Accommodations are made for mall walkers at the Mall of America, by supplying swipe-cards to track their time spent walking and special discounts at participating restaurants and stores, all in exchange for 15 dollars a year. In the past, malls generally discouraged walking programs and didn't open their doors early. “There was a feeling that to have people in sweats and sneakers traipsing back and forth during shopping hours might upset the actual customers,” said Emil Pocock, a professor emeritus at Eastern Connecticut State University who studies shopping-mall culture. It was difficult to determine who was a mall walker and a regular shopper. So it only became natural for malls to accommodate mall walking, in order to mitigate their concerns and to keep daily business operations going smoothly.
It may be unusual to see malls change their perspective and become more receptive to non-commercial activities, such as mall walking. But it is in accordance with the original vision of Victor Gruen, the architect who is widely credited as the inventor of the shopping mall. He thought that malls should allow “opportunities for social life and recreation in a protected pedestrian environment.” Gruen originally intended the mall to be a place where members of the community would gather to meet people and socialize in a friendly and stable environment. Mall walking provides all that and allows older adults to be more physically active, regardless of outside weather conditions and accommodates them with restrooms and seating areas for resting and socializing.
The mall is evolving not only with mall walking, but with an increase in other non-commercial activities. For instance, the Village at West Topanga, lures visitors with lifestyle destinations: where you can walk the dog, enjoy a meal, watch a movie, and so much more. Active people in the community are not only looking for shopping destinations, they are looking for a life-enriching and improving experience. All this encourages socialization, which helps with overall wellness and well-being of the community. The shopping mall is expanding to become a one-stop-for-all type of destination that not only makes it convenient for members of the community, but is making progress towards the social aspects of the community that were once neglected.
Active members are important to the development of the community, and in this digital day and age, their concerns on matters such as health will not be overlooked. There are many resources now available thanks to the prominence of mobile phone technology. There are smartphone programs or apps that track one's progress in walking/running short and long distances. There are also apps which track nutrition levels and caloric intake. Malls can take advantage of this by working with these types of apps to advertise and promote store sales and available services related to the app. These apps are user-friendly and easily installed on standard smartphones. This allows them to be accessible to a wide array of consumers with varying demographics and profiles. Thereby expanding the reach further of the mall and helping it foster a connection with its visitors.
It is a commendable action for malls to allow programs such as mall walking, as it takes into consideration the core of human values and their inherent needs. It is no coincidence that the mall is changing their perspective in understanding what health related issues are prevalent in society and what kind of outreach programs can be implemented. With the advancement of mobile technology, malls can provide people with interactive and integrated access to learning about proper health and a way to assess health-related performance. Gruen's dream of constructing the mall as a social and recreational environment is finally gaining momentum, and malls can utilize technology not only to improve business, but to improve the well-being of the people.