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Public Engagement in Experiential Futures



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Future of Malls

Declining sales at large big box stores have forced some to close locations leaving large unutilized spaces in many shopping malls. With these big box stores once acting as anchor stores not only for customers but for other smaller stores as well now gone, the economic ecosystem of malls have become that much more fragile.

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Several retail bankruptcies in 2017 show the signs of a retail meltdown taking place. Retail giants like Macy’s, Sears and J.C Penny in the US have shut down stores, with Canada starting to experience some of those ripple effects. This retail meltdown has been attributed to the rise of online retail powerhouses like Amazon, a behavioural shift towards more experiential retail, and an overall oversupply of malls failing to meet actual customer demand.

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Not only do recent immigrants represent a new and consistently growing consumer base, they are also arriving in better financial positions than previous generations, reflecting the current skew in Canada’s immigration policy toward admitting skilled professionals. Visible minority ethnic groups far outpaced the average non-visible-minority resident in consumer spending growth from 2008 to 2013.

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A town center is an enduring, walkable, outdoor, open-air, multi-use development that is organized around a clearly identifiable and energized public realm where citizens can gather and strengthen their community bonds. It is anchored by retail, dining, and leisure uses, as well as by vertical or horizontal residential uses. At least one other type of development is included in a town center, such as office, hospitality, civic, and cultural uses.

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Developers and planners are rethinking the mall concept, integrating different property types in hopes of achieving higher occupancy rates and higher rents. Office tenants and residents enjoy the convenience of having multiple retail and dining options nearby, while retailers and restaurants like the increased foot traffic from having both workers and residents on site. Malls have been repurposed as social service centres, professional offices, health care centres, churches, nature enclaves and as public markets.

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Demographic change is creating opportunities for a new breed of shopping mall-maker. Savvy investors and developers have been buying older malls, which tended to serve Caucasian Canadian customers, and shifting them instead to focus on fast-growing ethnic markets. Examples of this include Pacific Mall in Markham, O.N. and Aberdeen Mall in Richmond, B.C., which concentrate on Asian consumers.

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Because of increased economic pressures and a favorable social lifestyle shift towards minimalism, millennials are buying less things. Technology and the mindset of the sharing economy (AirBnB, Uber, Spotify etc.) are encouraging people think differently about what it means to “own” something. Because of this, the balance between supply and demand has been altered, and the value has moved to more experiential purchases.

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With the rise of universal income, automation and artificial intelligence, mechanistic jobs will soon be given to machines. This will place pressures on the labor force to attract and develop jobs that can not be easily replaced by machines. One sector that may grow because of this is the creative sector as machines will still have difficulties working in authentically creative and artistic ways. The “automation revolution” will change what it means to be employable. To have jobs, people will have to do creative work or work in a service industry that requires the human touch.

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Some of the main challenges newcomers face upon migration to Canada include employment, housing, language, and cultural integration. Over time, as immigrants improve their language skills, find better jobs, increase their knowledge of the culture and gain a better sense of identity and their place in Canadian life, they move towards increased participation in the societal and economic life of the country. Because of this, the relationships between informal cultural networks and formal organizations is key to helping newcomers navigate Canadian communities. This has already taken shape in the form of social services in community hubs that are run and maintained by newcomers.

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Climate change is set to cause a refugee crisis of “unimaginable scale”, according to senior military figures, who warn that global warming is the greatest security threat of the 21st century and that mass migration will become the “new normal”. The Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change project that we will see the climate refugee crisis reach to potentially 30 million people.

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