Orange County Developers Eye Dying Malls for Housing, Mixed-Use

Despite their prominent roles in recent sci-fi thriller series, indoor malls around the country are hemorrhaging customers and tenants, with many becoming vacant husks surrounded by vast seas of parking.

According to a Los Angeles Times story by Hannah Fry, some of Orange County’s now-unoccupied classic malls may soon be revived as housing. “In a region where there is little undeveloped land and neighbors are likely to push back at new housing, some see declining malls as ideal places to build.”

Fry gives a brief overview of the mall’s role as an American cultural institution in the second half of the twentieth century (for more on that, read Alexandra Lange’s Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall, one of Planetizen’s Top Urban Planning Books of 2022). But now, malls offer some of the best options for developable land in dense cities facing a housing shortage. The Orange County city of Westminster approved a plan to redevelop the Westminster Mall into a mixed-use property with as many as 3,000 residential units, hundreds of hotel rooms, 600,000 square feet of retail, and 17 acres of green space.

“Experts say that new laws, along with increased pressure from the state to build more homes, have convinced some local officials who might have been resistant to rezoning commercial properties in the past,” Fry explains. L.A.-area developers are counting on “a modern type of suburban dweller — one who would rather walk to restaurants and other amenities than live in a single-family home with a yard.”

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