Aerial View of Woodfield Mall (1973)

This 1973 publicity photograph of the new Woodfield Mall in northwest suburban Schaumburg conveys another kind of geographical isolation imposed by expressway culture. The mall, a microcosmic community devoted entirely to the retail economy, sits in isolation, separated from its still largely agricultural surroundings by a small sea of cars. Located at the intersection of two major suburban expressways, Woodfield was the world’s largest indoor retail center when it opened its doors on September 9, 1971. Designed by the Jickling, Lyman and Powell architectural firm, this gigantic shopping mall encompassed a 191-acre site with two million square feet of retail space, 215 stores, and more than 10,000 parking spots. Developers believed that Woodfield Mall would become a center of civic and social life in Schaumburg, so they included a large communal space intended for concerts, meetings, and public affairs. In the decades that followed the shopping center, conveniently situated a few miles west of O’Hare International Airport, became the anchor for a sprawling node of automobile-oriented retail and commercial development. Office  office towers, standalone corporate centers and a small host of satellite shopping centers and big box stores filled the empty spaces surrounding the mall in this photograph. Not surprisingly, both downtown Chicago and the historic cores of older railroad-oriented suburbs took a heavy toll as shopping habits shifted to outlying suburbs. In recent decades, many of Chicago’s railroad suburbs have countered this trend by redeveloping their old shopping districts as zones of intensive residential and commercial development. Central Chicago has seen the growth of specialized upscale and niche retailing and the construction of several indoor malls (notably on North Michigan Avenue). Woodfield itself has aged, and like many older suburban malls, has struggled to maintain its position in the Internet Age, though the node of development has become a major “edge city” in metropolitan Chicago. The  decentralization encouraged by expressway construction and emergence of suburban nodes like Woodfield seems for the moment, irreversible.

 

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