Economy booms with consumers
Shopping centres generate spending and thrive as community hubs, writes Wade Shepard
Large shopping malls are significant catalysts of service sector growth in mainland cities, and Zhengzhou has built its consumer economy around them.
"Modern urban developments in China tend to be identical: large-scale, monotonous environments which are car-oriented and hard to navigate by foot," says Daan Roggeveen, the founder of MORE Architecture. "The shopping mall is at the heart of these developments, with the mall becoming the new public space for neighbourhoods."
The first major modern mall in the city was the Dennis Shopping Centre. Its eight-storey complex was opened in 1997 by the Taiwan YuDong Group, and introduced high-end shopping to central China. When Zhengzhou started to develop the Zhengdong central business district (CBD), Dennis opened another branch that spans seven blocks, with sections specialising in certain products and services.
"In Zhengzhou, the mall is literally at the heart of the Zhengdong district. Its circular floor plan is one of the key elements of the CBD, both in design as well as programming," Roggeveen says.
Other high-end shopping malls in Zhengzhou include Baolong City Plaza, which offers 190,000 square metres of shopping, entertainment and dining; Vancouver Times Square Plaza, a North American-style mall; Parkson Shopping Centre, a six-floor mall; Huacai City Mall, a trend-setting shopping centre that had the first Zara clothing store in the city; and two Wanda Plaza facilities.
"Going shopping will continue to be an important social experience in China," says Steven McCord of Jones Lang LaSalle. "Opportunities abound for owners to emphasise the community-gathering function of their centres and create safe, quasi-public spaces in which people can linger away from their small high-rise flats - the proverbial 'town squares' for urban China in the 21st century."
In 2003, the Zhengdong CBD became the first new investment zone in the country that set out to cultivate a large consumer economy rather than rely solely on attracting manufacturers - portending the economic transition that would span the country in years to come. This transition was especially pertinent as service industries created more jobs for local residents than industrial zones. Service industries accounted for 41.6 per cent of Zhengzhou's GDP in 2013, and shopping malls are one of the main forces driving this sector.