What do we want? Firepits!

A Texas real estate developer actually thinks to ask women what they want in a mall.

Published September 5, 2008 9:05PM (EDT)

Real estate developer Terry Montesi recently tried a novel approach to designing a new shopping center: asking the people who make 80 percent of all consumer purchases -- i.e., women -- for input. Of design meetings for previous projects, Montesi says, "We'd have 20 people in a meeting, and sometimes there'd be one woman, sometimes none. It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out something was broken with that approach." So when he set about creating Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm, a new "retail resort" in Allen, Texas, he consulted a focus group of 23 women during all phases of the process.

So, what do women want in a new mall? The answers include green space, nice washrooms, a variety of safe parking options, heel- and stroller-friendly walking surfaces, child play areas and an outdoor firepit. (Really?) It also turns out that women don't care how snazzy-looking the buildings are (but do care about landscaping). It "definitely wasn't about painting the buildings in pastels. It wasn't about making the buildings look feminine, it was about making the place more friendly to the women who use it," says Montesi. No! Nobody voted for a pink Pottery Barn? Get out!

I hate to be snarky (sort of) when this dude has at least noticed that women tend to be the majority of the mall-going population and thus thought to ask what we want. But it just depresses me to learn that what industry professionals thought we might want were "feminine" buildings -- what does that even mean? Mies van der Rohe with a bow on top? -- as opposed to a generally woman-friendly environment. "It's the sad thing about our industry that we have really not paid much attention to our customer, the women shoppers," the developer says. No kidding. At least this is a start.

Readers, what would you want in your ideal mall? A firepit? Babysitting? Puppies to play with while you wait in long lines? (A friend of mine actually got that service at a pet store recently, and we think it should be available everywhere.) Let us know in comments.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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