Suburban shopping malls as spaces for community health and human flourishing: an Aotearoa New Zealand case study

Chantal Mawer; Rebecca Kiddle

Abstract – Tuhinga Whakarāpopoto

As urbanization continues to increase, the focus of urban development needs to shift to the suburban if we are to create cities that offer places to flourish. Suburbanites are increasingly seeking greater opportunities for place attachment, community cohesion and identity. This paper examines the role of semi-public spaces (in this case shopping malls) in Aotearoa suburbs. It evaluates two declining malls in Wellington – Johnsonville and Wainuiomata. Interviews and focus groups found these malls play an important role as spaces for social engagement in ad-hoc but significant ways. Despite this, the community felt unable to participate in design decisions as the malls are privately owned. ‘Public’ and community spaces can sit in private hands if there are ongoing mechanisms in place to ensure the local community continues to have a say in design decisions. If we chose to instead deal with spaces by values rather than ownership, urban development may change radically.

Articles associated with this research – Karere Tūhono

Radio interview: Cultural Ambassador – The Built Environment

5 September 2019: RNZ, Nights

Dr Rebecca Kiddle from Victoria University’s School of Architecture talks about Third Spaces and her Where do we dance? project for Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities.

Magazine article: Where do we dance? Planning social spaces in the suburbs

9 July 2019: The UK has its pubs. In China, people go out at dusk to exercise in the streets. So, where do Kiwis go to socialise in the suburbs?

In this NZ Local Government Magazine article by Building Better researcher Rebecca Kiddle from Victoria University of Wellington, she writes that research shows a significant gap in planning for neutral ‘bumping spaces’. She presented her findings to date at the recent NZPI Conference in Napier.

“Aotearoa New Zealand suburbs are seemingly the spatial underdog of our towns and cities. As part of the research programme Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities I am leading a project called Where Do We Dance? with dance being the metaphor for socialising, making friends and building community. The project asks where, physically, community happens in this country and how might we improve the way we design and plan our built environments to better serve the making of communities.” >> Read More.

Keywords – Kupu Hāngai

urban spaces, public spaces, urban, wellbeing, community spaces, making communities, urban wellbeing, community wellbeing

Fields of Research – Āpure Rangahau

Urban Development; Urban Planning


Date – Te Wā Whakarewa

2019-09 (online ahead of print in 2020)


Type – Te Auaha

Journal paper

Citation – Kupu Hautoa

Mawer, C. & Kiddle, R. (2019). Suburban shopping malls as spaces for community health and human flourishing: an Aotearoa New Zealand case study. Published online 03 Sep 2019. Journal of Urban Design, DOI: 10.1080/13574809.2019.1649594