The Westminster Arcade, located in Providence, Rhode Island, is the oldest indoor shopping mall still standing in America and built in 1828. Adapted from the popularity of malls in Europe and England, the Arcade housed three stories of boutiques, merchants, and commercial businesses along a central promenade. The mall was a huge success and the trend of indoor malls continued to grow throughout the United States. The Arcade was renovated several times throughout the 20th century and received landmark status in 1976. However, throughout the 1980s and 90s, the public’s use and interest in the Arcade dwindled, as did the merchants and commercial businesses that remained. In 2005, the property was sold to developer Evan Granoff, who decided to take an innovative approach to revitalizing the historic and iconic downtown building: Micro-apartments.
The first floor of the Arcade is dedicated to small, local businesses and restaurants (no chains allowed), while the second and third floors have been repurposed into micro-dwellings intended as more affordable living options for recent college graduates and busy urban-dwellers. Currently, there is a wait-list of prospective tenants for the micro-units, the most popular being a little over 200 square feet (you can take a tour of the property here). Granoff not only recognized a need for affordable housing in downtown Providence, but he also saw an opportunity to join a movement currently gaining popularity across the country: re-purposing existing structures, such as old shopping malls that have outlived their purpose, while also providing affordable housing and investing in local businesses.
Re-purposing the space also aligns with Providence’s city-wide plan to increase sustainability and neutralize the city’s carbon footprint by 2050: which includes plans for improved water-usage, more sustainable transportation choices and accessibility, more sustainable land-use, as well as a larger variety of affordable housing options for city-dwellers. The low-tech innovative work accomplished by re-purposing the Arcade is something that could breathe new life into other urban areas as well, especially for buildings that have outlived their purpose yet have achieved landmark status and are therefore protected from being demolished.