KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo is about to get some national attention when it’s featured in the PBS series “10 That Changed America,” with the Kalamazoo Mall making the list of the “10 Streets That Changed America.”
“I was surprised when I got the call and noticed that we made the top 10,” said Lynn Houghton, a curator at Western Michigan University who was interviewed for the episode on the “10 Streets That Changed America.”
“For various reasons, because of its uniqueness, because it was the first,” Houghton explained the Kalamazoo Mall’s spot on the list. “It did impact a lot of other cities, like, for example, Grand Rapids created a downtown pedestrian mall afterwards. So the impact it had with other communities and also the way that it has evolved over the years.”
In the 1950s, a lot of downtowns in America were experiencing changes. Retail was leaving central areas and shopping malls were going up in the suburbs. It was the same for Kalamazoo.
“The statistics are that 60 percent of all automobiles were just passing through Kalamazoo and not stopping,” Houghton said.
A mall designer named Victor Gruen came up with an idea for a downtown pedestrian mall in Texas. But people in Kalamazoo contacted him, and the first downtown pedestrian mall in the United States opened in downtown Kalamazoo in 1959.
Amy Zane used to come to the Kalamazoo Mall with her mom. Now, she owns a shop there.
“Everything down here is just so much different than you find anywhere else in Kalamazoo or in the area,” she said. “I love the mall.”
With more housing coming into downtown Kalamazoo, the mall could evolve one more time.
“What’s going to be interesting is to see if the mall does another change, because when you have people that want to come live downtown, you have to provide certain amenities for them and whether or not that’s going to happen, we’ll have to see,” Houghton said.
“10 Streets That Changed America” airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on PBS.