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The shopping mall's inventor had some radical ideas for Southdale

A new book takes a look at how its architect hoped Southdale would be the antidote to suburban sprawl

These days it's pretty easy to be blasé about another trip to the mall.

That's what makes it surprising to read about the revolutionary ideas and hopes for the country's very first enclosed shopping mall when it opened in Edina, Minnesota, 60 years ago.

Steven Johnson takes a look at Southdale Shopping Center and the radical ideas of its architect in a new book called Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World.

Victor Gruen grew up in Vienna and studied architecture there when socialist urban planners were in vogue, Johnson writes in this excerpt. Gruen fled from the Nazis in 1938 and was soon designing boutiques in the U.S.

He always had faith in the potential of large-scale planned communities, though, so there was a spark when the Dayton family approached him about developing a place where Minnesotans could shop in comfort regardless of the weather.

Johnson writes that Gruen envisioned Southdale as a pedestrian-based urban center. He wanted it to eventually be surrounded by apartments, schools, medical centers, parks, and office buildings.

Instead, the developers surrounded it with 5,000 free parking spaces. And it was a huge hit.

So rather than becoming the antidote to suburban sprawl Southdale had only amplified it, Johnson notes.

October's 60th anniversary of Southdale's opening prompted an exhibit at the Edina Historical Society, which you can still see.

The mall was also featured in the Minnesota History Center's "Suburbia" exhibit.

Learn more about Victor Gruen and his disillusionment with what Southdale became here, here or here.

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