Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Teens need malls. Malls need crowds. Why are they pushing kids away?

It’s lunchtime on a rainy Saturday at Westfield Garden State Plaza, New Jersey’s oldest and second-largest shopping mall. The food court is packed, with families in booths, clusters of teens at high-tops, and a long line at Chick-fil-A where Gael, Odell and Katie, teenagers from over the border in New York state, have just bought their food.

Their local mall hosts mostly small businesses, so when Katie had an eye appointment nearby the rest were happy to tag along and check out all that Garden state has to offer. “Aritzia, Pink, I really like the Body Shop,” Katie says; Gael and Odell are in search of Funko-Pops, big-headed collectible figurines, from a favorite anime, Jujutsu Kaisen.

Nearby, eating Wetzel’s Pretzels, sit Adriana and Belle, 13-year-olds who live an hour’s drive away. Belle’s mother drove them and is off shopping on her own for birthday presents; the girls plan to browse Garage, Lululemon, and Sephora. “If something comes along, we will buy it, but we’re not looking for anything,” Belle says. They come every week, laughs Adriana. Belle agrees: “We do come here a lot. My family likes to spend time together, and at home we get bored. So we come to the mall to go to the movies.”