Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Biggest of the big

Westfield Stratford City has opened to a barrage of press attention, helped by large crowds, Nicole Scherzinger and a slow news day. It has been billed as Europe’s largest urban shopping centre, which seems an unusual caveat. What is an ‘urban’ shopping centre and does this descriptor suggest that Stratford City is not Europe’s biggest shopping centre? 

Stratford City has missed out on being the UK’s largest shopping centre, with both the Metro Centre in Gateshead and the Trafford Centre in Greater Manchester being bigger. Stratford City boasts 175,000 m² of total retail space, compared to the Metro Centre’s 194,000 m² and the Trafford Centre’s 177,000 m². 

Perhaps urban should be taken as being more central, given that both the Metro and Trafford Centres enjoy peripheral, motorway based locations. Whilst Stratford isn’t in Zone One of London, it is certainly an urban location. So how does Stratford City compare with other urban centres in the UK? Its nearest city-based rival is its west-London sibling, Westfield London with 150,000 m² of retail space. Manchester’s Arndale Centre has 130,000 m² and Birmingham’s Bull Ring is next with 125,000 m². 

Does this make it the biggest in Europe? It seems that the UK leads Europe in the size of its shopping centres. Although this is not necessarily something to be greatly proud of, it does validate Stratford City’s claim to be Europe’s biggest urban shopping centre. 

European centres are tiddlers compared with the world’s largest temples of Mammon. Asia, the Middle East and America specialise in these vast complexes that are many times bigger than anything seen in the UK. The chart below (click for large version) shows how Stratford City compares with the world’s largest malls.

But size isn’t everything, as is dramatically demonstrated by the New South China Mall in Dongguan. Although the world’s largest by retail area (its 600,000 m² makes it almost 3.5 times as big as Westfield Stratford City) it is currently 99.2% empty. As a vast monument to hubris and belief in China’s economic rise, it is unbeatable. But with just a handful of open shops it is not a retail destination.

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