Architects and planners like to think they are building "for the ages." Recent experience, however, suggests the very opposite. The culture, the economy and fashions in urban design all appear to be in a rapid state of change. Perhaps the Internet and advances in telecommunications are shortening the half-life of cultural events. Perhaps we're just getting older and the world seems to be getting faster. Notwithstanding, buildings that exemplified urban life only 20 years ago are rapidly becoming obsolete. The ability, therefore, to recycle these buildings becomes important indeed if downtown areas are not to become elephants' graveyards. That's why the Paseo Pasadena project, a make-over of the old Plaza Pasadena shopping center in downtown Pasadena, may have importance far beyond the city boundaries. Built in 1980, this three-block shopping center was one of many across the country that promised to bring retail trade back downtown. Plaza Pasadena tried to be a good urban citizen, and the mall had some forward-looking features for a project of its time. The shopping center more or less conformed to the existing street grid, even if the two-story, 700,000-square-foot mall was a three-block-long pancake. Plaza Pasadena made a gesture toward pedestrians by providing a grand entrance off Colorado Boulevard, the city's most important commercial street (even though most shoppers quietly entered and exited at the rear of the property, in their cars.) Those gestures aside, Plaza Pasadena was a dog. Beyond a weak tenant mix and mediocre sales, the mall was architecturally boring, lining Colorado Boulevard with acres of blank walls of tan-colored brick. Surrounded by Pasadena's extraordinary collection of Classical-style buildings, mostly dating from the era of the City Beautiful movement, the vacuity of Plaza Pasadena was an enduring insult — the bore at the party who would not stop talking amid a crowd of brilliant guests. Retail did, in fact, return to downtown Pasadena in the form of Old Pasadena, a redevelopment project that created retail venues and movie theaters out of neglected older buildings on Colorado Boulevard, a few blocks from Plaza Pasadena. Few cities have provided a more dramatic example of the latent power of pedestrian-oriented retail districts. Old Pasadena apparently answered some unmet demand for pedestrian-oriented nightlife; the district has been jammed for the 10 years since it opened, while Plaza Pasadena lay like a beached whale, slowly dying of some mysterious toxin. The initiative to reinvent Plaza Pasadena came from its owner, TrizecHahn Corporation, a descendant of The Hahn Company, which built the mall. As one of the nation's largest developers of retail malls, TrizecHahn knew something was not working. Unlike most mall developers, which stick religiously to tried-and-true formulas, TrizecHahn has shown itself willing to take on non-traditional projects in urban settings. The Hollywood & Highland project — an unusual Hollywood retail and entertainment project with a Metro stop — is a case in point. (See CP&DR Places, July 1998.) Remarkably, this main-line mall developer came up with the idea of rejiggering the moribund Plaza Pasadena into an entertainment center, with retail, office and — in the tour-de-force of the project — 400 loft-style apartments above the retail space. The regional mall was to become an urban village. The commitment to housing is more than skin deep: in a total building program of just over 1 million square feet, 369,000 square feet are devoted to the apartments, while 478,826 square feet are given to the new multiplex and retail construction. The existing Macy's is 159,000 square feet. Making this mixed-use program work in the envelope of the retail pancake called for some bold strokes. Essentially, the strategy was almost to turn the mall inside out: nearly all mall merchants would have their own streetfronts. Instead of the internalized megastructure of the traditional mall, the Paseo project removed major parts of the mall to form three, freestanding buildings, which look like eight separate buildings. Of equal importance was the creation of pedestrian space in and around the mall. The new mall does not restore the grid to its pre-1980 form; the project still covers three city blocks. Yet the project does restore at least one of the goals of Pasadena's City Beautiful plan of 1915, prepared by architect Robert Bennett. By opening up a 70-foot-wide pedestrian walkway at Garfield Avenue, the architects at Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn Associates restored the view of the Pasadena City Auditorium from City Hall, three blocks north. This simple gesture goes miles in integrating the project part into the larger civic whole. An obvious difficulty with opening up the mall is what happens in the center of the block; here the architects have created a new pedestrian allee with a fountain court that the architects believe will echo a similar fountain courtyard at Pasadena City Hall. While the architecture and planning of the project are well out of the ordinary, the commercial decisions about the Paseo are equally non-formulaic. In its negotiations with the developers during the entitlement process, Pasadena city officials stressed that they did not want the new project to cannibalize merchants from the city's two other established commercial centers, Old Pasadena and Lake Street. The tenant mix, therefore, is not the usual shortlist of mall chain stores. With the exception of a Macy's outlet store (Macy's refused a buyout of its lease) the majority of tenants in Paseo Pasadena are local merchants, and the uses tend toward the neighborhood-serving variety of retail: a hardware store, an upscale grocery store, restaurants, and the like. At first glance, a preference for local merchants seems counter-intuitive for a multi-billion-dollar developer like TrizecHahn. Yet TrizecHahn claims to have pre-leased nearly 70% of the Paseo before construction has begun; lenders typically ask for 50% pre-leasing to finance mall construction. The happiest part of the project, in urban design terms, is that the Paseo Pasadena may achieve what Plaza Pasadena tried, and failed, to achieve for years: To create a link to the intense pedestrian activity at Old Pasadena. Thus, a missing piece of the puzzle of downtown Pasadena has been restored, and the city that was envisioned in 1915 may finally start coming into focus. Beyond Pasadena, the experience of turning a mall inside-out may be an important piece of research-and-development for TrizecHahn, which could conceivably create a new profit center in converting 1970's malls that don't work into urban villages that do. What remains remarkable to me is that a major mall developer was willing to undertake this project. Such a radical departure from standard practice needed a big developer with TrizecHahn's depth and credibility. If a community-based nonprofit organization had attempted the same project, Paseo may not have been taken seriously. Just as it took a conservative president like Nixon to re-establish diplomatic relations with Communist China, it may have taken a shopping-mall stalwart like TrizecHahn to find a new rapprochement between the retail industry and Main Street. Who knows? Maybe it will last longer than 20 years.