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Design

The Triumph of the Latin American Mall

Boosted by a growing middle class, the shopping mall is booming in Central and South America.
Shoppers ride escalators inside a mall in Vina del mar, Chile.
Shoppers ride escalators inside a mall in Vina del mar, Chile. Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters

Much has been made of the death of the North American mall. It isn’t hard to see why: Dozens of malls have closed over past decade and an estimated 25 percent of the roughly 1,100 still alive in the U.S. are projected to close by 2022. Developers haven’t built a new mall since 2006 (except for one in the bizarre land of Sarasota, Florida). But in Central and South America, it’s a very different story: Developers spent the past decade throwing up as many malls as investors will allow.

From Monterrey to Montevideo, an unprecedented explosion in Latin American mall construction is underway. According to one study, an estimated 100 new malls were built in 2016 alone. Today, the largest mall in the western hemisphere is in Panama.