Cleveland Transforms Mall into Giant Greenhouse

New Project Re-imagines Commercial Space

Written by Jimmy Mengel
Posted March 11, 2010

One of Cleveland's biggest malls is making a serious expansion to their food court. In fact, when all is said and done, there will be food growing from all of the mall's walls.

In the next few months, Vicky Poole hopes mall patrons will be plucking fresh tomatoes from the banisters and ceiling beams as they wander from shop to shop. Poole is the marketing and events director for Cleveland's Galleria and the novel concept is her brainchild.

The idea sprouted up in response to the economic downturn, which left many of the Galleria's shops empty. For extra income, Poole had been renting the Galleria's rotunda out for events and weddings, when one day she looked up and noticed that the glass ceiling resembled a greenhouse. A compact florescent light bulb went off in her head.

Why not turn the entire mall into a giant greenhouse?

At that point Poole teamed up with a fellow Galleria resident to create the Gardens Under Glass project and quickly landed a $30,000 start-up grant.

The mall's temperatures and humidity make it an ideal place for growing greens, herbs, and tomatoes.

The project got off to a modest start last month when a 12-foot food cart was set up by the mall's escalators. The first batch of organic spinach, lettuce, and tomatoes is currently growing in the cart's compost-based mesh containment system.

Ultimately, Gardens Under Glass hopes to install several hydroponic units and expand the project to the furthest reaches of the shopping center.

And the project isn't just limited strictly to produce sales as, say, a farmers market is. Their website describes the program's intentions for the Galleria to become an "urban eco-village that will serve as a center for agricultural production, environmental education, and green retail opportunities."

There are plans to convert an old candy store into an agricultural education center and shop, where students can come and learn about sustainability; where green manufacturers can peddle their wares.

The malls restaurants and food vendors are expected to implement the fresh produce into their menus as well.

"I'm very excited about the project," Saravanan Chandrababu, manager of a Galleria cafe, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"We'll try it. We'll advertise that it's fresh. Maybe that will bring more people to the Galleria."

With malls everywhere becoming ghost towns due to the economic collapse and the increasing woes of commercial real estate, this kind of outside-the-box thinking will be required to make up for lost commercial space.

Some developers have noted that "single-use environments" — like the mall — will be extinct in as soon as thirty years.

So while these monuments to consumerism slowly crumble, it'll be interesting to see if projects like this build them back up and set a new, sustainable standard for shopping areas.

As for the Galleria, here's to hoping that mall traffic grows right alongside those ripe, organic tomatoes.

Be Well,