Social Studies | Instruction

Build Something Better: Economic Impacts of Development


Students will propose an architectural solution (e.g., new building, renovation, plaza, courtyard) for their community. Proposals will consider the impact of new economic development on communities using Southdale Center in Minnesota, the first regional shopping mall, as a case study. This lesson focuses on critical thinking skills, enabling students to understand the consequences, both intended and unintended, of economic development.

Activity 1: The Southdale Center

Southdale Center

  1. With the entire class, brainstorm a list of where students shop and where they do not, focusing on location, not individual stores. Once a list is created, ask students why some locations are more successful than others.
  2. Introduce assignment to students. Explain that they will be proposing their own new economic/commercial center for their communities.
  3. Watch the Southdale Center segment from the PBS special, 10 Buildings that Changed America, on DVD or at Prompt students to take notes during the segment. CONTENT NOTE: In this segment, Victor Gruen is quoted calling later shopping malls “bastard developments.”
  4. Facilitate discussion about the Southdale Center segment. Questions to prompt discussion may include:
    • What were Victor Gruen’s intentions for the Southdale Shopping Center?
    • What were some of the economic outcomes of the shopping center?
    • In what ways did the Southdale Shopping Center not meet Gruen’s design intentions?
    • Thinking about Gruen’s intended consequences and the Southdale Center’s unintended consequences, what factors should be considered when proposing new economic development in a community? Consider both economic factors and non-economic factors (e.g., cultural traditions and customs, values, interests, abilities).

Activity 2: Brainstorming

  1. Ask students to think about development that has been made in their own communities and the effects it has had (positive or negative). Teachers should be familiar with a few local instances of economic change, ideally with at least one current example. For example, instances of economic change could be a new construction or renovation project in the community or a recent loss (e.g., department store closing). On a larger scale, this could be a new industry (e.g., wind, Marcellus shale) or a declining one (e.g., auto, manufacturing).
  2. Brainstorm list of development ideas with students.
  3. Select one item from the list and identify its economic and non-economic impacts on the community. Identify each impact as positive or negative (or both) and explain why. Hypothesize whether or not each impact was intended or unintended and explain why. Have students document this example on worksheet titled “Social Studies Worksheet.”
  4. Students should select three more items and complete the worksheet individually. Encourage them to talk with adults about the economic impact of the examples they have selected.

Activity 3: Creating a Poster

  1. Introduce the assignment in greater depth. Explain that students will be creating a poster of an architectural solution (e.g., new building, renovation, plaza, courtyard) for their community. Posters should be designed to convince local government officials that the new project is essential to improving the community, explaining the potential economic and non-economic impacts of the project.
  2. As a class, brainstorm ideas for new community development. Discuss ideas, considering the benefits to the community, feasibility, and cost-effectiveness.
  3. Each student should propose a project (e.g., new building, renovation, plaza, courtyard) and write an overview of why they selected it and what impact it would have on their community. Proposals should include a ranked list of positive impacts to demonstrate the value of the project to government officials. Additionally, potential negative impacts should be discussed in the proposal.
  4. In small groups, students should discuss proposals. Peers should discuss the ranked list and propose ideas to modify the project to alleviate the negative impacts.
  5. Using text and images, students will design a poster that clearly illustrates their proposal to their community. Consider inviting local government officials to view the posters.


Assignments are designed to address the standards and learning goals of the lesson. Each assignment is mapped to the appropriate standards and learning goals.

  1. Evaluate and comment on both lists that the students created before they design their final proposal.
    • Level III Standard 2.9: Understands that many non-economic factors (e.g., cultural traditions and customs, values, interest, abilities) influence patterns of economic behavior and decision-making.
  2. Assess the students’ final poster proposals, evaluating their ability to clearly represent their ideas and having a clear understanding of its potential effects.
    • Level IV Standard 4.4: Understands that the introduction of new products and production methods by entrepreneurs is an important form of competition and source of technological progress and economic growth.
    • Level IV Standard 4.5: Understands the externalities are unintended positive or negative side effects that result when the production or consumption of a good or service affects the welfare of people who are not the parties directly involved in the market exchange.