Mourning the mall

My latest for Al Jazeera English is on the fall of the American mall:

The mall has long been derided by those with the luxury of an alternative. When the US industrial economy faltered in the 1970s, downtowns in many cities crumbled, and shopping malls – homogeneous, enclosed and sterile – both enabled and compensated for their demise.

In the media, malls were pilloried as monoliths devoid of character. Mockery of the mall spurred pop culture prototypes: vacuous valley girls, meandering mall rats. Underlying the mockery was grief for the loss of a seemingly more connected and welcoming urban life: the independent businesses, local markets, and community ties built around them.

But while these were memories for some, for others they were merely rumours. A functional local economy was a story our parents told us.

For US citizens raised in cities of post-industrial blight, there was the mall and the mall alone. We did not “choose” between supporting the mall or the local businesses, because by the time we came of age there were few local businesses left to support. There were no independent boutiques and bookstores to protect from corporate takeover: Such battles were plot devices of movies set in more cultured places. We watched from afar, wondering what it was like to have something to lose. Our rundown towns had little anyone wanted: empty lots, boarded windows, vacant stores.

Decades passed, and no one rebuilt them. Now the malls follow, and no one will rebuild them either.

My generation watches the malls fall like our parents watched the downtowns die. To our children, the mall will be a nostalgic abstraction, a 404 in concrete.

Read Mourn the fall of the mall at Al Jazeera English

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One Response to Mourning the mall

  1. Reblogged this on 21st Century Theater and commented:
    More evidence of our collective decline. A stark example of the costs of a venal system hacking away at people’s livelihoods for decades. Malls were always horrific to me on every level, but the loss of good jobs that enabled working people to shop at malls in the first place is the real horror here.

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