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An analysis of a postwar dream
It’s hard to think about Edmonton without West Edmonton Mall coming into view. It was the first megamall when it was built in the 1980s, full of a myriad of attractions, and was billed as the biggest enclosed shopping experience on Earth. I think the presence of this behemoth during my upbringing imbued a deep fascination with malls. As a kid, I regularly went to the mall, and loved it. West Edmonton Mall (WEM) definitely gave me a distorted idea of what a mall could be, something no mall I’ve visited has been able to live up to. But that didn’t stop my intrigue with malls, visiting all sorts while I tried to get the hit a visit to The Greatest Indoor Show on Earth provided. Edmonton loves malls though, and it’s not just about WEM — Southgate and Kingsway Malls are popular alternatives, while the city’s downtown has numerous enclosed commercial spaces. The University of Alberta likewise features HUB Mall, where student residences sit above a retail corridor meant to evoke underground Asian commercial concourses and a skyscraper tipped over on its side. Edmonton, like many cities, has also seen many malls come and go over the decades; Capilano and Abbotsfield Mall got retrofitted into big-box power centres while a new outlet mall opened by the airport in recent years. Still, I think WEM is a particularly potent force on Edmonton. It’s an exemplar of the utopian ideology that shopping malls tether themselves to by creating fantastical spaces. It’s Edmonton’s most well known feature and plays heavily into the city’s identity. As I grew up I became more critical of malls, something that exists to this day. But despite that I can’t deny the nostalgia and intrigue they possess due to my upbringing in a very mall-forward city.
WEM’s largely 1980s origins also evokes a nostalgia for a vibrant epoch in Edmonton’s history. In fact, the ‘80s left such an impression that during my own upbringing through the dormant ‘90s and 2000s, the city felt like it was suspended in a collective hangover since 1990. The ‘80s were the glory days of Gretzky, when the city came together as a “City of Champions” after the Black Friday tornado. It was, until the 2010s, the last time Edmonton felt any confidence in itself. And no decade extols the shopping mall more than the gaudy and garish 1980s. In my mind, the mall is synonymous with brass, columned mirrors, appropriated LA palms, perms, neon pink and turquoise, and shoulder pads. It was the golden age of the mall, before the Internet and prior to the full throttle revitalization of desirable city centres. The sense that Edmonton is synonymous with mall culture, which itself feels inseparable from the city’s golden age, probably explains my fascination with ‘80s aesthetics.
Arguably one of the most iconic forms of post-WWII development, the shopping centre symbolized a new era of mass consumption in North America. Its first fully-enclosed incarnation, suburban Minneapolis’ Southdale Center, opened in 1956 — a quarter-century later malls would account for over half of American retail sales.Traditionally, department stores acted as these complexes’ ‘anchors,’ with corridors of shops, fast food restaurants, and attractions linking them. With big box stores supplanting their departmental predecessors around the turn of the millennium, however, many malls began declining. Newer iterations of the mall — such as those developed by the now-defunct Mills Corporation — eschewed the department store altogether. Others morphed into something else beyond their banal suburban typology to try and hold on. Some of these consumerist meccas, be it in Edmonton or Dubai, have become known for their non-retail entertainment amenities almost as much as as their retail offerings. Despite these new morphologies, generally speaking, the shopping mall’s various makeovers haven’t stemmed the tide of changing consumptive habits towards online and big box retail. In 2017, it was predicted that a quarter of shopping malls would die by the early 2020s in the US, a trend that is likely being exacerbated by the pandemic.
At their peak, shopping malls were the social space in nearly every medium-to-large North American metropolitan area. In many regions, they still are. Be it 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1995’s Clueless, or 2004’s Mean Girls, American media immortalized this centrality. This important social function isn’t confined to the United States, though. Australian TV series Kath & Kim regularly featured Melbourne’s Fountain Gate Shopping Centre while Evan Prosofsky’s 2013 short film, Waterpark, documented the eponymous WEM attraction.
In Canada, the shopping mall has long been a popular social space, offering a climate-controlled paradise during long winters. The evolution of the mall — from outdoor to indoor in the 1950s and ‘60s, often through conversion — invited more innovation, and by the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, they began offering new experiences. This sociocultural environment spawned West Edmonton Mall in 1981. Three further “phases” were built at WEM, which was completed in 1999, (although the last phase was a repurposing of existing mall space that was built out by 1986). The mall quickly became more than a place to shop — over the years it’s hosted an amusement park, waterpark, mini golf, dinner theatre, bowling, video arcades, a submarine, flamingo displays, sea otters, and an animatronic dragon. Some of these attractions still exist at WEM while others have been retired.
Malls also serve a specific cultural and ideological purpose. Their emergence after the Second World War isn’t surprising, given how consumerism and car-centric suburbia swept North America. The enclosed shopping centre attempted to replicate the downtowns of cities in the new suburban fringes of metropolitan areas as a centre for socialization, entertainment, and consumption. In a lot of cities, malls even out-competed downtowns and contributed to their decline. The mall exists as a specific kind of community centre, distinct from the earlier downtown or town centre, even if inspired by it. Instead of an outdoor, mixed-use neighbourhood of public streets and parks, centred around walking and transit, the mall is inward, explicitly private, and wholly representative of post-war commercialism. The mall’s raison d’etre is consumption, but this is often hidden behind romantic references to good old days and tantalizing elsewheres. Of course the mall is also exclusionary — it’s meant to attract a certain clientele and deter anyone who will shatter the (imagined) joy of consumption for that clientele. The mall is also atomizing, from the private automobiles it’s designed around, to the contrived individual expression the various stores try to sell. What the mall ultimately endeavours towards is a capitalistic utopia, and although it never quite hits that mark, the aspirations can be felt throughout any shopping centre’s elongated corridors.
Following in a long media tradition, last year Kacey Musgraves used the geospatial environment of the suburban mall as music video fodder. In “simple times,”a nondescript shopping mall serves as an environment to contemplate nostalgia for adolescence. Musgraves mournfully reflects that “being grown up kinda sucks” and how much she just wants to “put this game on pause…put [her] lipgloss on, kick it at the mall like there’s nothing wrong.” The mall serves to encapsulate a lost youth, a better time that never really existed. Instead, we flatten the past and emphasize the better aspects. The truth is, in those simple times, when we thought the mall was cool, we were a mean girl, bought clothes from stores that made us hate our bodies, and/or contributed to the climate crisis via fast fashion. For instance, in 2007, you couldn’t get far without seeing a teenager in a Hollister shirt. Their parent company, Abercrombie & Fitch, has been strongly criticized for promoting unhealthy body images. Likewise, Kacey’s veil of nostalgia is destroyed in the climax of the music video when she and her crew, donning medieval war attire, storm a tearful bridal shop and literally shatter the illusion of the good old days. The fantasy of finding the perfect wedding dress to say “yes” to doesn’t mean anything if the marriage that succeeds it is hollow.
Hollowness is also something that the more “cultured” among us will attribute to the mall. It’s vapid, banal, and excessive — they’re not wrong. However, owing to a lack of alternatives, the mall has been an important community centre for suburbs. They’re also not nearly as obscene as the typology that followed them: the big box shopping centre. At least malls, once you drove to them, were created with walking in mind. Don’t mistake this defense for admiration though, because malls are still riddled with problems, from racism to environmental impacts. The making of the mall is rife with an ideology of coaxing people via a fun (and often fantastical) environment into reproducing harmful social and material conditions. The ideology and ethos of the mall is what I seek to examine in this article. In the process, maybe it’ll quench some of the fascination I have towards this quintessentially Edmonton vernacular.
While shopping malls could be described as a site of hypercapitalist excess, ironically the mall was devised by Austrian socialist Victor Gruen. He was horrifiedby the banality of first wave postwar suburbia. In response to his concerns, he devised of a new kind of centre for suburbs, a communal “third place” that the suburbs lacked. Third places are those places where community and social relationships are formed, places outside of the home and workplace wherein people interact with one another. Gruen modeled the weather-protected interior of these nascent shopping centres after the Viennese arcades that were popular in his home city. After his concept broke ground in Edina, Minnesota in the mid-1950s, the mall exploded in popularity — by 1990, over 36,000 shopping malls existed in the US alone. Despite the successful proliferation of his concept, Gruen became disillusioned with his invention, going so far as to say that he “[refuses] to pay alimony for those bastard developments”. Conversely, for others, the mall became the suburb’s “living room,” where a community based around the exchange of goods could meet and mingle. While the mall did bring people together and became a hub for community as main streets had before, they also became excessive temples of capitalism and contributed to sprawl and traffic congestion. However, these detractors didn’t prevent malls from being the dominant vernacular of suburban commerce until the rise of the big box store in the 1990s.
What’s perhaps more surprising is that the shopping mall wasn’t intended to be a sprawling, car-centric place. Instead, as Steven Johnson discovered, Gruen envisioned the enclosed arcades as merely the centre of a much larger heart.Rather than being ringed by extensive parking and wide thoroughfares, he proposed the enclosed mall to be the core of a dense, mixed-use town centre. This heart would have offices, medical services, apartments, schools, and parks. Paradoxically, the mall was supposed to be an antidote to the sprawling car-centric environments that were blossoming in North American suburbia after WWII. And while malls still promote walking once you get there, you still are expected to drive to the mall, even if transit is available.
Unfortunately, Gruen’s mixed-use and pedestrian-forward concept would be quickly forgotten as his not-fully-realized vision at Southdale Center in suburban Minneapolis proved to be an instant hit, producing endless imitations throughout the United States and beyond. From the 1950s onward, the mall existed as a formidable geospatial rendering of Western capitalism that its own inventor eschewed. Malls were an early version of the privatized public space that has become increasingly popular in cities during the neoliberal age. The liminality of malls as encompassing both sides of the public-private binary would later be exaggerated from the 1980s onwards as megamalls like WEM dramatically expanded the notion of what a mall could offer, with sharp transitions between contrasting attractions. At the megamall, entertainment and tourism became as important as shopping, and all exist in a hypercommodified encapsulation of late capitalist society.
Making conspicuous consumption desirable
Although consumption is a fundamental requirement for survival (we need to eat, after all), the exuberant and excessive consumption that came to dominate the post-WWII North American landscape was on another level. Jon Goss argues that North American culture is still imbued with a puritanical “disdain for conspicuous mass-consumption” due to a long-held belief that materialism causes moral corruption.To “assuage this collective guilt,” the retail environment is designed in a way to dissociate the shopper from the act of shopping. Arguably, this goes beyond puritanism though, as there are ugly aspects to the goods we produce. Be it labour conditions to resource extraction, consumers need to be distanced from these negative aspects of shopping to find it desirable. If consumers were regularly reminded of these things, they wouldn’t want to do it any more than necessary. Although capitalism thrives on the efficient flow of goods, Goss maintains that “idealized sensations of past or distant public places” shroud its ugliness. The act of consumption itself must subjugate production and be made attractive to the consumer. In disregarding the materiality of production, the symbolic is emboldened in order to facilitate mass consumption. Spatial environments had to be created that allowed people live out a fantasy of consumption being inherently good, abstracting consumers from the abuse and devastation that produced the goods they’re purchasing. As a result, consumer environments like malls are illusions: within them a series “commodity aesthetics” serve to drive consumers into a trance-like state of consumptive joy. This is present in other forms of consumer culture, but they’ve reached their apex in the mall.
The illusiory spectacles that malls provide come in many forms, some of which are rather banal. Goss notes that a mall’s leasing agent will often exclude or hide thrift shops, repair shops, and other services that will remind consumers of “the materiality of the commodity.”As well, vacant retail units are hidden behind vibrant hoardings that assure onlookers that a store is “coming soon,” so that nobody gets the idea that the mall is anything but a happening place.
Perhaps most ridiculous is the mall’s fantastically-contrived experiences that attempt to lure people in for longer periods of time and entice them to come back again. Developers try to create a sense of place among the nondescript chains that you see at any mall by references to past and contemporary elsewheres. Within the mall, the modernists hoped to exploit a “nostalgia for authentic community, perceived to only exist in past and distant places.”Tamed nature, in the form of gardens and palm trees, make the mall feel like a natural form, an oasis to be “contrasted with the degraded nature of the suburbs” more generally. Pastiche historical vernaculars are employed as an idealization of the past while carousels and other theme park styled attractions reference “old fashioned fun.” All of these sensory experiences exist to suspend anyone’s reservations about conspicuous consumption by making a commodified community centre as enticing as possible. Nowadays, these attractions are proving even more important in order for malls to differentiate themselves in an over-built retail landscape and to save them from becoming another dead mall. The carnival-like experience of many malls embrace the aesthetic of chaotic whimsy and vibrant serendipities while denying its authenticity. Thus, the mall creates a fun facade that hides the sanitization it does to the places it references, devoid of the danger and disorder that might otherwise occur.
The Ghermezian family knew how to exploit the fantastical and make the mall itself an attraction. They created North America’s two most famous (or infamous) shopping centres — West Edmonton Mall and the Mall of America. WEM in particular took the fantastical to the extreme, becoming the prototype for a mall that could survive into the millennium. 1992’s Mall of America, meanwhile — located in suburban Minneapolis not far from where Gruen’s archetype first blossomed — showed the world how ethereal a visit to the mall could be.
At WEM, references to elsewhere are everywhere. For Edmontonians seeking to escape the mundane, it offers a tempting teleportation far cheaper than airfare. You can drink a cappuncino on a patio at Europa Boulevard and forget what continent you’re on — until you look out and see Professor Wem’s Mini Golf ornamentation jutting upward into vaguely Parisian (or is it Praguer?) streetscape from below, anyway. From there, head towards the main corridor of the mall and you’ll be accosted by the sight of a full-scale replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria. The lagoon it sits in is home to bird-shaped paddle boats and an underground aquarium known as Sea Life Caverns. Although stripped down by recent renovations, there were once other themed references to elsewhere nearby, be it Chinatown or Bourbon Street. Two of WEM’s biggest attractions are Galaxyland, an indoor amusement park, and the World Waterpark — both proof that summer fun lives on year-round regardless of Edmonton’s climate. Every day is a beach day or carnival weekend at the mall. Another of WEM’s more hyperbolic attractions is the Fantasyland Hotel. One call to 1-800-RESERVE can end with you on a sojourn to Polynesia, space, Ancient Rome, an igloo, a princess’ bedroom, the Hollywood Golden Age, or inside a Victorian coach. If anywhere is looking camp directly in the eye, it’s the Fantasyland Hotel. The meta-fantasy it offers is both luxurious and ridiculous, and the hotel seems to revel in its own absurdity.
WEM’s interiors are haphazard, which isn’t surprising given the different fantasies it fosters. But part of its hodgepodge vernacular is likely unintentional. Renovations over the past decade have left certain areas stripped down yet refreshed while others — those unrenovated — remain vibrant if dated. This hasn’t stopped it from remaining extremely successful in spite of online shopping, big-box stores, and local boutiques, though. The mall has recently attracted luxury retailers such as Gucci, Canada Goose, and Louis Vuitton. The environment of these retailers is oxymoronic — their glossy entrances clash with the decades-old, scuffed up terrazzo tile outside its doors, which itself contrasts with the new marble floor towards the quieter part of the mall. Indeed, WEM is probably one of the few environments in which such esteemed brands would willingly locate themselves in proximity to the “cheapness” the deteriorated tile represents. This speaks to just how immensely successful the Ghermezians’ project is. Their mall is very good at making conspicuous consumption enjoyable; the fantasies it offers, both extravagant and banal, allow consumers to ignore the materiality of their actions and just have fun. At WEM, you aren’t confronted with unhoused people, sweatshop workers, political dissent, or climate change. Instead, you’re transported into a fantasy world of sterilized elsewheres that abstract the social relations which allow mass consumption to occur.
Eden and the Gendering of the Mall
Gender has had a significant role in the conception of shopping and consumption itself. For Jeanne van Eeden, the mall is far more than a place to buy things, it’s a place that shapes community within capitalism and “articulate[s] ideas concerning space and identity.”Shopping itself is a highly feminized activity and therefore spaces of consumption are designed in ways that appeal to women. In consumptive geographies, gender relations can flip; due to the feminization of shopping, the retail environment provides a space outside of the home where women can be dominant and assertive — one product choice at a time. Some have even argued that the mall can be read as a space of female empowerment because it offers an escape from patriarchal subjugation.
The roots of this gendered spatial rendering go back to the Industrial Revolution. According to van Eeden, during the 19th century expansion of capitalism, extant gender relations were disrupted: men were increasingly working outside of the home, while the home became the exclusive recluse of women.This produced a new division between work and home, at least for middle and upper income families. If women were found in the city, they were mainly “as objects for male consumption;” whereas domesticity was where femininity could “find its meaning.” The city thus became a masculine space, where men worked and could move freely among the crowds. The residential suburb, for more privileged classes, was where women were confined. The division between work and home meant that leisure space was also severed from work space. This distinction caused an association of the leisurely with the home and therefore the feminine. Eventually shopping itself would be seen as a leisurely activity, which would make consumptive spaces the domain of women.
For men in the 19th century, public space was a freeing environment removed from work and domesticity, whereas for women it was a place of danger and loss of virtue.This dichotomy meant that if women were to enter the city on their own in a safe and dignified way, it would need to be in a private space that’d be reminiscent of the home itself. The grand department stores and arcades of the era would end up acting as such spaces, who’d desired to make shopping more “fun” to captivate consumers. These retail spaces offered an interiorized version of the street, serving as a liminal space between public and private. Women would be freed from the home in a respectable way and be allowed to assume an active role as consumers.
The gendering of shopping has been around since at least the 1860s, when stores would have displays designed in theatrical ways to entice women.It wasn’t long before shopping went from being viewed as a necessary act for acquiring basic necessities to something of a leisurely activity in which someone is supposed to have fun, enticing consumers to enjoy the experience of consumption. This would be how shopping would be connected to the feminine. As the home became the domain of women while husbands went into the city for work, the home came to be seen as antipodal to work, and thus the home, and by extension womanliness, would be associated with leisure. Now that shopping was beginning to be approached as a “fun” activity, it would be thoroughly made into a feminine activity.
Contrastingly, for men, shopping is meant to be a “maintenance activity.”We see this everywhere, in both real life and media, where men begrudgingly tag along with their wife anywhere from the mall to Costco, stereotypically loathing the experience to let others know that even if they’re caught in the “girly” act of shopping, they aren’t enjoying it. In fact, men coming with women to shop has been shown to reduce the amount of time a woman would spend shopping by half! According to Emmison and Smith, men approach shopping in an efficient and “work-like” manner. Meanwhile, for women, shopping has certain “aesthetic and expressive gratification” — there’s a pleasure in “just looking around.” Shopping can be seen as an end in itself because of the socially-sanction pleasure that it offers women looking for an escape from everyday, home-bound life. Overall, this gendering produces a binary in which women would be the consumers of masculine production. However, capitalistic private-public spaces like department stores also came to be seen by early feminists as a way for (middle and upper class) women to emancipate themselves from the limitations that patriarchy imposed on them. William Leach discusses how, before World War I, feminists were enthralled with the “excitement of possibility inherent in the commodity form” because of the power consumptive spaces had in freeing women from confining gender roles that relegated them to the home. Women’s magazines of the time, which were explicitly tied to consumption and would add sections discussing women’s political advancements, venerated the department store as “the first true expression of…feminism.”
For Goss, the stereotypical shopper is a woman and commodity aesthetics work to exploit female insecurities.Retail designers construct consumers as passive and their discourse is “manifestly gendered,” which is encompassed by tropes of seduction and simulation. This is seen in both the advertising ephemera of shopping as well as how retail spaces are designed to be fun and stimulating. Of course, women are not one unified bloc of people, and for those who aren’t like the other girls, the mall is something to scorn. Because identity goes both ways — that is, it both comes from within and is a reflection of society — even those who are against something emblematic of that which they are stereotyped as being associated with will continue to be defined in relation to it. Women who don’t like malls or shopping, in many cases (though not always), do so to work against the grain of gendering, but still end up referencing that femininity which shopping has been structured around, and so still work within the societal framework ironically.
Since shopping itself has been coded as feminine, it isn’t a stretch to imagine the mall as a woman-centred environment. The first thing that Kacey Musgraves’ “simple times” video reminded me of were the white high school ‘girly girls’ from the turn of the millennium, made iconic in films such as Mean Girls and Jawbreaker; Kacey’s posse walking in synchronicity through the mall was a clear reference to similar scenes in those films. And where did all of these girls hang out after school? The mall. Van Eeden makes a clever metaphor for the mall as an Edenic oasis of consumption.Feminized words such as paradise and oasis are regularly used to describe malls and these palaces of consumption act as an inward-facing cocoon that invite allegories of desire, abundance, and a nostalgia for the primordial garden. In the mall’s lush greenery meant to reference paradisaical elsewheres, fertility can also be evoked. The fertility that malls elicit can be found in pop culture and advertising. In these mediums, it’s conveyed that something such as buying new clothes could give you a new lease on life or even get you laid. In the latter’s case, the ability to reproduce itself and the pleasure it affords is directly linked to the seductive consumption the mall presents. In this manner, the mall’s fertile aesthetics beget literal fertility.
The mall operates as a dichotomy. Seemingly referencing Eden again, Robert Simon considers the mall to be a “modern version of an imperfect paradise” that operates both as a garden of delight as well as a site of temptation.While its verdant and whimsical interior decoration seductively connote feminine traits such as nurture, fertility, and leisure, the mall’s exterior is cold, utilitarian, and brutal. In other words, the harsh exterior is masculine. Van Eeden notes that mall entrances are often designed to be deliberately suggestive of sanctuary. It’s as if the mall is telling consumers to hurry inside and be nurtured by the warm embrace of capitalism. However, the bleak exterior of malls also act as a paternalistic “fortress-like” shell, whose walls inscribe the “notion of male control of feminized space.” The mall is a metaphor for how even in spaces that seem to be the domain of femininity, where women can assert themselves, there’s often a spectre of male control.
In fact, the association of the mall (and shopping more broadly) with the feminine meant that, from an early age, I was drawn to these feminized spaces. I wanted to be like the girls, and the girls hung out at the mall, therefore I wanted to be at the mall. The white girl cliques in film always seemed to be having a fun, girly time at the mall and I wanted to have that same kind of fun. Of course, I was deeply aware that I could never occupy feminine spaces in the same way because I was coded as “other.” This alienation would give reason for me to distance myself from the mall as I grew up. But it went deeper than that — I couldn’t show too much embrace for feminine space, lest I invite more criticism for being transgressive. Even though I didn’t know what the term hegemonic masculinity meant, I was still acutely aware of its presence. Now, as an adult, these delineations that felt so rigid growing up don’t seem to matter. It’s easy for me to kick it at the mall like there’s nothing wrong, but I’ve also grown up and realized the mall isn’t as wondrous as I’d been led to believe.
California in a Bottle
Another thing that I noticed when thinking about shopping malls is how they seem to encapsulate the idyllic California lifestyle that's been manufactured and sold to the world for generations. The state was the geographic focus of a particular post-WWII American ideological project built around material abundance and promises of dreams-come-true. It was, in effect, meant to evoke a modern Eden, a paradise within which everything you could ever want could be found. As discussed, malls are their own kind of Eden too, with excess and a design around fascinating experiences to make consumption enjoyable at its core. Both environments have been packaged in such a way to be viewed as the "dream place" Betty referred to Los Angeles as in Mulholland Drive. Sometimes the way this has been marketed has diverged between the two, but the core tenets of providing happiness, abundance, and so-called "exotic" experiences drive their shared dream forward.
Once the thought of California, at least at its most idealized, being referenced throughout malls came to me, I couldn’t let go of it. Indoor shopping centres have a comfortable climate year-round thanks to abundant heating and air conditioning, which resembles the temperate, comfortable conditions of coastal California. Some malls, like WEM, have literal beaches and wave pools within them, seemingly winking at San Diego surfers in the process. Similarly, Los Angeles is coded as a materialistic place in pop culture in a very similar way that shopping centres are.
The post-modernist malls of the '80s and '90s appear to reference California most blaringly. Its garish aesthetics were a "fun" departure from the minimalism modernism produced. Malls are everyday places for the masses, full of merriment and needless ornamentation. That ostentatious aspect of post-modernist shopping centres imitates the unserious, joyful, and vivacious package California has been sold as. The state has long been stereotyped as the low-brow alternative to the refined and dignified East Coast, eschewing opera for the beach and amusement parks. Robert Venturi went on a trip to Las Vegas in the 1960s that would prove highly influential on post-modernist architecture. Entranced by its maximalist aesthetics that seemed to be more of the environments that people wanted to hang out in, he rejected the academic and high-brow nature of the modernist movement in architecture.However, Venturi easily could've gone to California and been inspired by googie and other humorous aesthetics. California and Las Vegas, like the shopping mall, are places meant to have fun in.
The malls of the post-modernist era were particularly verdant, full of an assortment of "exotic" plants only held together by the artificial climate of these interiorized consumptive spaces. Palm trees are one plant I strongly associate the malls of this age with, which is also heavily linked to California in the collective imagination. These trees saturate the interior retail corridors of cities that have snow half the year, defying nature, and providing an illusory escape from the real world. This illusion is not unlike the one America has propagated via California. Both environments entice us with ethereal exoticism in various ways to push further consumption. Even Californian palms are an illusion in — these trees aren't native to California but were intentionally planted to exoticize the state and lure settlers west.
California’s illusion goes deeper than non-indigenous flora, though. Hollywood in particular is well-known for appropriating motifs, experiences, and entire cultures and using it to drive consumption. In other words, the entertainment industry regularly takes from other places to give enticing “new” experiences to push people into tuning in and consuming, not unlike malls themselves. Los Angeles architecture is full of these references too, from Grauman’s Chinese Theater to the Venice Canals. As I was writing this, Hilary Duff’s “Stranger” played on Spotify, a song that contains heavy Arabic influence. This is just one of the many referential examples Hollywood deploys to produce a product worthy of paying attention to. Of course, there’s also more overt illusions in Hollywood, such as the plastic surgery industry, something celebrities rarely admit to partaking in despite it being clear that many do.
Within American and broader Western culture, California is paradisaical. Less obviously, shopping malls also evoke visions of paradise. Despite the shared vision, California's genuinely divine environment that existed for millennia was paved over in the name of settler colonialism, creating contrived paradises, whether in the non-native trees, the construction of malls, the appropriation of other cultures, or any number of disruptive actions. I'm not sure if mall developers intentionally mimicked California, or if they were coincidentally endeavouring to similar things. Regardless, the similarities are uncanny, such that it feels as though shopping centres offer California in a bottle. These enclosed retail environments provide a small encapsulation of the same aspirational projections that California's been evoking for generations.
The Mall is Television
After WWII, it wasn’t just the mall that was gaining popularity in suburban communities — television grew popular in the same milieu. Goss makes an apt connection between the two being one and the same — he notes that “the shopper strolls through experiences as [they] might scan through TV channels.”In fact, developers understand the importance of excitement and drama in producing a satiating environment for people thanks to the pervasiveness of television. Both TV and the mall function as a means through which to achieve capitalist ends. That is, they both serve to display and sell commodities as well as lifestyles associated with them. They’re both “escapes from suburban everyday life, a means of transport from reality.” With that in mind, the mall can be seen as a three-dimensional rendering of television — each store and attraction representing a new channel, within which arrays of advertisements are projected onto displays for easy consumption. The tantalizing attractions, from mini golf to ice rinks, aren’t that different from the gimmicks a sitcom might utilize to entice viewers. Malls and television are, perhaps, two sides of the same coin.
It’s interesting to ponder this within the milieu of the 1980s. As I said, I think that decade really encapsulates the mythology of malls. The arrogance and materialism of the ‘80s would find its match at the local mall. In the West, it also feels like the era in which, culturally, the mall reached its apex. And although it feels like a distant cultural memory, the ‘80s were also the dawn of the original Video Age. In 1981, MTV launched, whose first seconds included footage of a rocket launch followed by a lunar astronaut holding a flag with the channel’s graphic logo superimposed over the American flag, while rock music played. The association was clear: this was the future.Seconds later, the first music video aired: the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” While it feels a bit quaint to 21st century eyes, it reiterated that MTV was at the vanguard of something transformative. This was also the time during which personal video camcorders soared in popularity while the concept of owning a copy of your favourite shows on tape was becoming realized.
Soon, mall stores were displaying walls of cathode rays playing video-based fodder to passersby, seemingly directly referencing the Video Age. In these instances, the retail-television connection is now a self-referencing loop. This would become exaggerated in films of the era, ranging from Brazil to RoboCop, who’d show scenes of shopfront TV walls. Then, references to these films would be made into physical commodities to be sold at the mall. This endless loop of hypercommodified reality became inescapable. However, this era wasn’t one in which society en masse marched proudly into the Video Age. In 1980, Thomas Radecki founded the National Coalition on Television Violence, an organization whose mandate is to lobby against violence in media, as they believe that it causes an increase in real-world violence. In a 1985 article, Radecki recounts the time he went to see A Clockwork Orange while in medical school and stated that after watching the movie, he saw a nurse, whom he fantasized about kicking and beating. In 1984, Freedman noted that many texts of the era agree that “viewing violence on television is harmful.” For many at the time, there was no doubt that video depictions of violence had a detrimental impact on viewers and there was concern for the influence that television had on people, especially children.
In David Cronenberg’s seminal film Videodrome (1983), anxiety over violent television imbuing aggression in viewers was a central theme. It brought a new, satirical meaning to the old adage that television is rotting our brains. It’s set in a dystopian early ‘80s in which the battle for the minds of North America is being fought in a video-based arena. Protagonist Max Renn is caught between two entities duking it out over how the newfangled signal “Videodrome” will be utilized. Renn comes across it via a colleague at his workplace, Civic TV, for whom he seeks out new edgy material to broadcast — be it sexual, violent, or both. It’s an homage to Toronto’s CityTV which, at the time, was known for its softcore offerings.When someone is subjected to the Videodrome signal, a tumor develops in their brain that causes mind-altering hallucinations , which the film’s conflicting entities use towards violent ends. It was developed by Brian O'Blivion and his colleagues as a natural biotechnic evolution of humanity. In the film, O’Blivion only appears via television tape, and it’s later discovered that his colleagues had him assassinated so that they could use the Videodrome signal to purge society of the so-called “rot” of degenerates who watch channels like Renn’s. This new entity, “Spectacular Optical,” which offers everything from missile guidance systems for NATO to eyeglasses for the Global South, ironically wants to use violent means to rid North America of people who’re attracted to violence and sexual deviance. As the film plays out, Renn is tossed between Spectacular Optical and O’Blivion’s Cathode Ray Mission (CRM) as a pawn used to will their desires. The CRM is interesting too as it operates as space that provides food and shelter, provided people watch TV while obtaining such benefits. In the end, Max Renn is consumed by Videodrome’s signal, and is told to kill himself by the signal to become the “new flesh.”
In one eerily prescient scene, O’Blivion remarks that “the television screen has become the retina of the mind’s eye” and that “soon all of us will have special names.” In the world of Videodrome, there is a push towards the television and the human becoming conjoined as one. More broadly, the film touches on a lot of what has and is happening now through the internet, where we now have those special names O’Blivion foretold (in the form of usernames). In many ways, the fears of mind-control and over-stimulation Cronenberg played up in his film didn’t come about as a result of cable TV or VHS tapes, but a bit later as a result of the World Wide Web and social media.
If television and malls are intrinsically linked as two sides of the same coin, then critiques and concerns could be rendered similarly for both. Even during the mall’s heyday, there was still concern with regards to their impact on society. Downtowns and main streets were struggling to compete with intoxicating consumptive spaces on the urban periphery. Perhaps the mall was rotting our brains too with its overly indulgent and vapid consumer culture. Maybe the mall was wrongly trying to get us to view it as something greater than it is. Goss has explained that we’re intentionally distanced from the relations of production necessary for the goods we consume, from advertising (such as on television) to the mall itself.In this abstracting process, consumption is made pleasurable, because there’s been a desire to make it as fun as possible for over 150 years, to shield us from the human and environmental costs of such consumption. The mall is an emblem of post-WWII mass consumer culture and it’s fraught with fault. The fantasies it tries to sell us, not unlike that of television, are seductive but ultimately hollow. In recent decades, there’s been a replacement of the fulfillment long offered by strong community with attempting to achieve the same via consumption. Instead of getting to know your neighbours and volunteering at a local organization, we’re told to buy new shoes. This shift reinforces the individualizing narratives of neoliberalism that teach us to only take care of ourselves and subscribe the delusions of meritocracy it peddles. None of this is the consumer’s fault, but it does speak to a deterioration of healthy social relations that neoliberal capitalism has created.
The Core Ideology of Malls
Despite Victor Gruen’s criticisms over his invention, the mall has provided a community hub for suburbs over multiple generations. It’s where teenagers hang out, the elderly get their exercise, and, in a hypercommodified vernacular, local amenities are provided. Even though the mall does provide a third place for groups to hang out, make no mistake: the mall is all about the individual. It’s where you can find happiness in the seductive qualities of consumption. It’s where the individual is told to focus on their vanity, through makeup, clothing, a hair cut, and all of the other things that’ll make you attractive to peers, employers, and dates. While less common today, malls previously used motifs like mirror walls and columns which invites the consumer to contemplate and compare themselves to the mannequins and “magical commodities” on display.The mall wants you to gaze at your navel, as this functions well within the individualist mindset of capitalism.
The mall is also utopian, or at least it aspires to be. It’s an “idealized nowhere” whose goal is to “trap the consumer in the world of consumption.”At the mall, weather is rendered irrelevant. Instead, it’s a space in which you can enjoy comfortable weather year-round. It contrives exciting elsewheres into a safe, sanitized form where nothing can go wrong. Frequent use of water and plant displays betray nature itself, while conveying the mall as a modern oasis. These centres are often formulaic in layout and contain the same assortment of shops whether you’re in Vancouver or Quebec City. This means that the mall can flatten the specificities of particular geographies into a globalized and genericized form of familiarity. You don’t need to explain to outsiders or newcomers what the mall is like; chances are that they already know because they’ve been to the mall before, even if it isn’t your mall. At the same time, the mall’s references to other geographies and epochs, often clashing against each other, such as WEM’s Europe Boulevard and Santa Maria replica, compresses space and trivializes time. Shopping malls function as a cocoon from the outside world, a space meant to offer fantasies of endless happiness and excitement, while tamed from any outside danger.
Jon Goss described malls as a “purified social space,” wherein certain strata of society can be excluded, so that it protects the preferred white middle class patrons from the “moral confusion” of social difference.In addition to discriminatory hiring policies and harassing so-called “street people,” malls have also tried limiting the hours “rowdy” teenagers can patronize the mall without adult supervision. Anyone who “[subverts] the normality of conspicuous consumption” can be harassed and removed, which often means poor and racialized people. Thus, the mall functions as a space in which class lines, racial divisions, or anything that would “remind the consumer of the existence of less-privileged populations” are eliminated in order to keep desired cohorts of the middle and upper classes comfortable and happy. As Steven Miller further states:
Dovey describes the shopping mall as a highly controlled space where an illusion of happy consumption is busily maintained. This then is the ideal community where poverty is absent and where social divisions or eccentricities are erased. The absent nature of space is further reinforced by the design of the shopping mall: its highly formularised structure with an onus on uniform chain stores, alongside the fact that it often stands in such stark contrast to its external surroundings. This is a space apparently devoid of crime as well as inclement weather and cars. This is or at least aspires to be a pure environment, socially as well as environmentally.
Continuing the concept of the mall as idealized nowhere, Miller argued that the mall is emblematic of a “utopian desire for a purified community of social harmony, abundance, and classlessness”. Eco Gecko further states that, at the mall, there is no “political conflict or social tension.” Malls regularly prohibit protest, panhandling, and the handing out of pamphlets. This, in conjunction with the veneer of classlessness, makes the mall a comfortably apolitical space for middle and upper class consumers. Of course, as Goss noted, “the politics of exclusion involves the exclusion of politics.” That is, the apolitical milieu shopping centres create is made possible by its exclusionary political ideology that sanitizes itself of difference and presumed danger.
In the 1980s, Winnipeg, like many Canadian cities at the time, embarked on a downtown revitalization scheme centred on recreating the suburban mall archetype in the very place malls were disrupting. Opening in 1987, Portage Place was meant to attract affluent, largely white capital back to Winnipeg’s downtown. Owen Toews notes that there’s a tendency for Winnipeg’s developers, councillors, and others with a stake in land development to view the city’s core as barren and empty, “erasing existing residents’ own claims to the area.”Portage Place ultimately didn’t fulfill its promise to lure back middle and upper income folks and instead reflects the demographics of the area, which is poorer, heavily Indigenous, and home to a large refugee population. As a result, the mall would come to function as a community hub for those that were omitted from revitalization plans. The actual usage of the mall clashes with the idea that the City had for it — instead of offering an apolitical illusion of classlessness to suburban office workers, Portage Place forces you to confront the disparities in society. Unlike your average shopping centre, politics are often on full display here, with demonstrations for Idle No More occuring over the past decade and patrons sporting “Native Pride” hats. But the mall’s corporate owners still want to attract capital, and so are “openly hostile” to those who live in the area and actually use the mall. This includes installing a white box that emits a high-frequency sound to deter youth from loitering. Fearing the mall as a failure, plans were announced in 2019 to rebuild Portage Place in a renewed attempt to attract preferred demographics to Winnipeg’s downtown. Revitalization, reconstruction, and reconstitution are often a veiled but formidible attempt to push out those who already are part of a city’s downtown community and utilize its spaces, reinscribing colonial dispossession on the space.
As well, the public services provided by the mall are curated around increasing consumption. As previously discussed, the mall attempts to hide the vulgarity of conspicuous consumption and promote shopping as a joyful activity, often utilizing fantastical spaces to do so. Those services which clash with increased retail sales are absent or only reluctantly added. Drinking fountains reduce pop sales while washrooms attract drug dealing and sex (an affront to the family-friendly fun the mall promises), so both are limited to peripheries within the mall.As well, Beddington found that while places for patrons to rest is an important consideration in mall design, so to is the necessity for shoppers to not spend too much time idle. Thus, seating musn’t be too comfortable, because comfy seats promote loitering and not spending, particularly in those demographics that the mall wishes not to attract: those who cannot afford to regularly spend hours buying a bunch of commodities.
Shopping malls function as an atomized utopia befitting of this contemporary age of mass consumption and hyperindividualism. Sharon Zukin explains how landscapes are “an ensemble of material and social practices and their symbolic representation.”Also, the built environment, according to Umberto Eco, is socially and psychologically persuasive. Malls reflect these thoughts. For instance, they both restrict and promote movement patterns along certain designated corridors. Similarly, they inundate their patrons with references to exotic experiences and geographies as a means of persuading would-be shoppers to consume. They manipulate people into thinking in certain ways and behaving in others. Malls often have little tolerance for particular behaviours, and in suburban regions that lack strong public spaces, it can be quite alienating if you were to be banned from the mall for not adhering to its rules. The mall doesn’t promote itself as a haven for poor people; it’s a physical manifestation of the political and economic doctrines of our world, and it centres and molds the desires of those with the most privilege (affluent, often white consumers). Without the drive to promote consumerism via abstracted fantasies, the mall as it’s known today wouldn’t exist.
Limits to Nostalgia
As more time passes, the further back our society seems willing to go to try and capture something missing in our digital age. These references to the past only get stronger with each year, even if it flattens the past and turns entire epochs into caricatures. The ‘50s diner is a good example in this regard, something referenced in Back to the Future, indicating that the trope has existed for some time. And while Back to the Future was wrong to assume we’d have ‘80s-themed cafes in the 2010s, it was right to assume that the ‘80s would become its own iconic caricature to be fetishized in the early 21st century. Arguably WEM serves as a better token of ‘80s culture than Cafe ‘80s could’ve ever hoped to achieve. Built during the shopping mall’s heyday, WEM points to the decade’s worst aspects; hyperbolism, materialism, and tackiness. Its self-important grandeur is a testament to the egos of that era.
David Berry, in On Nostalgia, discusses the unreliability of his book’s namesake sentiment. In his words, “nostalgia is in a real sense dishonest — if not actively, then in that slipperier lie-by-omission way, not really giving the whole truth about what came before”. Essentially, we wear rose-coloured glasses to assess the past — even for those utterly horrible times — thus redeeming it, and making us long for it. As well, our recollection of the past gets muddied each time we go back to it. The further we get from an actual event, and the more times we go over it, the more our histories are flattened and blurred. Berry articulates this notion as such:
It’s akin to walking across a snowy field: the first time you do so, you create an obvious path. The next day, the wind has covered it with a light dusting: the outline may be obvious, but because your balance is a bit shakier or you’re walking with a friend or you’re looking at your phone, you can never quite replicate the exact steps. Walk it enough, with enough tiny shifts, and the path ends up in an entirely different place, but still looks, from the end, like the one you started with.
Nostalgia acts as a means for reconciling the past with the present, and in its manifestation, creates a yearning for past eras that were never as amazing as we’d like to imagine them as. Our memories are unreliable, increasingly so with distance. Perhaps the root of longing, that wistful melancholy, is that we can never truly go back, both in our heads and in the physical realm. This represents a clear limit to the ability of nostalgia.
Musgraves’ “simple times” video clearly shows a nostalgia for halcyon mall rat days. However, it also articulates a sense that the past isn’t as great as it seems when we’re romanticizing it. The video ends with her and her clique shattering the delusions that the mall and its normality has tried to sell us. As much as it’d be cool to return to the days of just having a pager instead of a mini computer on me at all times, that era was also rife with problems. As much as the mall itself is a fantasy, the romanticization of youthful days at the mall and how great that time supposedly was is also a fantasy.
The mall is also a manifestation of nostalgic geography in a more literal sense. In attempts to make consumption desirable, the mall will often tug at collective nostalgic impulses to produce new fantasies in patrons. So-called “authentic” antique carousels and similar amusements, for example, hearken back to innocent days of youthful fun.Goss argues that the fantastical elsewheres that mall developers employ is also a way for them to exploiting collective nostalgia for authentic elsewheres. Seemingly aware of its homogenous banality, malls understand that the contemporary world can be alienating. That’s why they’ll have references to the past and elsewhere baked into the experience: it serves as another way of making shopping more joyful. If the walkable neighbourhood and organic community that accompanied it has been replaced by a Corbusian nightmare of entangled overpasses and cookie-cutter subdivisions, the mall tries to reconcile that alienation with its faux main streets. Of course, malls are still contrived spaces and most seem aware of this. But among those of us for whom the mall is designed, there’s a willingness to eschew the advantages of public urban life and submit to the benevolent (to them) authority of privatized public space. The success of malls that lean heavily into nostalgic experiences is evidence that we’ll happily accept nostalgia and representation as a substitute for authentic experience.
As malls flatten history, they also bastardize time itself. In the most excessive of malls, such as WEM, you can literally have Chinatown on top of Bourbon Street or a replica of a colonial ship down an escalator away from giant Star Wars paraphernalia. The post-modernist malls of the 1980s and early ‘90s had a particular obsession with oversized analogue clocks, almost winking at how absurd any attempt to understand its anachronisms would be. This is itself a nostalgic reference of public plazas of the past, a literal reference to “times past.”Altogether, this means that these temples of capitalism can then be made to be timeless. Endless anachronistic absurdities and the dissolution of any reference to local geography seem to remove the mall from time and space itself — the mall is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
This is an interesting stage for me to reach because I’m be obsessed with time and space to the point that the two are often wrapped around each other. Those who know me know my emotions are regularly saturated and geographies can elicit deep feelings in me because of their associations. The passage of time terrifies me and I’m constantly yearning for a past I know isn’t as wonderful as I’m imagining it to be. I’m acutely aware of how much harder of a time I’d have in 1991, but I can’t stop myself from fantasizing about it. I’m never satisfied with the present and the future is uncertain, so I overindulge in fantasies about the past. Perhaps the mall can be a geography in which I can escape the crushing weight of existence that time and space remind me of. But unfortunately, this is one fantasy of the mall that I cannot imbibe. For me, the mall is nostalgic not because of its references, but because of the memories and associations I have with the mall itself. WEM may entice us into suspending our belief that we’re in Edmonton, but to me, WEM couldn’t be anywhere but Edmonton. It’s an extremely Edmonton experience, no matter how ersatz, and I have an endless pit of memories associated with it. And so I think this retrospective on the mall is another way of me indulging in something I’ll never get back to: a time when I was young and when things didn’t seem so dire. Therein lies the trap of nostalgia and the limits to its ability to soothe the discomforts associated with time. Like it or not, the social milieu that old fairgrounds were surrounded by cannot be authentically replicated in the mall’s pastiche carousels — those days are gone just as much as my adolescence is.
Where does the mall go from here?
Over the past decade or so, it’s become apparent that malls don’t universally fulfill the central role they once did. It’s obvious that too many malls were built in the 20th century,especially in the US, and with the competition of online and big-box retail, not every mall has been able to keep up. While some experience a kind of schadenfreude at the concept of dead malls, relishing in their supposed demise, I don’t think the mall itself is over. What I do think is that the mall’s heyday is over and it no longer occupies the same central role for suburban lives as it once did. This is a very recent shift — recently rewatching 8 Simple Rules reminded me that, even in the mid-2000s, the suburbanite’s social life often revolved around the mall. Today, you still see in real life and in media people hanging out at the mall. The tone has shifted though — no longer is the mall someplace lauded to the extent it was even 15 years ago — now it just happens to be one of many spaces suburbanites utilize and whose patrons don’t seem to have the same exuberance towards.
This tonal shift is mirrored in the fast-casual aesthetics that predominate shopping mall renovations over the past decade. Gone are the colourful, outlandish, and fantastical motifs that people like Goss wrote about in the early ‘90s. The current generation of mall management and developers are interested in a toned-down, minimalist aesthetic that’s meant to evoke a kind of refined taste. This is the aesthetic that businesses like Chipotle and other fast-casual businesses promoted. These restaurants sought to offer the convenience of fast food but with a more elevated sensibility. Such restaurants inevitably influenced regular fast food restaurants like Wendy’s and McDonald’s, whose current designs are sleek and minimal, completely divorced of any prior merriment their architecture afforded. This inevitably trickled down into mall renovations in the 2010s, likely due to the fact that the most successful malls today not only offer a range of entertainment options a la Mall of America and WEM but also are chasing the higher end market. Even WEM feels notably stripped down these days: gone are the Edenic palms and flamingos, while Chinatown essentially exists in name alone, and the Phase III food court looks like an IKEA showroom. Regardless of motives, this fast-casual aesthetic does give malls a very muted feeling that matches the more lukewarm cultural reception they get now compared to a generation ago.
And yet, it isn’t wrong to point out that a lot of malls are declining. But what’s often missed in these discussions is that certain malls are as popular as ever. It’s very obvious that every major metropolitan area still has well-regarded shopping malls, but they’re not the local malls. Instead, we’re seeing a consolidation of desirable malls into a handful of regional centres that draw people from either the whole region or a significant portion of it. For example, in Edmonton, there are three highly successful malls remaining: WEM, Southgate, and Kingsway. Malls like Londonderry and the new outlet mall by the airport also have decent success but don’t have as broad an appeal. The rest are dying or being transformed into medical centres, big box power centres, or, perhaps most interestingly, new pseudo-walkable satellite cores.
The rebuilding of shopping malls into suburban quasi-downtowns is an interesting about-face in the direction of Victor Gruen’s original vision for malls. Proposals in this direction in suburban Vancouver’s Oakridge and Metrotown and Toronto’s Square One in many ways remind me of the type of mixed-use, dense, walkable cores for suburbs that Gruen imagined generations ago. Oakridge is being rebuilt right now, with an expedited redevelopment timeline seeing its completion in 2024. While there will still be interior commercial corridors, the redevelopment includes a new library and community centre, a rooftop public park, refurbished offices, and a heaping dose of new residential units. At Metrotown, a 100-year plan was approved in 2019 that calls for a long-term redevelopment of the mall into a suburban downtown of walkable streets, plazas, and even more high-rises. At the end, a broken grid of streets will be imposed on Metrotown, while a small interior atrium of the mall will remain.Loading docks at the remaining portion of the mall will be moved underground to enhance the safety of the pedestrian realm. Out east at Square One, the “largest mixed-use development in Canadian history” is planned. A new transit hub, greenspace, new office buildings, and thousands of new residential units will be constructed while enhanced streetscapes will make the parking lot-ridden landsdcape a lot more walkable. What’s interesting about these 3 mall redevelopments is that they’re not occurring in malls that are on their last breaths. Square One is Canada’s 7th most productive shopping mall and Metrotown is considered a “crown jewel” of Ivanhoe Cambridge’s retail assets. Comparatively, in Edmonton, the most significant mall redevelopment is beginning at Bonnie Doon, a shopping centre that’s been on death’s doorstep for some time. In that plan, the mall will be mostly demolished and a new mixed-use village of high-rise residential and street-level commercial will be created. In Toronto’s Don Mills retail centre, an approximation of what these redevelopments hope to achieve can be seen. Here, a dying mall was razed and in its place a highly-successful walkable retail environment of main streets and public plazas was built.
Overall, I welcome this transition for malls. I think Gruen’s original concept for community centres for suburbia that rejected the banality and isolation of sprawl was far more interesting than what malls became. These redevelopments across Canada are a leap into that direction. Of course, for all the criticism that malls have faced over the past several decades, they still have and do occupy the role of community hubs for vast tracts of metropolitan areas, but they could be so much more. Instead of being a place you drive to in order to walk around, the entirety of the mall’s property can be walkable, both inside and outside, barren exteriors can be banished, and in place of the oceans of parking lots, better transit and cycling infrastructure can be built. As much as urbanists bemoan interiorized public spaces like malls and pedways for killing street life, I do think there’s merit to them. In much of the continent, at some point or another, it’s too hot or too cold to do much outside and so these interior corridors offer a respite that still allows people to get out of their home and engage with their community. It’s also arguably better for people to share a communal air-conditioned space rather than having every home outfitted with it, if possible. These interior spaces just need to be better connected to exterior urbanism that’s walkable and be truly public space that doesn’t discriminate. Interior pedestrian corridors can be extensions of the exterior and vice-versa, with people being able to flow near seamlessly betwixt the two.
With that said, malls are still hypercommodified spaces through which the structures of capitalist society are reverberated. They bleed impositions of profit, competition, and growth while reiterating our society’s gender relations in addition to obscuring the exploitation and environmental destruction necessary for it to all come together. But just like the mall can be reformed into a Gruen-esque suburban downtown, while retaining parts or portions of mall atria and corridors, so too can it remain a site of community even if it’s no longer tied to a morally bankrupt system. The possibilities are many for where malls go from here. They can be retrofitted into something much better as a truly communal space if there was enough demand for such changes and I think this is the best path forward for shopping centres. Or maybe they’ll become increasingly obsolete in an increasingly online world and turn into archaeological artifacts of our civilization not unlike how ancient temples in Syria and Greece are for us today. But personally, I hope their better aspects can be salvaged en route to a better world.
ibid. See comment by user Joni’sBeautySpace.
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414
Miles, Steven. Spaces for Consumption. 2010. Page 105.
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414 (Page 18)
ibid. Page 21.
ibid. Page 22.
ibid. Page 36.
Van Eeden, Jeanne. (2006). The gender of shopping malls. Communicatio, 32(1), 38-64.
ibid. Page 40.
ibid. Page 44.
ibid. Page 45.
ibid. Page 45.
ibid. Page 46.
ibid. Page 48.
ibid. Page 52.
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Van Eeden, Jeanne. (2006). The gender of shopping malls. Communicatio, 32(1), 38-64. Page 52.
Leach, W. 1984. Transformations in a culture of consumption: Women and department stores, 1890-1925. Journal of American History 71 (2): 319-342.
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414
ibid. Page 19.
Van Eeden, Jeanne. (2006). The gender of shopping malls. Communicatio, 32(1), 38-64. Page 57-58.
ibid. Page 58. Couldn’t find access to Simon’s article but van Eeden directly names him as the author of this point.
ibid. Page 58.
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414 (Page 39)
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414
Freedman, Jonathan J (1984). Effect of Television Violence on Aggressiveness. Psychological Bulletin, 96(2), 227-246. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/1984-30860-001.pdf?auth_token=c9089e9a97e563509f9f2a1beb7e67aa89827aa6
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414. Page 20, 37.
Miles, Steven. Spaces for Consumption. 2010. Pages 105-106.
Miles, Steven. Spaces for Consumption. 2010. Page 107.
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414. Page 27.
Toews, O. (2018). Stolen City: Racial Capitalism and the Making of Winnipeg.. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing. Page 152.
ibid. Page 275.
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414. 26.
Beddington, N (1982). Design for shopping centres. London: Butterworth Scientific. Page 36.
Zukin, S (1991). Landscapes of power: From Detroit to Disney World. Berkeley: University of California Press. Page 16.
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414. Page 31. → Umberto Eco’s Function and sign: The semiotics of architecture is cited here but it’s impossible to find the specific version Goss was citing.
Berry, D. On Nostalgia. 2020. Page 24.
ibid. Page 27.
Goss, J. (1993). The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,83(1), 18-47. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2569414. Page 37.
ibid. Page 43.