Malls are a perfect complement to the car-driven suburban planning model but perfectly at odds with efforts to shop local and revitalize downtowns. A mall is the epitome of American consumerism — choice, convenience and culture — and a mall’s ability to withstand economic and technological disruption is all the more testament to that.
In Joan Didion’s 1975 essay “On the Mall,” she found herself wanting to build a mall, that “perfect fusion of the profit motive and the egalitarian ideal.” Would her mall still be standing in the face of online shopping and a crumbling facade of inclusivity today? Even 40 years on, the business model has adapted but remains fundamentally the same.
“One thing you will note about shopping-center theory is that you could have thought of it yourself, and a course in it will go a long way toward dispelling the notion that business proceeds from mysteries too recondite for you and me,” Didion wrote.
I take that to mean the customer is always right: We vote with our money, and the front-runner is usually something with plenty of parking and maybe a fountain or two. Up go the malls.
I tend to be more urban-minded, so I’ll pay for parking, walk an extra block and brave the rain to help grow the city from the inside.
But sometimes you just have to go to the mall, man.
On the drive from Vancouver Mall back to the newsroom on Thursday I decided I’m part of that club too, like it or not. So I blasted some Taylor Swift and sang along: “We never go out of style.”