The end of the malls?

Yes, the shopping malls are packed this time of year.  But hardly any are being built any more.  And many of the existing malls are being demolished.  The concept of the vast enclosed shopping space surrounded by a vast parking lot seems to be fading.  In its place is the “town center,” the shopping area that is pedestrian friendly, open to the sky, and that combines shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and places to live.  Architect Roger K. Lewis gives a good account of what happened:

After World War II, the enclosed regional shopping mall emerged because of two interdependent American phenomena: construction of the interstate highway system and rapid growth of low-density metropolitan suburbs.

Starting in the early 1950s, residents and many businesses fled cities, populating the expanding outer suburbs. Downtown department stores and smaller shops had ever fewer customers, but suburbanites still needed a place to shop, and the regional shopping center satisfied that need perfectly.

With affordable cars, cheap gas, a growing network of arterial roads and a seemingly endless supply of inexpensive land, the regional shopping mall was a logical invention. Equally logical was the real estate and mall design formula: acquire land with access to a major highway; assemble enough acreage to build a very large, weatherproof structure surrounded by parking lots; construct long concourses (often two levels high) lined on each side by scores of shops; and plug the ends of concourses with anchor department stores. To complete and enhance the formulaic picture, provide a food court, pump up concourse light levels, design enticing storefronts, pipe in music and pleasant scents, and install seasonal decorations, including Santa Claus.This formula proved extremely successful throughout America.

Today, however, middle-class flight from cities has ebbed. Adult children of the generations that inhabited post-war suburbia often choose not to stay in the the suburban settings where they grew up. Even their parents, tired of maintaining a house bigger than they now need, are heading back toward or into cities. Others (the young, middle-aged or elderly) are choosing to live in denser, walkable communities, where there is more to do and where shopping does not require driving several miles. This is one reason why town centers are being built, even in suburban locations, and why huge shopping malls are not.Traditional nuclear families (mother, father, two kids) are now less than half of all American households. Coupled with falling home values, mortgage foreclosures and unemployment, demographic reality is contributing to the depopulation of many suburban and exurban communities. A shopping mall cannot survive without population growth and customers who can afford to shop.

Also, for essentially aesthetic reasons, more people prefer not to shop in fading, older retail facilities that may be poorly maintained and perhaps half-empty. This suggests that Americans’ taste and appreciation of good architecture is improving.

via Visions of lively town centers dancing in more developers’ heads – The Washington Post.

What a concept.  Diverse businesses arranged off sidewalks with people living upstairs.  Sounds like downtowns.

But I do like the new town centers.  There are some good ones around where we live.  I’m curious how prevalent these are.  Do you have some where you live?  Are they an improvement over malls?  Or are they basically the same things only without roofs?

How John Stuart Mill changed the culture

Roger Kimball on the legacy of John Stuart Mill:

In 1859, two revolutionary books were published. One was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The other was John Stuart Mill’s pamphlet On Liberty. Darwin’s book revolutionized biology and fundamentally altered the debate between science and religion. Mill’s book revolutionized the way we think about innovation in social and moral life.

What is your opinion of innovation? Do you think it is a good thing? Of course you do. You may or may not have read Mill on the subject, but you have absorbed his lessons. What about established opinion, customary ways of doing things? Do you suspect that they should be challenged and probably changed? Odds are that you do. Mill has taught you that, too, even if you have never read a line of On Liberty.

Mill’s essay was ostensibly about the relation between individual freedom and society. Mill famously argued that the only grounds on which society was justified in exercising control over its members, whether that control be in the form of “legal penalties” or simply “the moral coercion of public opinion,” was to “prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”

This part of Mill’s argument quickly attracted searching criticism. The British judge James Fitzjames Stephen, for example, went to the heart of the problem when he observed that Mill assumed that “some acts regard the agent only, and that some regard other people. In fact, by far the most important part of our conduct regards both ourselves and others.” As for withholding “the moral coercion of public opinion,” Stephen observed that “the custom of looking upon certain courses of conduct with aversion is the essence of morality.”

Stephen’s criticisms of Mill were published in his book Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, which appeared about a decade after On Liberty. Many of the criticisms are devastating. Intellectually, Stephen made mincemeat of Mill. But that has hardly mattered. Mill’s doctrines have taken the world by storm, while Stephen has receded to become a footnote in intellectual history.

Why? One reason is that Mill said things that people wanted to hear. Mill seemed to be giving people a permanent vacation from the moral dictates of society. How often have you heard the argument “It’s not hurting anyone else” put forward as a justification for self-indulgence?

But it was not simply what he said about the relation between individual freedom and social control that made On Liberty such an influential tract. Much more important was the attitude, the emotional weather, of the book.

On Liberty is only incidentally a defense of individual freedom. Its deeper purpose is to transform the way we regard established morality and conventional behavior as such. In brief, Mill taught us to be suspicious of established morality not because what it says is wrong (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t) but simply because it is established.

Think about that. The tradition that Mill opposed celebrated custom and established morality precisely because they had prevailed and given good service through the vicissitudes of time and change; their longevity was an important token of their worthiness.

Mill overturned this traditional view. Henceforth, the customary, the conventional was suspect not because it had failed but simply because if was customary and conventional. . . .

Granted that every change for the better has depended on someone embarking on a new departure. Well, so too has every change for the worse. And surely, [David] Stove observes, there have been at least as many proposed innovations which “were or would have been for the worse as ones which were or would have been for the better.” Which means that we have at least as much reason to discourage innovators as to encourage them, especially when their innovations bear on things as immensely complex as the organization of society.

The triumph of Mill’s teaching shows that such objections have fallen on deaf ears. But why? Why have “innovation,” “originality,” etc., become mesmerizing charms that neutralize criticism before it even gets started when so much that is produced in the name of innovation is obviously a change for the worse? An inventory of the fearsome social, political, and moral innovations made in this century alone should have made every thinking person wary of unchaperoned innovation.

One reason that innovation has survived with its reputation intact, Stove notes, is that Mill and his heirs have been careful to supply a “one-sided diet of examples.” It is a technique as simple as it is effective:

Mention no past innovators except those who were innovators-for-the-better. Harp away endlessly on the examples of Columbus and Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno, Socrates and (if you think the traffic will bear it) Jesus. Conceal the fact that there must have been at least one innovator-for-the-worse for every one of these (very overworked) good guys. Never mention Lenin or Pol Pot, Marx or Hegel, Robespierre or the Marquis de Sade.

via Roger’s Rules » Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

 

The diner as American icon

Foreigners are fascinated by American diners, seeing them as icons of American culture.  So says the BBCg:

Sitting in a diner, on the inside looking outside.

This is a quintessential American experience. Add a booth, a Formica counter and a cup of joe – as diner patrons call their coffee.

Themed restaurants and burger chains from Mumbai to Manchester aim to replicate this chrome-flashed experience, and diner fare such as home fries and fluffy pancakes are now global fast food staples.

So why are these kerbside kitchens a landmark of US culture?

The first such establishment opened in 1872 in Providence, Rhode Island – a “night lunch wagon” to serve those who worked and played long after the restaurants had shut at 20:00.

Its mix of open-all-hours eating and cheap, homemade food proved a hit, and the formula has been repeated ever since.

Today the diner occupies a place in the American heartland. The closest British approximation is not a retro-chic replica diner where hip patrons eat gourmet burgers, but the local pub.

Just as dignitaries visiting the UK and Ireland are taken for a pint and a photo call, no US election campaign is complete without a stop at a diner to emphasise the candidate’s everyman or everywoman credentials.

On the campaign trail in a diner (clockwise from left): George W Bush, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Al Gore Common touch: The diner is now a compulsory stop on the campaign trail

“The thing about this democratic counter is that anyone can go in and sit down. It can be a professor, it can be a worker,” says Richard Gutman, author of American Diner Then and Now.

“A friend of mine in Pennsylvania ate in a diner and he’s in the middle of two guys. One is the chief of police and the other is just some character. The policeman looks over and says, ‘Didn’t I arrest you last year?’ and the guy says, ‘Yes you did – pass the ketchup.’”

via BBC News – Why the diner is the ultimate symbol of America.

That diners are democratic is striking in countries with a rigid class system!  The article goes on to survey the figure of the diner in American art (Edward Hopper) and movies (Pulp Fiction).   I would say that other countries would do well to imitate our diners, as opposed to our fast food joints.

The invention of the weekend

Monica Hesse on the invention of the weekend:

Before weekends could be long, they first had to be weekends.

For most of the 19th century and part of the 20th, there were none — there were simply weeks that ended. The working class had Sundays off only. Because of this, many of them would spend the Lord’s day carousing, then call in sick on Mondays. This practice was observed with enough regularity that it was called “Keeping Saint Mondays.” Religious groups hated it, and so did bosses, writes University of Pennsylvania professor Witold Rybczynski in his leisure-time history, “Waiting for the Weekend.” Various special interest groups put their heads together to come up with a solution: Saturdays. Give the people Saturday afternoon off so they have less reason to be plastered Monday morning.

The term “weekend” first shows up in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1879; it wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Saturday-Sunday dynamic duo really became codified in the United States. Shorter hours were seen as a “remedy” for unemployment, Rybczynski writes. “Each person would work less, but more people would have jobs.”

via Giving Thanks — for Long Weekends – The Washington Post.

I think this is a little oversimplified.  Certainly the Biblical sabbath was the source of the practice of a day of rest, a dramatic example of the influence of Christianity on the civilization as a whole.  This account does explain adding Saturday, which, however, was the Jewish day of rest, not to mention Christian Adventist groups.  I wonder if the climate of immigration in the 19th century–all those Jewish immigrants who would not work on Saturday–contributed to the additional day off.

Nevermind that the commandment says “six days shall you labor,” as well as underscoring the one day thou shalt not.  I suppose Saturdays became the day people labored for themselves–fixing things around the house, tinkering with this and that, running errands, “getting things done”–as opposed for laboring for someone else for pay.  That doubtless helped carve out space for the individual and the home.

Snake handling

Julia Duin is a Christian journalist who is a real pro.  She has a long story in the Washington Post Magazine on West Virginia snake handlers.  What I appreciate is that she approaches these mountain Pentecostalists with utter respect,without a shred of condescension or ridicule.  She does, though, describe the desperate social context of these folks–the lack of jobs and young people, the rampant drug abuse in these rural areas–though this isn’t the cause of snake handling, which itself is in decline compared to more prosperous times.  Apparently, even these declining churches are trying church growth methods:  They now have electric guitars and drums.  I much prefer the rattlesnakes and strychnine.  Anyway, the profile is very Flannery O’Connoresque and very much worth reading:  In W.Va., snake handling is still considered a sign of faith – The Washington Post.

Parents vs. peer-ents & the new style of protest

The president of MTV, Stephen K. Friedman, explains the Millennial generation’s way of protesting, as evident in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  That’s interesting in itself, but what struck me was the concept of “peer-ents” as opposed to “parents.”

What many believe to be OWS’s greatest weakness may be its greatest strength. At MTV, we consider it our job to understand the millennial audience. And a refusal to limit itself to a list of demands may be part of the protesters’ generational DNA.

Millennials’ relationship to authority differs from that of previous generations. Millennials weren’t raised with hierarchical, top-down parenting. They’ve grown up with peer-ents; they’re used to seeing authority figures as equals. Add to that what it means to be born and live within the swarm-power of social media, and you have a potent mix.

Millennials don’t think of themselves as outside the system. They believe they are the system. The fact that there’s no definitive leadership in New York’s Zuccotti Park speaks to this generation’s complex understanding of power.

Young people in the 1960s had a mandate and a message. The boomers stood outside the gate and issued their list of demands.

Millennials are trying to remake existing structures to reflect what they expect from business and government. Consider the protests’ General Assembly — a transparent, open, fair and participatory government. The protesters have shaped from the ground up what it means to have a civil society. Or consider how inclusive the protesters are. The young people at the heart of things have welcomed parents, teachers, administrators, union members and others from across generations.

Where their parents engaged in civil disobedience, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are participating in civilized disobedience. Zuccotti Park is the opposite of anarchy. There’s a lending library and a mulch deposit. When the city wanted to clean up, the protesters refused, preferring to clean the park themselves. OWS’s famed human microphone is a metaphor for the movement: By working together, we can amplify our voices.

Millennials realize that there aren’t always clear answers to their concerns. They know that the multitude of societal problems needs to be attacked in a multiplicity of ways.

It’s that open-door policy that has let the protests grow so rapidly. By providing a blank slate on which an entire society can project its grievances, OWS has spread across the United States and into almost 100 countries in little more than a month. It is also highly inclusive. In the small confines of of Zuccotti Park, environmentalism, anti-sexism, spirituality and more are represented.

via Occupying the millenial way – The Washington Post.


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