telling you to be disorderly at the mall:
The father of the mall was a socialist. This tidbit always gets dropped in discussions of mall history, and it’s usually deployed for cheap irony: let’s all laugh at Victor Gruen, the left-winger who created the architectural signature of global capitalism—as if he did it by accident! It’s a joke that is funniest if you believe neither in socialism nor in malls. Alexandra Lange’s Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall treats the mall more seriously, because its author is faithful to the mall of her youth, honoring the small joys and safe liberties she discovered there. She still holds out hope that the great dream of the socialist mall may yet come to pass: a place where private pleasures can be channeled and co-ordinated to serve the public good. Her book is at once passionate about the mall’s civic potential and honest about the reasons it’s so hard to shop your way to brotherhood. There’s a line in Pascal’s Pensées that has stuck with me since I first encountered it: “Man’s greatness even in his concupiscence. He has managed to produce such a remarkable system from it and make it the image of true charity.”
The dream of the mall is that you can also get a pretzel.
Photo of Pentagon City Mall by “Famartin,” via Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons license.