What is to be learned?

Expand, contract.  Build, demolish, build more.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

I was talking today with someone from Russia about the bankruptcy of Radio Shack.  She had no concept of Radio Shack and no experience living anywhere with malls older than 15 years old.  My conversations with people in Europe and Russia, when the topic turns to architecture, manifest at least one of the following points:

  • America is a young country; our idea of “old” is different than in most of the rest of the world.
  • Historical architecture is rare and also very difficult to maintain and preserve in the United States.
  • If the person I talk to is from a country with a history of massive upheaval and/or dictators, they may distrust demolitions of large areas because that tends to be what totalitarian regimes have done in the past.
  • If the person is from an area with a lot of restored architecture, they have a hard time understanding how Americans can bulldoze a Victorian mansion while in Europe, they go to great effort to rebuild architecture that was blown to smithereens.
  • People move all the time, everywhere, but the rise of the suburbs and White Flight is not something Europeans have a concept of.

I explained that in a significant shift in attitudes over the last several decades, how Americans increasingly want to live not in small towns, not in suburbs, but in cities, and that the push for the most dense areas is paving the way (no pun intended) for an uptick in demolitions here and in other cities.  I didn’t have time to talk details, but I mentioned that urban malls represented mass displacement that came with waves of “urban renewal”, and how that never does bode well for the poor and for minorities.

I also wish I’d had time to explain that even shopping malls had aspirations of permanence when they were starting out.  I didn’t have time to show my conversation partner a picture from the Northland Shopping Center in St. Louis, where the mosaic in the entryway floor of the former Baker’s Shoes actually spelled the store’s name out.  Now tenants come and go in malls over rent hikes, and my understanding is that malls change management companies with alarming regularity.  This page about the Northland Mall, although it’s not about the urban core and high density housing, is still about learning from past mistakes…or not.  And I don’t think people are learning.


Posted on April 1, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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