The Mall Generation

There is a great deal of debate about the name for the generation following Generation X. Generation Y is used, but has all the charm and descriptiveness of what it is, a place holder until something better comes along. As the title suggests, I propose "The Mall Generation."

First a bit of background. I don't know which generational label I fall under. Most 'authorities' have Generation X ending in 1981. It would, therefore, include me. I don't particularly feel a member of that generation. I was 9 when the eighties were over. I never owned and Atari. I am more a vanguard for Generation Y. I remember a time before the world wide web, VCRs, CDs, DVDs, cable, broadband, TiVo, and the personal computer but these things have become an integral part of my life. I bought most of them at the Mall.

As the children of the generation that abandoned the cities, we rarely heard our parents say "we're going down town to do some shopping." The suburbs left us without a 'corner market' and without street corners to hang out on. Our parents, in escaping from the dangers of the city, created a replacement for the commercial streetscape - the Mall. Our parents created them, but we lived them.

We'd go to the mall to hang out. We'd meet our friends there. We worked there. On occasion, we'd even shop there. The Mall, combined with the less glamorous but equally important 'Big Box Store' have defined our generation's architectural expectation.

Older generations 'went down town' to a department store or a selection of specialty shops for their shopping experience. The trip would involve a car, bus or train ride into an urban core. Walking would be done out doors on sidewalks. The department store itself would be from the 'general store' model, but built in walnut and marble. Men in tuxedos would play the piano in the atrium. Although large and largely separated from the community, the department store was still a part of it. Entering the department store involved walking on sidewalks with other people, taking a bus or a train or a subway. Having a bite to eat involved going down the street to a deli or restaurant.

Contrast this with The Mall. We arrive individually in our car. We park on acres of blacktop and walk to the entrance. Once inside, we enter a space that is entirely withdrawn from any community, let alone the one on whose outskirts The Mall was built. The Mall has its own food court. It has its own police force. It has its own streets - the indoor kind that aren't dangerous or full of 'unsavory' types of people. It has its own rules and laws. It has its own piped in music and public announcement system. It even has its own weather. Seventy degrees and artificially sunny everyday of the year. Victor Gruen, architect of the first shopping mall, would be proud.

We are a generation that has no concrete experiential connection with 'Main Street.' It is something we hear old people wax on about. Our attempts to recreate it, via New Urbanism or otherwise always feel a bit artificial. The Mall mentality is pervasive. We seek the familiar, with all its unused parking, to the detriment of our communities.

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