THE MALLING OF AMERICA: An Inside Look at the Great Consumer Paradise by William Kowinski

THE MALLING OF AMERICA: An Inside Look at the Great Consumer Paradise

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For someone with a lot of time to spare and a laid-back mentality, there might be considerable pleasure, as well as some illumination, in Kowinski's ruminative impressions of shopping malls at selected locales around the US--starting with his western Pennsylvania hometown of Greensburg. There, along with noting the demise of Main Street, Kowinski comes to an understanding of why the malls are strictly regulated (e.g.,"" 'We don't want a store that looks old,' Harry said"") and arrives at some stock thoughts about the nature of malls: ""This is the culmination of the postwar Highway Comfort Culture""; ""the basic image the mail delivers. . . is a simplified, cleaned-up, Disneyfied fantasy version of Main Street, U.S.A."" These stretched-out non-discoveries are tolerable because Kowinski doesn't sneer at the malls or pretend Main Street was idyllic (unlike Luxenberg, looking at franchise-stores, below). And the book has the virtues of its defects: it's productively subjective. To take in suburban Chicago malldom, Kowinski enlists the sister of a classmate at Knox College (where, in the 60s, he met ""my first big-time suburbanites""); their tour starts at ""one of the last--and most gracious""--of the open, outdoor malls. Even when the comments are hackneyed, too, they're authentic--viz. the disappearance of Illinois' ""brown sparse fields and black earth"" (to be preserved, maybe, in a national park), the shock of a Peace Corps returnee at the most spectacular of the lot (""Afterward he railled for hours against the American compulsion to make the biggest of everything""). Then it's on to the Twin Cities (guide Barbara's current home), to architect Victor Gruen's innovatively enclosed (1956) Southdale--and a real point: Gruen conceived of the mall ""as a venue for human activity that was exciting, comfortable, convenient, and fun""; but shopping-center professionals saw in it something else--""cost-efficiency."" Kowinski goes on in this manner from friend to friend and mall to mall--picking up bits of history, life-experience, and comment: on malls as surrogate cities, on ""mall wars"" (one accommodation: the mailing of central business districts), teenagers-and-malls. . . and, in Portmanized Atlanta, on the ""lush fantasy environments"" that are one kind of urban mall, the megastructure; and in San Francisco, Ghirardelli Square and The Cannery, the other kind of urban mall, composed of recycled buildings. Kowinski even hies himself to Europe eventually--nudged by the architect of Faneuil Hall Marketplace--before resuming at NYC's South Street Seaport. Finally, prefaced by notice of Big Brother Management (and other dangers of enclosure), he proffers assorted s-f visions of ""Mallcondo Continuum."" It's something of a meandering patchwork--wherein the patient reader can discern patterns and relive the malllng phenomenon.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow