Enlightened Conflict

the death of the mall and a divided america

November 28th, 2016

  just-came-from-the-mall

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The impression left after watching the motions of birds is that of extreme mobility – a life of perpetual impulse checked only by fear.

 

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Richard Jefferies

 

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“My fundamental philosophy is that you owe it to society to transfer to them any knowledge you have that might be useful.”

 

—-

Leroy Hood

 

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Well.

 

Because USA just faced is heinous tradition called ‘black Friday’ <a made up sales day to encourage people to buy things they most likely don’t need under the guise of ‘early start for Christmas shopping’ — this is a made up day beliefs divide people doubt unitescreated by retail sellers solely to sell more shit early> I started thinking about how the ‘death of malls’ was a reflection of the American rural/urban divide.

 

Ok.

 

Maybe the death of malls is a metaphor.

 

Regardless.

 

A long time ago I wrote about the convenience economy. Malls were most likely the first step into the larger convenience economy <it had actually existed with the general store – one stop for everything – but malls took it to a new level>. Under the guise of ‘saving time’ convenience and consumption are inextricably linked.

This meant that as malls crept out of suburbia and into rural America it warped the existing attitudes & behaviors affecting the soul of what made rural America <and I could argue what actually made America> what it was – in terms of time, convenience, consumption and , unfortunately, economy.

 

Joan Didion wrote in 1979: “malls became cities in which no one lives but everyone consumes.”

 

Now?

 

Malls are almost like ancient ruins … and yet the population still lives in the ruins.

That is what happens when no one consumes but they still have to live.mall-dead-rising

 

Sprawling malls were a natural product of the post world war 2 as Americans with cars and money spread to the suburbs.

They were thrown up at a furious pace as shoppers fled cities, peaking at a few hundred per year at one point in the 1980s <Paco Underhill author of Call of the Mall: The Geography of Shopping>.

 

From there they naturally expanded their reach farther into rural America spreading their ‘urban wares’ to a population who could only have seen those things on tv up until that point.

 

This all came at a cost.

 

Yeah.

 

Rural America paid a price for large retail … the mom and pop small business and down town general stores lost the battle … and a part of the soul & heart of rural America was also lost to malls and large retail. Yeah. In the short term it appeared like jobs were created, tax revenue increased and the local economy improved.

 

And, yet, in gaining short term economic reasons … culture was lost, some values were lost and … well … local ideas were lost.

 

This has left us in a farther divided America as malls crashed and burned not only leaving a mall overstock in their wake but as they left <because economics writing-on-the-walls-of-the-mallsuggested they should step back from rural America> they left a ‘less grounded’ landscape behind.

 

Malls tore out the soul of middle America and never replaced it with anything worthwhile while there … and never placed anything behind when it left.

 

I have driven across the United States several times. I have seen small businesses in places I could never imagine and seen dying, or dead, shopping malls dotting the landscape most often in locations where there are severe socioeconomic shifts. I don’t know the exact numbers but the last ones I saw suggested that closings of existing malls will number somewhere between 15 to 50%.

 

It is fairly easy for me to suggest that while artificially bloating the financial economy when there  … their actual success was dependent upon the slicing, dicing and stripping away what was built up over generations.

I would suggest, on a side, note, we have been doing this to rural America for years <not just with malls>.

 

And I don’t have to suggest because it is fact … that the departure of malls from rural areas has simply exposed the obscenity of their existence. The holes they leave behind  showcase the years of neglect, exploitation, abuse, poor local government decisions, and short-sighted policy which transformed a thriving rural landscape into a hollowed out long list of small towns and cities.

 

In many of these areas their existence had masked a steady decline <which they had actually contributed to> and their departure put a spotlight on a way of Life shutting down <albeit leaving a population which doesn’t want to shut down yet>.

 

I would also say, sadly I may add, that spotlight forced a local population to face a pervasive sense of fear and loss.

terror lose meaningful

Having done it … I can say that just driving through town after town of dead malls, closed factories, shuttered stores, abandoned mines, empty schools, roads in need of repair and empty homes … and you can feel their loss.

 

If you want to get a sense of divided America explore the decline of malls.

 

Simplistically, Malls are a reflection of eating our own. Just as online shopping is making brick & mortar increasingly irrelevant the malls made the once thriving local business communities less relevant.

 

But their cost is even deeper than that.

 

The economy has fundamentally shifted because technology has decreased the costs of entry and performance by businesses. This means business models are quickly shifting because of changes coming faster than ever before.

 

For example.

 

Would you invest in a factory that made anything but it took 3 years to build the factory? …..I’m guessing no, because how would you know the thing would still be in demand?

 

Or that your method of manufacturing would still be the most cost effective way?

Or that your raw materials would be affordable to make the product at a certain price?

Or that your labor costs would allow you to hit certain price points?

 

 

What this means is that even a rural economy seeking to refind it’s ‘American mojo’ is faced with an uncertain business landscape which makes it more difficult for a rural community to rebuild a successful local economy based on what they knew, and know, is successful.

american hands

And, yeah, this is more than about money.

 

Because, yeah, rebuilding a thriving rural economy is not just about money & profits & jobs. It is also about heart & soul & the intangibles.

 

We urban/suburban folk forget that.

 

Let me be unequivocally clear <and I hope some politician reads this> … rural American prosperity is not just found in the wallet but in the soul.

 

In other words … I can place a general store in a small community and the owner doesn’t dream of wealth beyond anything he/she can dream of but rather comfortable earnings and a gathering place so that the community thrives.

 

Our ‘urban objectives’ are often different than ‘rural objective.’

 

And maybe that is part of my point on the divide in America.

 

Equality comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

 

An urban idea, malls, stripped parts of America of its soul. And what that meant is while rural America could always stand tall with unequal, as in better, values & soul versus the high falutin’ intellectual urban/suburban folk … malls stripped them of the main portion of what permitted them to remain ‘equal’ even though incomes may not have been equal.

 

Look.

 

I disagree with some experts who suggest that retail often mirrors the natural life cycle of the surrounding community and it is about demographics.

I believe retail is an organism in and of itself driven by profit not by humanism.

 

And I believe retail, at its heart, is driven by an urban ‘heartbeat’ which is constantly trying to reapply it to rural America <it is fairly rare to have a rural idea expand to dominate urban>.

 

I say that because we don’t talk about it often but ‘progress’, which is most often associated with a healthy economic metabolism, is mostly visible in urban/suburban America and not rural America.

 

Which is … well … kind of nuts.

 

Why? Because I could easily argue that, in a stark judgement, that America’s achievements were built upon rural America … and, yet, the rising levels of material well-being, education and health actually reside in urban/suburban America.

 

Add in some fairly shocking statistics on life expectancy and social mobility and the crumbling mall retail structure in Middle America becomes symbolic for many of their woes.

 

We all know that while the economy may not be robust that wealth is certainly being generated, and often displayed in some gaudy ostentatious ways <see Trump tower as an example> and amazing technological innovations have become common in households and certainly prosperity exists, though almost exclusively in a sliver of America, all of which suggests that the economic infrastructure is visibly changing even while it is semi-working.

 

And by ‘semi-working’ I go back to malls as an example … it is mostly a system of cannibalism. It is a system and society that is devouring its own.

Urban America has been picking prosperity from the slowly decaying carcass of rural America. This carcass is symbolic of the hollowing out of rural America.

 

For some long time now, the economy has been driven by investment banks, hedge funds, private equity firms, real estate developers, insurance goliaths and a whole range of companies and industries that make nothing but rather make money off of money.

 

In the end.

 

I purposefully used ‘stripping’ and ‘cannibalism’ and ‘eating our own’ because that is what we have done to a significant portion of America … and, more significantly, a portion of America who believes they created America AND believes if anyone would ask them … they could help rebuild America.

 

I use malls, and their death, as an example of what we ‘innovators of progress’ have done. And while many of us may have acted with real best intentions … it america one heartbeatwas a failure. And, worse, we have failed a significant portion of America.

 

We don’t owe portions of America because we have taken away their malls … we owe them the assistance to let them rebuild the America they know should be built.

 

And am I suggesting going ‘back’? Only partially.

The general stores will most likely never return. The mines will never reopen. Some schools are shuttered forever. But to rebuild a community you give them their soul back first & foremost. Anything built with soul will make America great and will last for generations.

Enlightened Conflict