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The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the

Contemporary Retail Built Environment

Jon Goss

Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 83, No. 1. (Mar., 1993), pp. 18-47.

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1 The "Magic of the Mall": An Analysis of

I Form, Function, and Meaning in the

Contemporary Retail Built Environment


Jon Goss

I Department of Geography, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96822


FAX 8081956-3512, e-mail Jgoss@uhccx.uhcc.Hawaii.edu

Abstract. Shopping is the most important con- vided is, of course, "The joy of shopping"! As
temporary social activity, and, for the most Tyson's obviously knows, recent market re-
part, takes place in the shopping center. De- search shows that many Americans prefer
velopers and designers of the retail built en- shopping to sex (Levine 1990, 187).
vironment exploit the power of place and an Despite increases in catalog sales, shopping
intuitive understanding of the structuration of remains essentially a spatial activity-we still
space to facilitate consumption and thus the "go" shopping-and the shopping center is its
realization of retail profits. They strive to pre- chosen place. By 1990, there were 36,650
sent an alternative rationale for the shopping shopping centers in the US., providing 4.2 bil-
center's existence, manipulate shoppers' be- lion square feet (151 square miles!) of gross
havior through the configuration of space, leasable area and accounting for more than
and consciously design a symbolic landscape $725 billion of sales, or 55 percent of retail sales
that provokes associGive moods and disposi- excluding automobile sales ("Retail Uses" 1991,
tions in the shopper. These strategies are ex- 23). The time spent in shopping centers by
amined to obtain an understanding of how North Americans follows only that spent at
the retail built environment works, and how home and at work/school. Centers have al-
we might work against it. ready become tourist destinations, complete
with tour guides and souvenirs, and some in-
Key Words: consumption, shopping centers, malls,
megastructures, pseudoplace, spatial system, sig- clude hotels so that vacationers and conferees
nification. need not leave the premises during their stay.
Downtown retail complexes often include
condominia, and residential development
And the truth-sayers of the shopping mall, as the above the suburban mall is predicted to be an
death of the social, are all those lonely people,
inevitable new trend ("The PUD Market Guar-
caught like whirling flotsam in a force field which
they don't understand, but which fascinates with antee" 1991, 32). Their residents can literally
the coldness of its brilliance (Kroker et al. 1989, shop without leaving home (or be at home
21 0). without leaving the shops?). Moreover,
planned retail space i s colonizing other pri-
HOPPING is the second most important vately owned public spaces such as hotels, rail-
leisure activity in North America, and al- way stations, airports, office buildings and hos-
though watching television is indisput- pitals, as shopping has become the dominant
ably the first, much of its programming actually mode of contemporary public life.
promotes shopping, both through advertising Nevertheless, there persists a high-cultural
and the depiction of model consumer life- disdain for conspicuous mass-consumption re-
styles. The existential significance of shopping sulting from the legacy of a puritanical fear of
is proclaimed in popular slogans such as: "Born the moral corruption inherent in commercial-
to Shop," "Shop 'Til You Drop," and "I Shop ism and materialism, and sustained by a mod-
Therefore I am." An advertisement for Tyson's ern intellectual contempt for consumer society.
Corner, Virginia, asks: "The joy of cooking? The This latter critique condemns the system of
joy of sex? What's left?" and the answer pro- correspondences between material posses-
Annals of the Associahon of American Geographers, 83(1), 1993, pp 18-47
0 Copyr~ght1993 by Assocat~onof Amer~canGeographers
Publ~shedby Blackwell Publishers, 238 M a n Street, Cambrdge, MA02142, and 108 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 lJF, UK
The "Magic ~fthe Mall" 19

sions and social worth (Veblen 1953; Boorstin portunities and constraints for movement and
1973), the homogenization of culture and al- social interaction. Finally, I consider the retail
ienation of the individual (Adorno and Hork- built environment as a system of signification
heimer 1969; Marcuse 1964) and the distortion that gives symbolic expression to the cultural
of human needs through the manipulation of values of consumer capitalism, refers to other
desire (Haug 1986). The contemporary shop- times and places, and attaches preferred
per, while taking pleasure in consumption, meanings to commodity displays.
cannot but be aware of this authoritative cen- This account is necessarily limited to the

sure, and is therefore, like the tourist (Frow workings of the design, that is the assumptions

1991, 127), driven by a simultaneous desire made about the retail built environment and its

and self-contempt, constantly alternating be- users, and the intent of the developers as in-

tween assertion and denial of identity. This am- ferred from a reading of their professional lit-

bivalence is, I think, precisely expressed in the erature and of the landscape itself. This re-

play of the slogans cited above, which cock a quires some care lest we fall into the same trap

snook at the dominant order of values, but in that compromises the modernist critique of

so doing also acknowledge its inevitable consumption, a critique which holds much in-

authority. tellectual force but little political potential. This

This paper argues that developers have is to conceive of the consumer as cultural dupe

sought to assuage this collective guilt over con- and helpless object of technical control, ex-

spicuous consumption by designing into the actly as the (mostly) male middle-class design-

retail built environment the means for a fanta- ers imagine them. Consumers are constructed

sized dissociation from the act of shopping. as passive, sensual, and vulnerable victims of

That is, in recognition of the culturally per- the "force field which they don't understand,"

ceived emptiness of the activity for which they just as the designers' discourse is both mani-

provide the main social space, designers festly elitist and gendered-from "market pene-

manufacture the illusion that something else tration analysis" to the persistent tropes of

other than mere shopping in going on, while seduction, stimulation, and physical manipula-

also mediating the materialist relations of mass tion.

consumption and disguising the identity and Given the gender division of labor and the

rootedness of the shopping center in the con- exploitation of women's social insecurities by

temporary capitalist social order. The product the commodity aesthetic, the stereotypical

is effectively a pseudoplace which works shopper is female-in fact, 67 percent of shop-

through spatial strategies of dissemblance and ping center users are female (Stores 1989,

dup1icity.l 43)-and my choice of pronoun form reflects

The analysis proceeds in several parts, elabo- this reality while also recognizing that the label

rating upon a conception of the built environ- "shopper" applies increasingly to males.2 The

ment developed elsewhere (Goss 1988) and key point is that the shopper is not merely the

employing the professional literature of the re- object of a technical and patriarchal discourse

tail development industry as well as empirical and design, but is also a subject who may in-

observation of shopping centers. First, I briefly terpret the design aberrantly or intentionally

consider the contemporary cultural context appropriate meaning for herlhis own pur-

and the connection between the techniques of poses. The manner in which the shopping

environmental design and image making in center is read by consumers, both as individu-

(post)modern society. Second, I examine the als and social subjects, is a complex and politi-

retail built environment as an object of value; cally vital question in dire need of research,

that is, a private, instrumental space designed and I agree with Meaghan Morris (1988, 206)

for the efficient circulation of commodities that the object of our analysis should be pre-

which is itself a commodity produced for cisely the intersection of the instrumental dis-

profit. Third, I discuss the means by which course of design, and its reception and active

developers have obscured this logic by con- use by the consumer. One might speculate on

structing shopping centers as idealized repre- this, as many cultural theorists have (see, for

sentations of past or distant public spaces. example, Fiske 1989), but such speculation

Fourth, I describe the operation of the shop- surely cannot replace the necessary ethno-

ping center as a spatial system structuring op- graphic research. With this latter project barely

begun, I will confine my conclusions to an out- ascribe the power of possession. Both religious
line of strategies by which consumers might, and secular traditions harbor moral tales about
armed with the conception of shopping cen- the danger of wrongful possession, from the
ters sketched here, consciously challenge the shameful exposure of the pretentious who ac-
purpose and operation of the planned retail quire objects above their station to the wrath
built environment. of gods visited upon the unrighteous holder of
sacred icons, but with the necessary personal
and social qualifications-cultivated taste and
The Commodification of Reality cash or credit-the consumer can invoke the
magic power of the commodity (Goss 1992).
This barbarous reintegration of aesthetic consump- Advertising does not have to directly instruct
tion into the world of ordinary consumption its audience, but need only highlight latent cor-
(against which it endlessly defines itself) has, inter respondences (Sahlins 1976, 217) or homolo-
alia, the virtue of reminding us that the consump-
tion of goods no doubt always presupposes a labor
gies (Bourdieu 1984, 137) between the com-
of appropriation, to different degrees depending modity and common cultural symbols, for .
on the goods and the consumers; or, more pre- contemporary consumers are expected to
cisely, that the consumer helps to produce the have accumulated a considerable store of cul-
product he consumes, by a labor of identification tural knowledge and acquired the skills neces-
and decoding (Bourdieu 1984, 100).
sary to interpret complex texts and subtle rhe-
All human societies invest physical objects with torical devices used to elicit cultural meaning
sociopsychological meaning, and consumer (Bourdieu 1984, 66). And if the audience is
goods have long marked "invidious distinc- predisposed to believe, the real magic of ad-
tions" (Veblen 1953), as well as provided for vertising is to mask the materiality of the com-
the satisfaction of socially defined needs. It is modity-fetishism in the marxist sense-that is,
only under contemporary capitalism, however, to sever it from the social and spatial relations
that material and symbolic production occupy that structure its productions and the human
the same site-productive activity is organized labor it embodies. This is especially so for
to produce simultaneously the objects o f con- mass-produced commodities, which threaten
sumption and the social subjects to consume to invalidate the conditions required for rightful
them (Sahlins 1976, 216). Thus "you are what and righteous possession, so advertising nec-
you buy" as much as "you are what you do." essarily divorces the commodity from the labor
All human societies also recognize a special- process that produced it. Whether it is high
ized class that mediates between the material fashion sewn in immigrant sweatshops or elec-
and symbolic worlds, but again it is only re- tronic gadgets assembled in Third World fac-
cently that this class can control both sides of tories, few consumers, therefore, know or can
this relation, and that they are able to persuade afford to give thought to what the commodity
us that our "self-concept" as well as social is composed of, or where, how and by whom
status is defined by the commodity. Contem- it was made Uhally 1987, 49).
porary commodities simultaneously express Critical to the processes by which the com-
the social organization of production, commu- modity is simultaneously severed from its ori-
nicate social distinctions, sublimate contradic- gins and associated with desirable sociocultural
tions of the psychological self, and constitute attributes is its context-the real or imagined
identity (McCracken 1988, 118-1 9; Csikszent- landscape in which it is presented (Sack 1988,
mihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981, 22-38). 643-44). Advertisers draw upon knowledge of
The "captains of consciousness" (Ewen places, and upon the structuration of social
1976) apply highly sophisticated technologies space, to create an imaginary setting that elicits
to achieve effects directly analogous to, al- from us an appropriate social disposition or
though infinitely more intensive and far-reach- action. With the collapse of time-space pro-
ing than, the magic systems of preliterate so- duced by global electronic media and tourism
cieties (Diggins 1977, 368; Williams 1980, 185). (Meyrowitz 1985), the stock of place imagery
This modern magic involves a collective super- in the consumer's musee imaginaire Uencks
stition that it is the object itself-much like the 1987, 95), has expanded dramatically, and we
"primitive" fetish-that confers upon the owner are able to read with facility a vast array of
a power over nature and others; whereas such cliched signs of real and fictitious elsewheres.
power, in fact, lies in the social relations that At the same time, there has been a marked
The "Magic of the Mall" 21

decline in the textual content of advertising tions of contemporary consumers (increasingly


(Leiss et al. 1986), so that appeal to price and well understood due to market research), and
utility has been displaced by a system of com- the economic and political capacity of specu-
modity aesthetics in which appearance has be- lative capital combine to manufacture a total
come more important than function, and sign retail built environment and a total cultural ex-
value has subordinated use value, or rather has perience.
become use value (Haug 1986). With the en-
hanced technical quality and capacity for quan-
titative reproduction of images, it is no longer
The Making of the Mall
clear whether the value of the commodity
originates in the sphere of material or symbolic Of course, it must be kept in mind that architects
production. Postmodernists, following the situ- do not design malls for architects; they design
ationists (Bonnett 1989, 134), would generally them for developers and retailers that are inter-
argue that this is symptomatic of a new societal ested in creating malls and other shopping centers
to attract consumers and keep them coming back
~ ~ n d i t i oinn which consumption dominates
(Richards 1990, 23).
production, the symbolic subverts the material
order, and the distinction between illusion and The developer's profit accrues from the con-
reality has become problematical or entirely struction and sale of shopping centers, lease
collapsed (Debord 1983; Baudrillard 1983a; rent. and deductions from retail revenues. Un-
Lyotard 1984). In Debord's (1983) "society of like other forms of real estate, where markets
the spectacle," individuals live in a world that have been rapidly saturated and are dependent
is fabricated for them, and what was once di- upon urban and regional economic fortunes,
rectlv lived is now ex~eriencedas a com- shopping center construction has been a rela-
modified or bureaucratidally administered rep- tively secure investment, whether in the sub-
resentation, preferable (cleaner, safer, and urbs, always provided a big name department
sexier) to reality. In Baudrillard's (1983a) society store could be enticed to sign an agreement
of the simulacrum, the real has been irrevoca- (Frieden and Sagalyn 1989, 79), or downtown,
bly replaced by the illusion, and the world is provided subsidies could be negotiated from
not merely represented in commodified im- cooperative municipal governments. Recently
ages, but consists o f such images. The image however, there has been a marked slowdown
has more substantive effect than reality-it is in the speculative development observed in
"hyperreal." the 1970s and early 1980s. This trend is attrib-
This brief examination is critical to an under- uted to a variety of factors: the combination of
standing of the contemporary shopping center, a shortage of suitable greenfield sites; escalat-
for there is a close connection between the ing costs of land assembly, construction, and
means of the "consciousness industry" (Enzen- operation; tightened developmental controls;
berger 1974) and environmental design: they declining federal government programs that
are both media of mass communication, em- provide infrastructure and capital incentives
ploying rhetorical devices to effect hidden per- (Frieden and Sagalyn 1989, 82); organized re-
suasions; both may be experienced passively; sistance from local communities ("Building De-
they both belong unobtrusively to everyday spite the Obstacles" 1990, 27); the financial
life; and they are both motivated by profit (Eco vulnerability of highly leveraged retail chains
1986, 77). Developers, therefore, readily em- (Hazel 1989; Reynolds 1990a, 34); changing
ploy the glitz and showcraft of entertainment- market demographics; and the segmentation
literally "learning from Las Vegas" (Venturi et al. of the retail industry (Goss 1992, 168). As a
1972); the iconography of advertising (Framp- result, many regions are effectively saturated
ton 1983, 19)-"learning from Madison Ave- and intercenter competition is intense. An
nue"; and the "imagineering" of North Ameri- extreme example, is Dallas, where three
can theme parks (Relph 1987)-"learning from megacenters (Galleria, Prestonwood and Valley
Disney." Sophisticated techniques of illusion View) are within two miles of each other. De-
and allusion enable them to create an appro- velopers have responded by renovating and
priate and convincing context where the rela- expanding older malls (investing an estimated
tionship of the individual to mass consumption 50 percent of today's retail construction dollars
and of the commodity to its context is mys- ["Retail Uses" 1991]), economizing on tenant
tified. This technical capacity, the predisposi- and common space, buying out leases of less
22 Coss

desirable tenants, intensifying property man- hidden behind gaily painted hoardings, and we
agement and introducing new shopping center are assured that a store will be "opening soon,"
concepts-theme shopping, the specialty cen- in case we might suspect that this, like down-
ter, the power-center, and the so-called "hot town, is not the thriving place where everyone
mall" (Stallings 1990, 14), which offers "retail as wants to be. Detailed lease agreements create
entertainment." Profit increasingly depends, the appropriate atmosphere by insuring uni-
therefore, upon image making and the creative form store opening hours; regulating signage,
management of shopping centers. sightlines, lighting, store front design, and win-
It is important at the outset to realize the dow display; and stipulating advertising minima
scale and detail of the conception. Shopping for each store (see Frieden and Sagelyn 1989,
centers are typically produced by huge corpo- 66).
rations or ad hoc coalitions of finance, con- While individual retailers may pursue their
struction, and commercial capital (typically o w n strategies for profit within limited bounds,
pension funds, developers, and department the center operates as a whole to maximize
stores), and are meticulously planned. They "foot traffic" by attracting the target consumers
usually involve state agencies and teams of and keeping them on the premises for as long
market researchers, geo-demographers, ac- as possible. The logic is apparently simple:
countants, asset managers, lawyers, engineers,
Our surveys show [that] the amount of spending
architects, landscape artists, interior designers, is related directly t o the amount of time spent at
traffic analysts, security consultants, and leasing centers. . . . Anything that can prolong shoppers'
agents. Development, therefore, involves the visits are [sic] in our best interests overall (a senior
coordination of a complex of concerns, al- vice-president of leasing and marketing cited in
Reynolds 1990b, 52, emphasis added).
though always overdetermined by the goals of
retail profit. The task begins with the manufacture and
The costs of initial development, mainte- marketing of an appropriate sense of place
nance, and overhead are typically covered by (Richards 1990, 24), an attractive place image
fixed-charges, including lease of floor space, that will entice people from their suburban
common-area maintenance charges and pro- homes and downtown offices, keep them con-
motional expenses, levied upon retailers. Profit tentedly on the premises, and encourage them
derives from overage, or a proportion (typically to return. This occurs in an increasingly com-
6 percent) of store turnover above an agreed petitive retail market resulting from the "over-
base for each retailer, requiring open-book ac- malling of America" and in response to con-
counting agreements, and leading to manage- sumer loyalties shifting from name-retailers to
ment pressure for high value and volume trade. specific shopping centers, the personality of
The measure of success of the center is "op- the center is critical (McDermott 1990, 2-3).
erating balance per square foot of Cross Leas-

able Area [CLA]" ("Retail Uses" 1991) and in

the professional literature the figure for "sales


per square foot of CLA" is ascribed a special

Imag(in)ing the Mall

mystique.

The sense of place is also a political fact. What can


The shopping centers profit from an inter- be done to the look of a locality depends on w h o
nalization of externalities; that is, by ensuring controls it. . . . People can be excluded, awed,
strict complementarity of retail and service confused, made acquiescent, or kept ignorant by
functions through an appropriate tenant mix what they see and hear. So the sense of the envi-
ronment has always been a matter of moment to
(Coss 1992, 167). Leasing agents plan the mix
any ruling class (Lynch 1976, 72-73).
of tenants and their locations within the center,
inevitably excluding repair shops, laundromats, In constructing an attractive place image for the
or thrift stores that might remind the consumer shopping center, developers have, with re-
of the materiality of the commodity and attract markable persistence, exploited a modernist
those whose presence might challenge the nostalgia for authentic community, perceived
normality of consumption. Where resale shops to exist only in past and distant places, and
are found, they conventionally indicate have promoted the conceit of the shopping
difficulty in attracting more desirable tenants center as an alternative focus for modern com-
(Ricks 1991, 56). Similarly, vacant stores are munity life. Shopping districts of the early years
The "Magic of the Mall" 23

of this century, for example, were based on alded as "the savior of downtown America"
traditional market towns and villages, and a (Sawicki 1989, 347), similarly argued that shop-
strong sense of place was evoked using styl- ping centers "will help dignify and uplift the
ized historical architecture and landscaping families who use them, . . . promote friendly
(typically evoking the village green). They were contact among the people of the community,
built on a modest scale, functionally and spa- . . . [and] expose the community to art, music,
tially integrated into local communities, in or- crafts and culture" (1962, 105). Thus, if the
der to provide an idyllic context for consump- developers could create the illusion of urban
tion by the new gentry (Rowe 1991, 141). The community in the suburbs, they could also cre-
picturesque Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, ate this illusion in the city itself. The key, Rouse
Missouri, built in 1922, is a prototypic example. argues, is not so much the design features of
With the contemporary postmodernist pen- the shopping mall, but centralized retail man-
chant for the vernacular, this original form is agement (CRM) and leasing strategies (cited in
undergoing a renaissance in the specialty cen- Stokvis and Cloar 1991, 7), which would in-
ter, a collection of high-end outlets that pursue clude levels of security and maintenance well
a particular retail and architectural theme. Typi- beyond that provided by municipal authorities,
cally these are also idealizations of villages and market research, cooperative advertising,
small towns, chock-full of historical and re- common business hours, common covenants,
gional details to convince the consumer of and a regulated tenant mix (Cloar 1990).
their authenticity (Goss 1992, 172). Examples Downtown is now "learning from the mall": as
include Pickering Wharf in Salem, Massachu- the director of the National Mainstreet Center,
setts (a New England Village), the Borgata in an organization established by the National
Scottsdale, Arizona (a thirteenth-century Italian Trust for Historic Preservation, argues, "shop-
village), the Pruneyard in San Jose, California (a ping centers . . . are well-planned, well-
Spanish-American hacienda), the Mercado in funded, and well-organized . . . Main streets
Phoenix, Arizona (a Mexican hillside village). need management like that" (Huffman 1989,
In contrast, the modern regional shopping 95).
center was built on a large scale with regular, The new downtown retail built environment
unified architecture. Its harsh exterior modern- has taken two essential forms, which in prac-
ism and automobile-focused landscaping re- tice may be mixed. First i s the commercial gen-
fused any compromise with the rustic aes- trification of decaying historical business and
thetic. As Relph (1987, 21 5) notes, however, waterfront districts, pioneered by James Rouse
"modernism . . . never wholly succeeded in with Quincy Market in Boston. Its opening in
the landscape of retailing," and the interior 1979 supposedly marked "the day the urban
contained pedestrian walkways, courts, foun- renaissance began" (Rouse, cited in Teaford
tains and statuary that referred reassuringly to 1990, 253) and subsequently no self-respect-
the traditional urbanism of southern Europe ing city seems complete without its own festi-
(Gruen 1973; Rowe 1991, 126), Victorian Brit- val marketplace, replicating more or less the
ain or New England. According to Victor original f ~ r m u l a . ~
Historical landmarks and
Gruen, the acknowledged pioneer of the mod- "water exposure'' (Scott 1989, 185) are critical
ern mall, his "shopping towns" would be not features, as this retail environment is con-
only pleasant places to shop, but also centers sciously reminiscent of the commercial world
of cultural enrichment, education, and relaxa- city, with its quaysides and urban produce mar-
tion, a suburban alternative to the decaying kets replete with open stalls, colorful awnings,
downtown (Gruen and Smith 1960). costermonger barrows, and nautical parapher-
Gruen's shopping centers proved phenome- nalia liberally scattered around.
nally successful, and he later argued that by A second form is the galleria, the historic
applying the lessons of environmental design referent of which is the ~ i c t o r i a nshopping ar-
learned in the suburbs to downtown, "we can cade and especially the famous Galleria Vittorio
restore the lost sense of commitment and be- Emanuele II in Milan. After Cesar Pelli pio-
longing; we can counteract the phenomenon neered the galleried arcade in the early 1970s
of alienation, isolation and loneliness and (at The Commons in Columbus, Ohio and the
achieve a sense of identity" (Gruen 1973, 11). Winter Gardens in Niagara Falls, New York),
James Rouse, effectively heir to Gruen and her- glazed gallery and atria became standard fea-
24 Goss

Figure 1 . Interior of Miller Hill Mall in Duluth (A) as constructed in 1973 (B) after renovation and "interior
softscaping" in 1988. Source: Retail Reporting Corporation.

ture in downtown mixed-use developments, control, from the inconvenience of the


their huge vaulted spaces suggesting a sacred- weather and the danger and pollution of the
liturgical or secular-civic function. They have automobile, but most important from the terror
since been retrofitted to suburban malls and of crime associated with today's urban envi-
natural daylight has enabled support of ronment.
softscapes-interiorized palms, trees, and The malling of downtown could not work,
shrubs-reminiscent of the street in the model however, without the legislative and financial
garden city, the courts of Babylon, and most support of the local state. These developments
especially, the tropical vacation setting (Fig. Ia exploit historic preservation laws and federal
and b). Enclosed streetscapes refer to the ide- and municipal funds to subsidize commercial
alized, historic middle-American Main Street development. Newport Center in Jersey City,
or to exotic streets of faraway cities, including for example, is the recipient of the largest-ever
Parisian boulevards, Mexican paseos, and Ara- Urban Development Action Grant (Osborne
bic souks or casbahs, if only because the con- 1988). Friedmann and Sagalyn (1989) provide
temporary North American street invokes fear a particularly incisive analysis of the coalitions
and loathing in the middle classes. They re- of private capital and municipal government
claim, for the middle-class imagination, "The necessary to the successful development of
Streetn-an idealized social space free, by vir- the new urban retail built environment.
I tue of private property, planning, and strict I In creating these spaces, developers and
The "Magic of the Mall"

public officials articulate an ideology of nostal- imaginaire, but their forms can now be ex-
gia, a reactionary modernism that expresses pertly reproduced for us in the retail built en-
the "dis-ease" of the present (see Stewart 1984, vironment. Below, I discuss the form and the
23), a lament on the perceived loss of the contradictions inherent in the reproduction of
moral conviction, authenticity, spontaneity, such spaces as conceived in their idealized
and community of the past; a profound disillu- civic, liminal and transactional forms.
sionment with contemporary society and fear
of the future. More specifically, we collectively
miss a public space organized on a pedestrian The Shopping Center as Civic Space
scale, that is, a setting for free personal expres-
sion and association, for collective cultural ex- By virtue of their scale, design, and function,
pression and transgression, and for unencum- shopping centers appear to be public spaces,
bered human interaction and material more or less open to anyone and relatively
transaction. Such spaces no longer exist in the sanitary and safe. This appearance is important
city, where open spaces are windswept tun- to their success for they aim to offer to mid-
nels between towering buildings, abandoned dle-Americans a third place beyond home and
in fear to marginal populations; nor were they worklschool, a venue where people, old and
found after all in the suburb, which is subdi- young, can congregate, commune, and "see
vided and segregated, dominated by the auto- and be seen" (Oldenburg 1989, 17). Several
mobile, and repressively predictable and safe. strategies enhance the appearance of vital pub-
Such spaces only exist intact in our musees lic space, and foremost is the metaphor of the
urban street sustained by streetsigns, street- example: drinking fountains, which would re-
lamps, benches, shrubbery, and statuary-all duce soft drink sales; restrooms, which are
well-kept and protected from vandalism. Also costly to maintain and which attract activities
like the ideal, benign civic government, shop- such as drug dealing and sex that are offensive
ping centers are extremely sensitive to the to the legitimate patrons of the mall (Hazel
needs of the shopper, providing a range of 1992, 28); and public telephones, which may
"inconspicuous artifacts of consideration" be monopolized by teenagers or drug dealers.
(Tuan 1988, 316), such as rest areas and special As a result, telephones in some malls only al-
facilities for the handicapped, elderly, and low outgoing calls (Hazel 1992, 29).
shoppers with young children (recently includ- The idealized public street is a relatively
ing diaper changing stations). For a fee they democratic space with all citizens enjoying ac-
may provide other conveniences such as gift cess, with participatory entertainment and op-
wrapping and shipping, coat checking, valet portunities for social mixing, and the shopping
parking, strollers, electric shopping carts, lock- center re-presents a similarly liberal vision of
ers, customer service centers, and videotext consumption, in which credit-card citizenship
information kiosks. They may house post allows all to buy an identity and vicariously
offices, satellite municipal halls, automated experience preferred lifestyles, without princi-
government services, and public libraries; ples of exclusion based on accumulated wealth
space is sometimes provided for public meet- or cultural capital (Zukin 1990, 41). It is, how-
ings or religious services. They stage events not ever, a strongly bounded or purified social
only to directly promote consumption (fashion space (Sibley 1988, 409) that excludes a sig-
and car shows); but also for public edification nificant minority of the population and so pro-
(educational exhibits and musical recitals). tects patrons from the moral confusion that a
Many open their doors early to provide a safe, confrontation with social difference might pro-
sheltered space for morning constitutionals- voke (see also Lewis 1990). Suburban malls, in
mall-walking-and some have public exercise particular, are essentially spaces for white mid-
stations with health and fitness programs spon- dle cla~ses.~ There have been several court
sored by the American Heart Association and cases claiming that shopping centers actively
YMCAs (Jacobs 1988, 12). Some even offer discriminate against potential minority tenants,
adult literacy classes and university courses. Ex- employees, and mall users. Copley Place in
amples of the former include Middlesboro Mall Boston, for example, has been charged with
in Middlesboro, Kentucky and Sunland Park excluding minority tenants ("Race Is not the
Mall in El Paso, Texas; an example of the latter Issue" 1990, 32); a Columbia, South Carolina
is Governors State University, University Park, mall was accused of discriminatory hiring prac-
Illinois, which offers 28 classes at Orland Park tices ("NAACP in Hiring Pact . . ." 1991, A20);
Place Mall in Chicago. ("College Courses at and security personnel have been widely sus-
Malls . . ." 1990). pected of harassing minority teenagers. Secu-
Such services obviously address the needs rity personnel target those who, despite im-
of the public and attest to the responsiveness plicit signs and posted notices that this is not
of management. Many facilities, however, are the place for them, seek to hang-out, to take
not so iuch civic gestures as political maneu- shelter or to solicit alms. Rowdy teenagers may
vers to persuade local government to permit spill out of the amusement arcades designed
construction on the desired scale. This is par- purposefully to keep them on the periphery,
ticularly the case with day care facilities now or use the parking lot for cruising, disrupting
featured in many shopping centers (Reynolds the comfortable shopping process of adults
1990c, 30).4It is also clear from the professional and particularly the elderly. Consequently
literature that many concessions are made in some managers have even tried to regulate
order to enhance the atmosphere of public hours during which teenagers can shop with-
concern precisely because it significantly in- out adult supervision ("Retailers Use Bans . . ."
creases retail traffic (McCloud 1991, 25). Public 1990, B l ), and passed ordinances and erected
services not consistent with the context of barricades in parking lots to prevent "unneces-
consumption are omitted or only reluctantly sary and repetitive driving" ("Suburbs Rain on
provided, often inadequate to actual needs and Teens'. . ." 1990, 2C1). "Street people" are har-
relegated to the periphery. This includes, for assed because their appearance, panhandling,
The "Magic: of the Mall" 27

and inappropriate use of bathrooms (Pawlak police. Vermont-Slauson Shopping Center,


et al. 1985) offend the sensibility of shoppers, Capital Center in Trenton, New Jersey and Chi-
their presence subverting the normality of con- cago's Grand Boulevard Plaza, all contain po-
spicuous consumption and perverting the lice substations, while Crenshaw Plaza has a
pleasure of consumption by challenging our 200-officer police station on its premises. O f
righteous possession of commodities. Even the course, m a i y mall security p a r d s are off-duty
Salvation Army may be excluded from making police officers, but the privatization of the po-
its traditional Christmas collections, perhaps lice has been taken a step further in Four Sea-
because they remind the consumer of the ex- sons Town Center in Greensboro, North Caro-
istence of less-privileged populations and so lina, where, due to a state law, certified security
diminish the joy of buying. guards are empowered to issue citations and
Developers must of course protect their make arrests ("More Than a Security Guard:
property and guard themselves against liability . . ." 1992).
(Hazel 1992, 29), but the key to successful Finally, the politics of exclusion involves the
security apparently lies more in an overt secu- exclusion of 6olitics, and there is an ongoing
~ ~

rity presence that reassures preferred custom- struggle by political and civil liberties organiza-
ers that the unseemly and seamy side of the tions to require shopping centers to permit
real public world will be excluded from the handbilling, picketing, and demonstrations on
mall. It is argued that the image of security is their premises, on the grounds that they can-
more important than its substance: not pretend to be public spaces without as-
suming the responsibility of such, including
Perception is perhaps even more important than recognition of freedom of expression and as-
reality. In a business that is as dependent as film or sembly. Courts have generally found in favor
theater on appearances, the illusion of safety is as
vital, or even more so, than its reality (Hazel 1992, of free speech in shopping centers by virtue of
28). their scale and similarity to public places, pro-
vided that the activities do not seriously impair
In extreme cases, however, overt and perva- their commercial function (Peterson 1985). The
sive security may itself be part of the attraction, Supreme Court, however, has ruled that it is
and this applies particularly to the "defensible up to individual states to decide (Kowinski
commercial zones" (Titus 1990, 3) which re- 1985, 357), and in a recent case, an anti-war
claim part of the decaying inner city for the group was successfully banned from leafletting
display of cultural capital and lifestyles of the in New Jersey malls ("Judge Bars Group . . ."
middle classes. For example, the trademark of 1991, 31).
Alexander Haagen Development Co., a pio-
neering inner city developer much celebrated
in the professional literature, is an 8-ft. orna- The Shopping Center as Liminal Space
mental security fence with remote controlled
gates (Bond 1989). Haagen's centers in Los An- The market, standing ., between the sacred
geles (Kenneth Hahn Plaza, Baldwin Hills Cren- and secular, the mundane and exotic, and the
shaw Plaza, Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, and local and global, has always been a place of
Vermont-Slauson Shopping Center), include liminality; that is, according to Turner (1982), a
perimeters patrolled by infra-red motion de- state between social stations, a transitional mo-
tectors, manual observation decks, armed se- ment in which established rules and norms are
curity personnel, and closed-circuit TV moni- temporarily suspended (see also Zukin 1991
toring, all coordinated through 24-hour and Shields 1989). The marketplace is a limi-
command posts with state-of-the-art "alarm noid zone, a place where potentiality and
processing technology." At Crenshaw Plaza, transgression is engendered by the exciting di-
for example, "a study in state-of-the-art secu- versity of humanity, the mystique of exotic ob-
rity and stylish consumerism," the "Omni 1000 jects, the intoxicating energy of the crowd
Security Management System provides channeled within the confined public space,
around-the-clock surveillance . . . [to] deter the prospects of fortunes to be made and lost
crime and attract customers" (Bond 1989, 181). in trade, the possibility of unplanned meetings
Such pan-optical presence has been enhanced and spontaneous adventures, and the continu-
in some cases by donating mall space for local ous assertion of collective rights and freedoms
or cornmunitas (Bahktin 1984, 8-9). The mar- Tourists will no longer have to travel to Disneyland,
ket thrives on the possibility of "letting yourself Miami Beach, the Epcot Park. . . New Orleans . . .
California Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, the
go," "treating yourself," and of "trying it on" Grand Canyon . . . It's all here at the WEM. Every-
without risk of moral censure, and free from thing you've wanted in a lifetime and more (Winter
institutional surveillance. City Showcase cited in Hopkins 1990, 13).
Places traditionally associated with liminoid
There are necessarily strict limits to any ex-
experiences are liberally quoted in the contem-
perience of liminality in these environments.
porary retail built environment, including most
Developers are well aware of the "more unsa-
notably seaports and exotic tropical tourist des-
vory trappings of carnival life" (McCloud
tinations, and Greek agora, Italian piazzas, and
1989b, 35), and order must be preserved. As
other traditional marketplaces. Colorful ban-
a management consultant to Forest Fair (River
ners, balloons and flags, clowns and street
Falls) says:
theater, games and fun rides, are evocative of
a permanent carnival or festival. Lavish expen- You have to be very cautious. Everything has to be
diture on state-of-the-art entertainment and kept very high quality and maintain family appeal.
You have to create a safe, secure feeling and make
historic reconstruction, and the explosion of
sure it's not intimidating to anyone (cited in
apparent liminality is perfectly consistent with McCloud 1989b, 35).
the logic of the shopping center, for it is de-
signed explicitly to attract shoppers and keep Liminality is thus experienced in the nostalgic
them on the premises for as long as possible: mode, without the inherent danger of the real
thing: the fairground i s recreated without the
The entertainment at Franklin Mills keeps shop-
pers at the center for 3-4 hours, or twice as long
threat to the social order that the itinerant, mar-
as a regular mall [and] the more you give shoppers ginal population and the libidinal temptations
to do, the longer they stay and the more they buy that traveling shows might bring, while the re-
(marketing executive, cited in "Entertainment An- vitalized waterfronts lack the itinerant sailors,
chors: . . ." 1989, 54).
the red lights, the threatening presence of for-
This strategy reaches its contemporary eign travelers and shiphands. The contrived
apotheosis in the monster malls that contrive retail carnival denies the potentiality for disor-
to combine with retailing the experiences of der and collective social transgression of the
carnival, festival, and tourism in a single, total liminal zone at the same time that it celebrates
environment. This includes, most famous, the its form. It is ironic, therefore, that WEM is
West Edmonton Mall (WEM), Canada, which struggling to cope with the liminality it has un-
has already become a special concern of con- intentionally unleashed, including accidental
temporary culture studies ("Special Issue on deaths on fairground rides, terroristic activity,
the WEM" 1991; Hopkins 1990; Shields 1989; drug trading, and prostitution (Hopkins 1990,
Wiebe and Wiebe 1989; Blomeyer 1988), and 14).
others inspired by its extravagant excess:
Franklin Hills in Philadelphia, River Falls in
Clarksville, Tennessee; the controversial new The Shopping Center as Transactional Space
Mall of the Americas in Bloomington, Minne-
sota; Meadowhall in Sheffield and Metrocentre Regardless of the location and scale of the
in Gateshead in England; and Lotte World in development, a constant theme in contempo-
Seoul, South Korea. The shopping center has rary retail space is a nostalgia for the traditional
become hedonopolis (Sommer 1975). Shop- public marketplace, or what we might call
ping centers have become tourist resorts in agoraphilia. In the idealized traditional market-
their own right, recreating the archetypical place, there is an immediate relationship be-
modern liminal zone by providing the multiple tween producer and consumer, and both ap-
attractions, accommodations, guided tours, ply knowledge and skill to judge quality and
and souvenirs essential to the mass touristic negotiate price. Vendors ideally sell their own
experience, all under a single roof.6 WEM, product and have direct responsibility for its
which receives 15 million visitors a year (and quality. They are also in competition with other
is responsible for more than 1 percent of all traders so presentation and service are impor-
retail sales in Canada uones and Simmons tant, and they acquire considerable interper-
1987, 77]), claims that: sonal skill and extensive knowledge of their
The "Magic of the Mall" 29

customers. Such commitment and initiative is latest advertised commodity and style (Zukin
not to be expected among the retail staff of the 1990, 45). Perhaps the equivalent in this con-
increasingly large, centralized retail corpora- text is the regional and urban shopping guides
tions, but in response to the perceived dete- produced by tourist bureaus, Chambers of
rioration of service, mall management may or- Commerce, or other promotional organiza-
ganize training sessions to improve sales tions, and guides published for specific shop-
techniques ("Developers of Big Shopping Malls ping centers.
. . ." 1991, BI), while on-site research is con-
stantly conducted to discover the special de-
sires and problems of customers and the ways The Shopping Center Is Instrumental Space
in which staff might meet them (1991, 32).
Competition for customer service awards mo- Areas in Tyson's Corner used by the public are not
public ways, but are for the use of the tenants and
tivat; personnel, and plain-clothes shopping the public transacting business with them. Permis-
police, or undercover shoppers, watch for sion to use said areas may be revoked at any time
"testy cashiers and inattentive managers" (text of notice at entrance of Tyson's Corner, cited
(Levine 1990, 187). in Kowinski 1985, 355).
To further solve the problem of indolent and Most shoppers know that the shopping cen-
insolent attendants, contemporary retailing has ter is a contrived and highly controlled space,
learned from the theater, and particularly the and we all probably complain about design
total theater of North American theme parks features such as the escalators that alternate in
(Davis 1991; Aronson 1977). For example, as if order to prevent the shopper moving quickly
the management had read Goffman (or did between floors without maximum exposure to
Coffman read Disney?), sales staff in a Fred shopfronts (see Fig. 2), or the difficulty finding
Meyer megastore in appropriately named Hol- restrooms (see Fig. 3). Some of us are also
lywood West in Portland, Oregon, enter disquieted by the constant reminders of sur-
through the Stage Door and are admonished veillance in the sweep of the cameras and the
to "get into character" ("Fred Meyer Megastore patrols of security personnel. Yet those of us
. . ." 1990, 76). The Disney Store sales staff are for whom it is designed are willing to suspend
"cast members" and customers are "guests," the privileges of public urban space to its rela-
while the staff at Ringling Brothers and Barnum
and Bailey Circus stores are educated in Clown
College. High-end retailers often train their staff
in acting techniques to personalize their serv-
ices and to manage the transaction to their
advantage (Kowinski 1985,359). Personal serv-
ice and craft quality of the product is also sug-
gested by reproduction accoutrements of the
traditional marketplace. Costermongers' bar-
rows, for example, are increasingly ubiquitous
in conventional shopping centers, quoting the trotpreferred
traditional marketplace and the virtues of petty
trade even when they are franchised and dis-
play mass-produced T-shirts.
The modern consumer, like the modern
worker, has been threatened by deskilling and
loss of identity in the impersonal, abstract re-
lationships of the mass market. Contemporary
retailing, however, under the postmodern im-
pulse, seeks to reskill the consumer, and there
has arisen an expanded "class" of cultural in- preferred
termediaries who through TV shows and con- Figure 2. Recommended orientation of escalators
sumer magazines help the busy consumer from a design manual. Source: Beddington (1982, 75).
process the enormous volume of product in-
formation required to correctly interpret the
30 Goss

Figure 3. An example of the elusive restroom-the only restroom is shown by the handicapped symbol. Plan
of Mission Valley Center in San Diego. Source: Mission Valley Center.

tively benevolent authority, for our desire is The ultimate conceit of the developers, how-
such that we will readily accept nostalgia as a ever, lies in their attempt to recapture the es-
substitute for experience, absence for pres- sence of tradition through modern technology,
ence, and representation for authenticity. We to harness abstract space and exchange value
overlook the fact that the shopping center is a in order to retrieve the essence of use value of
contrived, dominated space that seeks only to social space (Lefebvre 1971). The original in-
resemble a spontaneous, social space. Perhaps tention may have been more noble, but the
also, we are simply ignorant of the extent to contradiction soon became apparent, and the
which there is a will to deceive us. The profes- dream of community and public place was
sional literature is revealing. Urban Land, for subordinated to the logic of private profit. Vic-
example, congratulates the Paseo Nuevo pro- tor Gruen himself returned to his home city of
ject in Santa Barbara for its deception: it "ap- Vienna disillusioned and disgusted at the greed
pears to be a longstanding part of downtown" of developers (Gillette 1985), while James
(when it isn't) and is a "seemingly random ar- Rouse formed a nonprofit organization en-
rangement of shops, tree-shaded courtyards, gaged in urban renewaL7 The contemporary
splashing fountains, and sunny terraces" when generation of developers may still express the
it is a carefully designed stage for "choreo- modernist faith in the capacity of environ-
graphing pedestrian movement" ("Fitting a mental design to realize social goals, but one
Shopping Center . . ." 1991, 28, emphasis somehow doubts that Nader Ghermezian, one
added). In this professional literature, the con- of the developers of the monstrous WEM, is
sumer is characterized as an object to be genuine when he claims their goal is "to serve
mechanistically manipulated-to be drawn, as a community, social, entertainment, and rec-
pulled, pushed, and led to flow magnets, an- reation center" (cited in Davis 1991, 4).
chors, generators, and attractions; or as a naive
dupe to be deceived, persuaded, induced,
tempted, and seduced by ploys, ruses, tricks,
strategies, and games of the design. Adopting The Shopping Center as a
a relatively vulgar psychogeography, designers Spatial System
seek to environmentally condition emotional
and behavioral response from those whom The built environment forms a spatial system
they see as their malleable customers. in which, through principles of separation and
The "Magic: of the Mall" 31

containment, spatial practices are routinized (high-low level and upper-lower class) is sel-
and sedimented (Ciddens 1985, 272) and so- dom realized so neatly elsewhere, interior
cial relations are reproduced. First, the locale spaces are carefully structured to produce ap-
provides the context in which particular roles propriate microcontexts for consumption.
are habitually played and actions predictably Bridgewater Commons in Bridgewater, New
occur, establishing spatiotemporal fields of ab- Jersey, for example, has three distinct leasing
sence and presence, and affecting the poten- districts designed to appeal to specific market
tialities for social interaction. The association of segments and, by implication, not to appeal to
regions with particular group membership, ac- others: The Commons Collection contains up-
tivities, and dispositions allows the individual to scale boutiques and includes marble floors,
orient to the context and infer the appropriate gold leaf signage, brass accents, individual
social role to play-one literally comes to know wooden seating, and extensive foliage; The
one's place. The built environment is, there- Promenade contains stores catering to home
fore, socially and psychologically persuasive and family needs, storefronts have a more con-
(Eco 1986, 77). Second, the configuration of servative look, and aluminum and steel features
spatial forms determines the relative perme- and seating are predominant; The Campus
ability of structures, physically limiting the pos- contains stores catering to a "contemporary
sibility of movement and interaction. The rela- clientele" with dynamic window displays, plas-
tive connectivity, transitivity, and commu- tic laminate, ceramic tiling, bright colors, and
tativity of spaces serves to segregate individ- neon signage (see Rathbun 1990, 19-21). Al-
uals and practices, and to (re)inforce the differ- most every shopping center marks the distinc-
ential capacities of agents for social action. So- tion between high-end and low-end retail by
cial relations are realized in homologous such environmental cues.
geometrical relations. For example, the dialec- The shopping center is designed to per-
tic of inside-outside (Bachelard 1964, 21 5) re- suade the targeted users to move through the
alizes principles of inclusion-exclusion, while retail space and to adopt certain physical and
that of open and closed realizes distinctions
between public and private realms. The built
environment i s then also physically persuasive
or coercive.
What role does the retail built environment
play in the structuration of social class? While
a full discussion i s beyond the scope of this
paper, some preliminary suggestions can be
made. Market researchers develop stereotypi-
cal profiles of customers and apply a concept
of social class, conflated with lifestyle catego-
ries into market segments. The center is then
designed to explicitly meet the presumed en-
vironmental needs and desires of the segments
dominating market areas; thus the "look" of
centers reflects and reinforces conceptions of
social class (see, for example, Levine 1990,
187). The professional literature is quite plain
about the conscious social differentiation of the
retail built environment and the use of class-
loaded cues to effect the sociospatial segrega-
tion of consumption activity.
Within the shopping center itself, social seg-
regation is reproduced through separation of
specific functions and of class-based retail dis- Figure 4. Entrancing the shopper with a dramatic
tricts. Fiske et al. (1987, 110) describe an ex- doorway and red carpet, at the renovated Lakeshore
Mall in Gainesville, Georgia. Source: Retail Reporting
ample of the vertical structuring of mall space Corporation.
according to the social status of the targeted
consumers, and while the exact homology
Coss

social dispositions conducive to shopping. Let place), and thus on a Saturday afternoon at
us begin with the entrance to the regional mall. about 2 pm, the terror of time and space
The approved mode of approach is obviously evaporates for the millions of Americans at the
the automobile, and the shopper proceeds mall.
across the bleak desert of the parking lot to- This utopia is kept scrupulously clean and
wards the beckoning entrance, usually the only orderly, without any material contamination
break in the harsh, uniform exterior and typi- nor hint of the gradual obsolescence that char-
cally announced with canopies, columns, and acterizes material objects. It is kept perfect and
glass atria, surrounded by lush vegetation, all ageless by personnel who may be employed
suggestive of an oasis or sanctuary inside. For- to do nothing else but constantly polish or
mal entrances are increasingly dramatic (Rath- touch up the spotless shiny surfaces. At the
bun 1990), providing an appropriate sense of Esplanade Center in New Orleans, for exam-
grand arrival and literally "entrancing" the ple, the walls of the telephone recesses are
shopper into the fantasy world inside (Fig. 4). washed at least twice a day, and completely
Here external reality is immediately displaced: repainted every two weeks (Scott 1989, 69).8
the temperature is kept at a scientifically deter- The backstage areas, where commodities are
mined optimum for human comfort, typically a delivered, prepared and serviced, are con-
pleasant 68 degrees in winter and a refreshing cealed by landscaping, painted panels, and un-
72 degrees in ;ummer. Shophouse-style store- derground construction to protect the custom-
fronts are often reduced to 518 scale (as in ers from knowledge of the activities that take
Disney's theme parks) to give shoppers an ex- place there, so preserving the myth of the
aggerated sense of importance, transporting pure, abstract commodity for sale. Access to
them into a looking glass world. these areas i s impossible for those who do not
Indoor lighting is soft to prevent glare on know the plan.
shopfronts and to highlight the natural colors The floorplan exerts strong centripetal ten-
of the commodities on display. Lights act as dencies, and the shopper is drawn further into
"silent salesmen . . . [which] showcase the the fantasy by tantalizing glimpses of attractive
most pricey merchandise to stellar advantage central features, past the relatively drab mar-
and transform the most pedestrian goods into ginal tenants (mostly services) into the colorful
must-haves" (Connor 1989, 191) and may be and well-lit wonderland of consumption. In
engineered "according to the mood or emo- WEM, for example, "from each of the 58 en-
tion they are seeking to elicit within the shop- trances an unusual sight pulls visitors toward
per" (Connor 1989, 193). Similarly, psychologi- an illusive vortex" (Davis 1991, 13, emphasis
cally researched music covers the silence and added). Escalators sweep them up to galleries
soothes shoppers in "an anesthetic or tonic decorated with mobiles-typically birds, flags
aural fluid" (Boorstin 1961, 176), although the and balloons that dramatically evoke flight and
traditional Muzak has been replaced by cus- colorful action-or take them down to-under-
tomized foreground music which research world grottos, under arches and hanging gar-
shows may increase retail sales by up to 40 dens. This experience disorients the shopper
percent (Pyle 1990, 23). ~ i r r o r sand reflective and, just as in the fantasy worlds of popular
glass add to the decorative multiplication of literature and film, it is then notoriouslv difficult
images and colors, double the space and the to find one's way out. According to one de-
shopping crowd (Fiske et al. 1987, 1 OI), and signer, "a too direct and obvious a route be-
reflect shoppers, asking them to compare tween the entrance and exits must be avoided"
themselves with the manikins and magical (Beddington 1982, 16), and exits must be care-
commodities o n display in the fantasy world of fully designed because "if too prominent and
the shop window. Even in glasshouse malls, inviting as seen from within they may sweep
there ae; no windows that look out on the the unsuspected (sic) shopper from the cen-
world except up at the sky; there are no means tre" (Beddington 1982, 27). Even fire exits are
but the seasonal promotional activities to de- disguised as shopfronts or hidden behind mir-
termine the time of year, no clock to tell the rors almost to the point of invisibility (Scott
time of day, and no means but the identity of 1991, 192-93). The mall is thus designed as a
retail chains to determine regional location. noncommutative space, and the goal is to trap
The modern shopping center i s literally a Uto- the consumer in the world of consumption.
pia, an idealized nowhere (ou = no; topos = An extreme form of this disorienting experi-
The "Magic of the Mall" 33

ence is characteristic of downtown megastruc- tance lest shoppers be disinclined to walk to


tures, typified by Peachtree ~ e v e l o ~ m e nint the next department store (or be tempted to
Atlanta, the Bonaventure Center in Los Ange- get into their cars to drive to it!). There are a
les, the Renaissance Center in Detroit, and to number of generic designs depending on the
a lesser extent, the Eaton Center in Toronto. number of anchors: a wheelspoke layout
Slightly more modest versions are now appear- draws customers to a single anchor from sur-
ing in downtowns across the country, such as rounding car parks; the classic dumbbell de-
the Trump Tower in New York, Water Tower sign (developed by Gruen) channels consum-
Plaza in Chicago, St. Louis Center in St. Louis, ers along a corridor between two anchors; and
Tower City Center in Cleveland, and Louisville a T or L shape is used for three and a cruciform
Galleria in Louisville. These hyperspaces for four anchors. If mall distances are longer,
(lameson 1984) are as isolated from the city this fact must be concealed from the con-
street as the suburban shopping mall (see sumer, typically by breaking the space with
Whyte 1980) and are similarly artificial fantasy strong focal points and attractions, or by ob-
worlds hermetically sealed against the unsani- scuring the view with pop-out shopfronts. One
tary and unsafe outside world. Yet these spaces developer, for example, explains:
do not offer quite the comfortable seduction throughout the mall, towers, fountains and dra-
of the suburban mall. They organize a post- matic shop fronts are partially revealed to shoppers
modern experience, what Jameson (1984, 76) as they pass a bend. . . . Sensing the promise of
calls the "hysterical sublime," a mixture of ex- another reward 100 ti ahead, shoppers are en-
citement and terror felt at the instant of total couraged to head towards this next destination
("Fitting a Shopping Center . . ." 1991, 28).
alienation from historical reality. As Walter Ben-
jamin saw the Victorian arcade as the spatial An innovative solution to this problem and
metaphor for the cultural experience of com- to the weakening draw of the department store
mercial capitalism, so Jameson sees the hyper- anchor is the curved mall (to be introduced in
space as a metaphor for global capitalism. In- Carolina Place in Charlotte, North Carolina),
dividuals cannot orient themselves within a which increases circulation because it fosters a
"cognitive map" of this complex and confusing sense of anticipation. It makes storefronts stand
space, just as they cannot locate their immedi- out, and "even if the corridor is long, it seems
ate experience within the unimaginable totality shorter. It doesn't seem like such a burden to
of class relations and cultural institutions struc- walk to the end. The curve acts like a funnel
tured on a global scale. This sign-saturated and pulls people through the center" (devel-
place and i t s constant motion represent the oper, cited in Richards 1990, 27).
spatial and temporal displacement charac- Another strategy designed to keep shoppers
teristic of the postmodern world. We have, circulating while reducing the friction of dis-
therefore, progressed from the shopping cen- tance is the construction of a narrative which
ter as a modern rational Utopia to a postmod- unfolds around the center, such as numbered
ern Heterotopia-"a disorder in which the frag- plants with botanical descriptions, or "historic"
ments of a large number of possible orders markers. Pier 39 in San Francisco, for example,
glitter separately . . . without law or geometry" uses numbered plaques narrating the story of
(Foucault 1970, ~ v i i ) . ~ the construction of the shopping center in ap-
Nevertheless, the megastructure, like the propriately heroic terms and directing the
conventional shopping center, expresses the shopper further into the center to read the next
will of the plan, effecting circulation of patrons installment (Fig. 5). Signs or environmental
in order to optimally expose them to com- graphics can also help direct shoppers pur-
modities on display and offer them the oppor- posefully around the center, and it is suggested
tunity to make impulse purchases. The shop- that "some type of informative signage should
ping center is a machine for shopping: it be provided at every point where a shopper is
employs crude, but very effective, behaviorist faced with a decision" (Manson 1991, 127).
principles to move patrons efficiently through Progress through the mall is encouraged by
the retail built environment. The developer's careful pacing of attractions and displays, and
first law of shopper behavior says that the even the width of storefronts is regulated by
American shopper will not willingly walk more covenant to create a sense of predictable
than 600 feet (Garreau 1991, 117-18, 464). rhythm ("Nice Trick. . ." 1991, 32). Mall widths
Mall length is conventionally limited to this dis- are conventionally restricted to about 6 m in
floor patterns to suggest pathways through the
mall and towards open storefronts, a strategy
employed, for example, in Pearlridge Shopping
Center in Pearl City, Hawaii.
In multistory shopping centers, the design
must also encourage vertical movement so that
pedestrian traffic is exposed to shop displays
on all floors. Maitland (1990, 49-50), in a de-
sign manual, suggests "devices" to "persuade"
and "invite" people to move upward; these
include "glass-bubble" elevators, stacked esca-
lator banks (as in the Trump Tower), overhang-
ing platforms and aerial walkways (as at Pier 39
and Horton Plaza respectively), towering wa-
terfalls and fountains, and mobiles of birds,
manikins, balloons and aircraft. Such design
features celebrate the drama and aesthetics of
motion, drawing the eye and the person to
upper levels.
Shoppers cannot be kept moving all the
time, of course; they must be allowed to rest
from the arduous tasks of shopping, particu-
larly as the average trip to the shopping center
has reportedly increased from only 20 minutes
in 1960 to nearly three hours today (Crawford
Figure 5. Constructing a narrative and directing the 1992, 14). However,
shopper through the mall: Pier 39 in San Francisco.
Source: author. Pause points for shoppers to rest, review their pro-
grammes and re-arrange their purchases etc. also
need planning with care. Seating, while offering a
convenient stopping point, must not be too luxu-
rious or comfortable. Shoppers must move on and
allow re-occupation of seating and the danger of
attracting the 'down and outs'of various categories
order to allow shoppers to take in shopfronts must be avoided (Beddington 1982, 36).
on both sides, and to maintain the sense of
intimate, human scale. Wider malls allow for The need to rest for longer periods i s recog-
placement of seating, softscape, and kiosks in nized mainly in the food court, where, of
the center, obstacles that might draw shoppers course, shoppers will be consuming at the
along while also deflecting them towards inter- same time. Food courts have become an abso-
vening stores (Gottdiener 1986). Pop-out dis- lute necessity, in part because of the increased
plays and open storefronts are designed to role of food as a marker of social taste, in part
coax shoppers into the interior to make the also because the presentation of diverse culi-
impulse purchase. An excellent example of this nary experiences enhances the sense of else-
spatial manipulation is provided by San Diego's where (food courts now typically present a
Horton Plaza, where, from the vantage of an range of "ethnic" cuisines), and because it pro-
overhead walkway or its cloisters, one can vides a vantage point for watching others dis-
watch shoppers enter the center at the top of play their commodified lifestyles (Goss 1992,
escalators, hesitate, and make forward to a 174). Although development costs are greater
goal, only having to immediately negotiate than for other outlets, food courts are sig-
vendors' carts and sculpted plants which nificant determinants of the shoppers' choice
deflect them toward storefronts. The strategy of shopping center, and are the main attraction
does not always work, of course, but some for downtown office workers during lunch
shoppers dally in front of the window display hour. Located in the interior or on upper floors,
and a few enter the store, perhaps to make they can also, like department stores, draw
purchases where their original path would not customers past the specialty stores. Research
have taken them. More subtle is the use of finds that food courts can prolong a visitor's
The "Magic of the Mall" 35

stay an average of 10-1 5 minutes (Reynolds tures or unprescribed "pedestrian utterances"


1990b, 51). (De Certeau 1985, 129) since potential mi-
The space created by the developer-pedes- crospaces are preemptively filled: whether dig-
trian malls and mock street cafes-and the ac- nified by static features (such as sculptures or
tivity it is designed to sustain-relaxed strolling, potted plants), "animated" by active; perma-
window-shopping, and people-watching- nent features (such as mobiles, mechanical dis-
seem reminiscent of flanerie, the progress of plays, or fountains), or "programmed" with a
the voyeuristic dandy who strolled the streets performance by musicians, mimes, or street
and arcades of Paris in the nineteenth centurv. artist (see Garreau 1991, 443, 456). Performers
Several authors have drawn on the work of are carefully screened and hired by the man-
Benjamin (1973) in making this observation, agement, of course, and "real" street perform-
and, with appropriate gender neutralization of ers should only be found outside. In case any-
the term, have been predisposed to see in it a one should be inspired to spontaneous
recovery of a lost form of public behavior and performance, the stages and gazebos provided
personal expression (see for example, Shields for programs are inevitably roped off and sign-
1989; Friedberg 1991; Hopkins 1990). But posted to discourage them. When activated,
while the "mallies" (Jacobs1988) seek pleasure these installations nevertheless provide a sense
in the display, the- commercializatioi of the of public space and help draw shoppers
context has radically altered meaning, and through the mall. Graphics and murals are also
what we witness, I suspect, is not the recovery used to enliven routes, dramatize motion, and
of flanerie, but a nostalgia for its form which avoid "the depressing effects of dead areas"
only marks its effective absence. Shopping (Beddington 1982, 82), such as the hoardings
centers would not function if shoppers were obscuring vacant stores. Spaces and surfaces
not asked to validate their presence by pur- should be filled because, if everywhere in this
chases, in questions posed both in environ- environment there is a sign, the absence of a
mental cues and, if necessary, by the security sign becomes a sign of absence: perhaps sig-
personnel. The contemporary flaneur cannot nifying a lack of anticipation and consideration
escape the imperative to consume: she or he o n behalf of the developer, or more seriously,
cannot loiter in the mall unless implicitly invited the perceived emptiness of consumption itself,
to do so, and this generally only applies to the but inevitably inviting a motion to fill the void.
respectable elderlylO; those without shopping O n the other hand, designers may provide
bags and other suspicious individuals (teenag- spaces precisely to contain-any such gestures
ers, single men, the unkempt, and social sci- that individuals may be disposed to make.
ence researchers) will draw the attention of Small, intricate and irregular openings-what
security, who use the charge of loitering as Relph (1987, 253) calls quaintspace-invite a
grounds for eviction. ~ o r e ~ v eshoppers
r, do personal claim, and the planned concession of
not independently pick their way like the lei- such spaces for sanctioned private or interper-
surely flaneur, but follow the meticulously con- sonal activities then facilitates surveillance. This
ceived plan which has plotted paths, set lures, is not to deny the possibility of tactics entirely,
and planted decoys for its purpose. There is for "mall rats" will claim public space, by sitting
little chance of taking a route or occupying a on the floor or "mallingering" (Kowinski 1985,
position unforeseen b y this plan (Bukatman 26); threaten quaintspace, by disturbing adults
1991, 69). or engaging in unsanctioned activities; or pro-
The shopping center is, therefore, a strategic gramming their own spaces by performing
space, owned and controlled by an institu- "The Robot" etc., until chased off by security
tional power, which, by its nature, depends guards.
upon the definition, appropriation and cbntro~
of territory (De Certeau 1984). Its designers
seek to deny the possibility of tactics, an op-
positional occupation by everyday practices; The Shopping Center and
that is, activities which do not require a specific Signification
localization or spatially but which may tempo-
rarily use, occupy or take possession of strate- Elements of the built environment are sig-
gic space (De Certeau 1984). There are no nifiers which refer, through culturally deter-
spaces that might be claimed by uninvited ges- mined systems of association, to abstract con-
cepts, social relations, or ideologies. In combi- on a departing ship). Perhaps also the value of
nation, they constitute texts which communi- water is due to the fact that the ocean is the
cate social meaning to acculturated readers. only remaining natural environment and is the
The built environment first denotes its func- habitat of the only uncolonized minds, or no-
tion, informing the user of its practical purpose. ble Other (whales and dolphins). Hence shop-
Thus, for example, the shopping center an- ping centers with large-scale aquaria, including
nounces itself through its location and its con- Scottsdale Galleria, the Mall of the Americas
ventional form as a p(a)lace of consumption. A (with its walk-through adventure, "Underwater
wide range of styles is practicable, however, in World"), Newport City (with the Cousteau
realizing this basic function, and even the most Ocean Center), and, of course, WEM (with its
technologically constrained architectural solu- definitive Deep Sea Adventure).
tions give symbolic expression (Winner 1980, Similarly pervasive is the signification of the
127). The built environmental is also always, past in the retail built environment, as the
therefore, connotative of meaning, consistent "heritage industry" (Hewison 1989) exploits
with, but extending beyond its immediate our collective nostalgia for real places and his-
function. As Barthes (1979, 6) expresses it: "ar- toric roots. This is best illustrated in the festival
chitecture is always dream and function, [an] marketplaces, which reproduce historical land-
expression of a utopia and instrument of a con- scapes in the city with restored architectural
venience." I have suggested, for example, that details, antique material artifacts strewn almost
shopping centers present an image of civic, casually on the landscape, and professional ac-
liminal, and transactional spaces, forms consis- tors in period costume portraying historical
tent with, but not identical to, the function of characters (Rouse Co.'s "Art in the Market-
selling commodities. In addition to the thematic place" program, for example, now has a per-
imaging of space, however, carefully selected forming arts programs to create "Living His-
and highlighted elements of design communi- tory"). Even the older suburban centers are
cate specific meaning, which, through the op- now retrofitted with Victorian, Colonial, or Art
eration of an environmental rhetoric, can float Deco detailing. Needless to say this historical
free and attach to the act of consumption or to vernacular effects an idealization of the past
the commodities on display. and mystifies its relationship with the present.
I have already suggested that the plants and Although extreme attention is paid to minor
water features of the shopping center ask to details, the reconstruction is fitted with modern
be contrasted with the degraded nature of the facilities, and no reference i s made to exploita-
suburbs and the decaying second nature of the tive social relations that may have actually
city. They also apparently soothe tired shop- structured life at the time. No attempt is made
pers, enhance the sense of a natural outdoor to critically interrogate the present through
setting, create exotic contexts for the com- creative juxtaposition-it offers pastiche, not
modity, imply freshness and cleanliness, and parody (Jameson 1984, 64-65). Ironically too,
promote a sense of establishment (Maitland even while idealizing noncommodified social
1985). More important, the presence of nature, relations, this historicism normalizes the com-
albeit tamed in a garden setting, naturalizes modity aesthetic by projecting it backwards
consumption, and mitigates the alienation in- into the past and rewrites history as a sequence
herent in commodity production and con- of style.
sumption. Hence the recent proliferation of If the sense of history is violated in the shop-
natural products stores and the extraordinary ping center, so is time itself. A symptomatic and
lengths developers may go to in order to cap- almost universal new feature of the postmod-
ture and display commodified nature for this ern retail environment is the clock (Goss 1992,
premium.ll 174). Previously banished because of its re-
Water seems to be particularly important. minder of the precious value of time and the
Fountains signify civilized urban space, while power of its regime over the modern individ-
o n a larger scale, the importance of the water- ual, it is now often set prominently in a plaza
front to retail environments is due to their as- or court, where it quotes public places of the
sociation with sport and recreation, historic past, or is mounted on towers and bracketed
trade, and the potential for a new life of adven- to facades, quoting the respectable historical
ture (being cast away, press-ganged or ticketed institutions of the church and main street busi-
The "Magic of the Mall" 37

of the carnivalization of the retail built environ-


ment, is the carousel (Fig. 7). The first was
introduced in Southcoast Plaza in Costa Mesa,
California in 1967, but the last decade or so has
seen restored antique and reproduction carou-
sels introduced to literally dozens of malls, the
basis of a startling renaissance in the carousel
industry.12 The Columbiana Center in Colum-
bia, South Carolina, boasts an "authentic repro-
duction of an antique carousel" (Bivins 1989,
36, emphasis added), and River Falls Mall "a
full-size carousel authentically reproduced with
antique styling and handpainted horses" (Risley
1990, 72, emphasis added). These oxymoronic
conceits represent the fairgrounds of an imag-
ined childhood, and play upon a collective
nostalgia for the lost innocence of youth and
for old-fashioned fun-hence the carousel
must be a restored antique or exact reproduc-
tion. The 49th Street Galleria, part of Franklin
Mills in Philadelphia, even advertises a "turn of
the century family outing" and indoor Family
Fun Centers are now replacing the banks of
Figure 6. A clock as a focal point, reminiscent of a video games with more wholesome "old-fash-
Victorian railway station. The Galleria, San Francisco.
Source: author. ioned modes of fun" (Sicard 1991, 26).
In such retail playgrounds, the "pleasure of
innocence is meant to leak outside its sphere"
(Chaney 1990, 62) for, as I have noted, the
magic of the commodity depends upon an in-
ness. It is, therefore, almost invariably an an- nocence about the relations of production and
tique analog clock, visually punning history and the social construction of consumption. The
the way things were-referring literally to times sense of innocent fun mitigates the guilt of con-
past. The passage of time is recorded, but the spicuous consumption and a residual inno-
time of the antique clock is not a threat to the cence may similarly attach to the commodities
idyll of consumption for it always stands at the for sale. The carousel itself is inevitably located
threshold of the present, or just before the at a focal point of the shopping center, and
dreaded future began. For the postmodern consumers are drawn into the aura of un-
consumer, temporality has collapsed, time is an worldliness and artlessness of its orbit as the
extension of the moment, and, punning again, whole merry-go-round world of commodity
past time signifies the pastime of shopping. Fi- appears to revolve around its axis. Moreover,
nally, the combination of the prominent clock reference is inevitably made in advertising the
and atria or gallery bears a resemblance to the carousel to the handpainted horses and hand-
nineteenth-century railway station (see Fig. 6), crafted components (for example, the pains-
a place that marks liminality, with its prospects taking restoration of the Broadway Flying
for romance and mystery extolled in countless Horses of Seaport Village, described in texts
popular novels and movies. Shopping centers and photos) and this quality also naturally at-
occupy restored railway stations (such as St. taches itself to commodities on sale. In one of
I
Louis Station), and miniature railways-as "peo- the most dramatic diffusions of retail innova-
ple movers1'-are increasingly common. The 1 tions, miniaturized carousels, particularly as
railway rhetoric may go further in the analogy music boxes, and the horses themselves, as
between window shopping and the gaze upon ornaments or nursery toys, have themselves
exotic landscapes passing by the carriage win- I become hot commodities and are now rapidly
dow. becoming cliched icons in toyshops, candy-
One of the most dramatic innovations, a part shops, and other specialist stores. A fetish of
38 Goss

Figure 7. The carousel theme: Carousel Court in Myrtle Square Mall, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Source:
Retail Reporting Corporation.

childhood past is rehabilitated-we might even (the Bel Canto competition is held in shopping
speak of the commodification of the fetish- centers across the country) and Shakespearean
and I suspect that the carousel horse has plays (staged, for example, at Lakeforest Mall
caught on so rapidly because it is the epitome in Gaithersburg, Maryland) (see Goss 1992,
of the commodity that is really real, that literally 174). Considerable sums are invested in fixed
comes to life as if by magic, for righteous be- art displays; both Horton Plaza in California
lievers. One can now even have carousel and The Gardens of the Palm Beaches in Flor-
horses printed on one's checks, so that spend- ida boast more than $1 million worth, much of
ing money is mystified as innocent, old-fash- which can fairly be described as "plop art,"
ioned fun. so-called because it seems to have been
Art, o n the other hand, has always had a dropped in place without regard to the scale
place in the retail built environment because it and quality of the surrounding environment. It
symbolizes a noncommercialized aesthetic, is, therefore, like the commodities on display,
and because it is a form of object display sanc- abstracted from its origins and so fetishized.
tioned by high culture (Harris 1990). Its auratic This art rarely demands to be interpreted, so
content is also meant to spill over into the one suspects that its purpose is merely to be
commodities on sale and to sanctify shopping recognized as a sign of what it is-that is Art,
by association with the legitimate activity of a mystified quality of high culture. At the same
aesthetic appreciation. Hence shopping cen- time, of course, it does allow those with culti-
ters host symphonies (Southland hosted the vated tastes to exercise and display their cul-
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra), operas tural capital and so mark their distinction from
The "Magic of the Mall" 39

the mass consumer (see Bourdieu 1984). Art inkski 1985, 71-73) and is bombarded by si-
exhibits also act as focal features drawing cus- multaneous images of multiple places and
tomers along the mall, filling empty spaces, and times; spatial narratives dissolve and individual
enhancing the sense of public space ("City's pedestrian trajectories or narratives are con-
Love of Art . . ." 1991, 103). Like other corpo- stantly broken by contrived obstacles. Devel-
rate art, shopping center displays signify a opers recognize that their customers expect
commitment to public edification expected of drama, excitement, and constant visual stimu-
a benevolent authority and are a means to ex- lation thanks to the effect of television, and
press and legitimate the power of the owner. they seek to provide a surrogate televisual ex-
Solid, weighty pieces displayed in sculpture perience (O'Connor 1989, 290). Perhaps the
courts best achieve these goals, and prestig- best example of this is Horton Plaza, which is
ious displays of sculptures by world-renowned saturated by visual imagery quoting from an
artists are found in several shopping centers, incredible diversity of sources and is designed
including Northpark Center in Dallas, Horton purposefully to confuse and literally lose the
Plaza, Southcoast Plaza, and Newport Center shopper in its multidimensional programming.
Fashion Island. The connection. with TV goes further. As
Art has, of course, long been deployed in noted earlier, both the retail built environment
marketing, and the separation of the commer- and the TV function primarily to display and
cial and aesthetic was always problematical, yet sell commodities and the lifestyles associated
the distinction has definitively ruptured under with them; both are escapes from suburban
the assault of contemporary commodification. everyday life, a means of transport from reality;
The ultimate collapse of the categorical distinc- and both are highly controlled media that play
tion i s presaged by the fact that art and cultural to the cultural bottom-line, presuming a pas-
museums are now sited in mixed-use retail sive, psychologically manipulatable public.
centers (these include, for example, the M u - Commercial video walls-banks of TV
seum of Fine Arts in Faneuil Hall Marketplace, screens-provide a new point-of-purchase
Boston; the California Crafts Museum in Ghi- promotion so that the shopper can watch TV
radelli Square, San Francisco; the Laguna Beach in the mall, and in fact the TV is impossible to
Museum in Southcoast Plaza, Museo Chicano, escape. There has been recently a phenome-
at the Mercado, a folk art museum at Horton nal televisualization of the retailing concept,
Plaza, and two whaling museums at Whalers that is, the direct lifting of retail concepts from
Village, Lahaina, Hawaii). Moreover, museums television shows in stores such as Cartoon
have opened retail outlets in shopping centers Junction, the Disney Store, Hanna Barbera
where "authentic reproductions" and souve- Shop, NFL for Kids, Circle Gallery of Animation
nirs of artifacts are sold (for example, satellite and Cartoon Art, Sanrio Co., and the Sesame
stores of the Museum of Modern Art sell high- Street General Store). Thus it can truly be said
quality reproductions of art and souvenir mer- that "shopping malls are liquid TVs for the end
chandise). Most telling, however, is that the of the twentieth century" (Kroker et al. 1989,
first funds ever awarded to a private corpora- 208).
tion by the National Endowment for the Arts Also analogous to the TV, in its capacity to
went to Rouse and Co. to develop art projects allow viewers to be simultaneously in multiple
in shopping malls (NEA Funds Art . . . 1990, times and places even while sitting at home,
C I ) . While both museums and shopping cen- the shopping center creates a diverse range of
ters are designed to display commodities, they temporal and spatial experiences within a com-
are equally a part of the "consciousness indus- fortable landscape for consumption. Hopkins
try" (see Silverman 1986; Harris 1990), and it (1990), for example, has described the me-
is undoubtedly the retailers that benefit most tonymical strategies by which shopping cen-
from this conflation. ters exploit "myths of elsewhere" to elicit spe-
More recent too is continuous reference to cific behavioral responses. First, they employ
the television and the emulation of televisual semantic metonyms or place names. Typically,
experience within the retail built environment. early centers favored names redolent of Ar-
The shopper strolls through experiences as he cadia or pastoral scenes (Country Club, High-
or she might scan through TV channels (see land Park, Farmers Market etc.), while modern
Kroker et al. 1989, 109; Davis 1991, 5; Kow- 1 suburban malls employ Utopian, placeless
40 Goss

names (Northland, Southland etc.), and con- ate, while it seeks retail dollars; and it borrows
temporary centers may imply tourist and other signs of other places and times to obscure its
liminal destinations (Harborfront, Seaport Vil- rootedness in contemporary capitalism. The
lage, Forest Fair, etc.). Garreau (1991, 471 ) sug- shopping center sells paradoxical experiences
gests facetiously that such evocative names are to its customers, who can safely experience
used in direct proportion to their distance from danger, confront the Other as a familiar, be
the reality they describe. More effective per- tourists without going o n vacation, go to the
haps is the use of iconic metonyms, or objects beach in the depths of winter, and be outside
which function as signs of other places and when in. It is quite literally a fantastic place, and
times, to evoke stereotypical associations. I suspect the disappointment that some expe-
Standing synecdochally for other places, such rience at the mall may result from the impos-
icons are also metaphors for the spatial expe- sibility of these paradoxes (psychoanalysis tells
rience of other places, in the manner by us, of course, that the inability to attain the goal
which, say, the Eiffel Tower, which first stands of the desire is precisely its necessary condi-
for Paris, then evokes haute cuisine, cosmo- tion). It i s a representation of space masquer-
politan sophistication, and relaxed elegance. ading as a representational space (Lefebvre
Generic icons such as fountains, benches, 1991, 38-39); that is, a space conceptualized,
statuary, and clocks signify traditional urban planned scientifically and realized through
public space, and evoke notions of community strict technical control, pretending to be a
and civic pride. More elaborate reconstruc- space imaginatively created by its inhabitants.
tions of other places, whether generic-such as The shopping center is conceived by the elitist
fairgrounds, Greek agora, Italian piazzas, Pari- science of planning, which operates under the
sian sidewalk cafes, and Mediterranean vil- calculus of retail profit and applies behavioral
lages-or specific-such as Bourbon Street and theories of human action for purposes of social
Miami Beach-quote well-worn cliches of control, and yet part of that conception is its
place from our collective mus6e imaginaire. disguise as a popular space which has been
These simulated places exude an "aura of fa- created by the spontaneous, individual tactics
miliarity" (Davis 1991, 2) and provoke predict- of everyday life. The alienation of commodity
able associations and dispositions facilitating consumption is concealed by the mask of car-
consumption. Drinking capuccino coffee in a nival, the patina of nostalgia, and the iconic
sidewalk cafe on Europa Boulevard, WEM, for essences of elsewhere.
example, is likely to elicit fantasies conducive While it is an insult to the shopper to suggest
to the purchase of luxury items in the nearby that she or he is totally duped by the spatial
fashion stores. These simulations exploit an- strategies described above (Hopkins 1991,
other contemporary dis-ease, that is other- 270; Shields 1989, 157), the postmodernist
wheritis, the spatial equivalent of nostalgia, a celebration of the jouissance experienced by
social condition in which a distant place is pref- the knowledgeable consumer and of the
erable to here and now. flanerie of the new dandy, involves an equally
problematical elitist position. The "captains of
consciousness" perhaps understand as well as
the academic culture theorists the class struc-
Moving on the Mall: Reclaiming

turation of consumption, and they have ex-


the Shopping Center
ploited this in the design of a multiply-coded
retail built environment that communicates
Fer sure, we have the wolfpacks and kyotes comin
down from the hills, and the freewaymen robbin particular meanings to different audiences, as
us, but we are lucky because we live in the Great in the conceit of postmodernism, which nods
Mall, where the Wall portect us, and we have the condescendingly to the majority and winks
Warmth and Stuff inside. After the fa1 de rol, isn't knowingly at the cognoscenti (see Jencks
the Mall the winner of our disconnect? (Kowinski
1986, 373). The shopping center apparently
1985, 394).
caters to all, with circuses for the masses and
The shopping center appears to be every- fine art for the elite, consciously providing
thing that it is not. It contrives to be a public, those "in the know" with the means to mark
civic place even though it is private and run for their distinction. More seriously, this optimistic
profit; it offers a place to commune and recre- assessment underestimates the capacity of the
The "Magic of the Mall" 41

organizational intelligence behind the spatial need for capital investment in their communi-
strategies of control. A sophisticated apparatus ties. Most urban communities, in particular, are
researches consumers' personal profiles, their only too happy, if financially capable, to pro-
insecurities and desires, and produces a space vide developers with incentives, and in this
that comfortably satisfies both individual and context, development offers an undoubted im-
mass consumers and manipulates the behavior provement in environmental quality. More-
of both to not-so-different degrees. over, environmental and community-based re-
The question then is how to retrieve these sistance is only effective against new develop-
spaces from such calculated control, and there ment, while renovation of existing centers is
are a number of possible tactics directed at fast becoming the dominant trend.
each of the conceptions of the retail built en- There have been several critiques of the mall
vironment developed above. First i s the expo- as a spatial system from within popular culture,
sure of the fetishism of the commodity and the most recently and explicitly in the movie, The
re-problematization of the relations of con- Phantom of the Mall, which exposes the terror
sumption. Consumer activists, for example, of pan-optical surveillance and sociopsy-
have exposed the materialism of the commod- chological control in a mall gone bad. A greedy
ity by organizing information campaigns and developer and corrupt mayor have destroyed
consumer boycotts undermining the magic of homes and attempted murder to assemble
commodities such as Coors beer, Burger King land, and one of their victims inhabits the laby-
fast foods, and Ratners jewelry (see also Smith rinthine service tunnels and ventilation ducts
1990). Advertisers have been forced by the waiting to wreak revenge. While the security
increasing environmental consciousness and personnel use the closed-circuit TV to leer at
social awareness of consumers to make some women in changing rooms, the "phantom"
progressive changes in their campaigns, but uses the system to protect his former girlfriend,
they have also countered effectively by further a mall employee, from voyeurs and would-be
mystifying the connections, exploiting the rapists. The backstage is the scene of brutal
magic of advertising to associate even the most killings, and the labyrinth is complete with rats,
environmentally culpable products, such as snakes, corpses, and other terrors. The teen-
nuclear power and oil, with nature, cleanliness, age heroes gradually uncover the secret of the
and justice, as a browse through any liberal mall, beginning with the discovery that the
magazine will attest. piped Muzak contains subliminal messages. In
Consumers may also infer meanings unin- the end, the greedy and corrupt are grue-
tended by the captains of consciousness, or somely dispatched, and the malevolent mall is
appropriate meanings to which they are not destroyed by a bomb-surely the nightmare of
socially entitled, such as the manner in which all developers. The limits of this kind of cri-
surplus military clothing becomes a skinhead's tique, however, are revealed in the ultimate
uniform. There are, however, inherent limits to resolution: that the phantom turns out, accord-
this form of subversion of commodity symbol- ing to the soundtrack song by the Vandals, to
ism, in that while temporarily challenging the be nothing but "a retard in a broken hockey
established order of the image, it still employs mask"; that the hero who gets the girl is a
the object code and is thus relatively easily young photographer, and therefore himself a
coopted-radical soon becomes radical chic. professional image-maker (he sees nothing
Second is the attempt to resist the economic particularly wrong in the surveillance or the
and spatial logic of the shopping center. As messages of the subliminal Muzak); and that
noted, the struggle of community groups the female victim preserves her innocence and
against large-scale retail development in their righteousness in the field of corrupt consump-
neighborhoods has had some limited success tion. Although the movie can be read to inform
in some parts of the US., particularly the north- tactics of resistance, it is not critical of the
west, through delaying construction and nego- strategies systematically applied by mall devel-
tiating environmental concessions from devel- opers as much as of an exceptional evil devel-
opers ("Building Despite the Obstacles . . ." oper and a wayward mall.
1990). In most places, however, these strate- Third is the struggle to open the shopping
gies are more limited due to what is generally center to all activities consistent with public
perceived by localities and states to be the space, even those that may affront the sensi-
bilities of the consumer or disrupt the smooth without alienating other patrons can perhaps
process of consumption. This requires sustain- kindle the critical faculties of shoppers and pro-
ing and broadening the pressure upon man- voke their own tactical responses.
agement already being exerted by civil rights Finally there is the attempt to subvert the
groups in courts of law, and by teenagers and systems of signification operating in the retail
others in petty, everyday skirmishes with secu- built environment. This involves recognizing
rity. While ideologically interpreted as assaults the intention behind the sign-which I have
upon the rights of private property, such politi- attempted-and a far more creative appropria-
cal and tactical actions must be supported as a tion, or reassignation of meaning. The built en-
struggle for public space and at least minimal vironment is always complexly and multiply
rights of citizenship for all in the consumer coded, and the assignation of specific meaning
society. By confronting the rights of exclusion, depends upon the predisposition of the reader.
encouraging the presence of undesirable ac- There is always the potential for consciously
tivities, and challenging the legality of such perverted interpretation, a challenge to the
rights in court, we can expose the ersatz and meaning of sign and to the class structuration
profoundly undemocratic nature of public of the signification system.
space and the controlled carnival manufac- The shopping center is, like television, a
tured in the contemporary retail environment. "leaky medium" (Enzenberger cited in Stam
Fourth i s the tactical occupation of spaces, 1988, 116), in the sense that, while corpora-
particularly by actions that would be excluded tively controlled, it must respond to popular
by the signs and security guards of private desire and must rely upon some relatively
property. N o architectural form is entirely ef- autonomous creative imagists. This has allowed
fective, and all spaces must open up some pos- the addition of ironic signifiers to the retail built
sibilities as they shut others down. As Eco environment, that, for example, satirize upon
(1986, 77) notes, architecture fluctuates be- the emptiness of conspicuous consumption
tween being coercive, forcing one to live and and so apparently preempt the high-cultural
behave in a particular way, and indifferent, al- critique. With the multiplication of signs in the
lowing one freedom to move, express oneself, postmodern retail built environment, such
and dream. Users of the shopping center may counter-significations can be absorbed un-
pursue such freedoms and exploit the oppor- problematically into the environment, or
tunities that shopping centers present. It is only worse, may be coopted as markers of social
the overwhelming normalcy of everyone and distinction.
everything in the shopping center that allows More significant then will be attempts by the
the will of the plan to remain unquestioned. users themselves to subvert meaning through
The unpredictabilities of the world are con- strategies of social parody and "detournement
stantly penetrating the mall, of course, and de- of pre-existing aesthetic elements" (Knabb
signers and managers must keep up a constant 1981, 45; see also Bonnett 1989, 135). This i s
rate of architectonic innovation to keep it at to accept the limitations placed upon resis-
bay. Petty vandalism, such as graffiti, packets tance: that there is no possibility of a critique
of detergent thrown into mall fountains (Scott from outside the dominant representational
1989, 74), and increasing occurrences of inter- discourses, for there is no position that is not
personal violence (Hazel 1992, 27) are exam- implicated in the object code; and that there is
ples of some of the more overt and male-domi- also no possible alternative to the totalizing
nated tactics, while increasing theft is an logic of social relations within this society of the
example of a covert, female-dominated tactic. spectacle. One cannot imagine, say, the ra-
Teenagers in The Phantom of the Mall also tional planning, construction, and successful
"moon" at cameras, enter forbidden places, operation of a genuinely alternative shopping
and skate-board after hours. These are unlikely center, nor practically conceive of nonalienat-
to be viewed sympathetically by most consum- ing forms of consumption. Instead, effective
ers and lead only to new levels of preventive tactics can only employ the means of the strat-
response. An alternative spatial tactic that dis- egy against itself, by taking it at its word and
rupts the efficient flow of consumers, breaches taking its word to extremes. Users already do
the perfect context of the commodity, and re- this to a limited extent, treating the mall as the
connects it to its material and social origins social space it pretends to be, 25 percent freely
The "Magic of the Mall" 43
I

enjoying its facilities without making a purchase 4. Although required by some local governments,
("Who Shops in Shopping Malls?" 1989, 43). day care is not proving very successful because
of the difficulty and cost of obtaining liability in-
What I have in mind, however, is the construc- surance and of parental distrust of strangers
tion of situations; that is, the collective staging (Reynolds 1990b, 29). More in keeping with the
of games and farcical events, b y artists, activ- commodified setting is a novel enterprise, part
ists, and the shopping center patrons them- day care, part entertainment for children, pio-
neered in Evergreen Plaza in Rolling Meadows,
selves, that can temporarily bring carnival into Illinois. Children may be deposited at "Kids Only
the shopping center, upsetting the conven- Cartoon Theaters," where they are "barcoded"
tional play of signification, subverting the cul- with identification tags and constantly monitored
tural codes that are strategically deployed. The by video while they watch continuous cartoons.
The parent is given a pager in case problems arise
psychogeographers of the retail environment
or they fail to return within the prescribed time.
are perhaps pushing the limits of their spatial Electronic doors prevent children leaving, and
and representational strategies, and the shop- the same adult must collect them with the bar-
ping center may become too successful, as code on the pager also matched with that on the
users take what is contrived as merely a realis- child.
5. Note, however, that downtown developers have
tic experience of public place as really real. recently discovered the "positive demographics"
Ultimately, however, we must realize that the of minorities and have designed centers and ten-
nostalgia we experience for authenticity, com- ant mix explicitly to capture these underserved
merce, and carnival lies precisely in the loss of markets. This applies especially to Hispanics;
our ability to collectively create meaning by centers directed explicitly at Hispanic markets in-
clude, for example, the Mercado in Phoenix, Fi-
occupying and using social spaces for our- esta Marketplace in Santa Ana, California, Galleria
selves. While developers may design the retail of the Americas in New York, and Palm Plaza in
built environment in order to satisfy this nos- Hialeah, Florida.
talgia, our real desire, as Frow (1991, 129) 6. Hotels and conference centers act as anchor ten-
ants, drawing tourists and conventioneers to
notes, is for community and social space free shopping centers. Examples include Central
from instrumental calculus of design. Coast Plaza in San Luis Obispo, California; Pick-
well Center in Pickwell, Ohio; Carnation Mall,
Alliance, Ohio; Greenbrier Mall, Chesapeake,
Virginia; and Harbour Island. The Riverchase Gal-
Notes leria, Birmingham, Alabama, for example, markets
weekend shoppers' specials that keep its hotel
1. The term is borrowed from Wood (1985, 81),
full with busloads of people from neighboring
who uses it to describe "places made over to be
states (McCloud 1989a, 23).
something they never were."
7. Gruen claimed that "the inventiveness which ex-
2. Although the industry wishes to assure us that
pressed itself so clearly in the first pioneering
"Real M e n Do Like Shopping" (International
centers has given way to repetition and routine"
Council of Shopping Centers 1990, 16), it is sig-
(1973, 42), and that "financial greed has debased
nificant that there are at least two games designed
. . . the idea . . . [The] environmental and hu-
for girls based on the mall experience. The object
mane ideas underlying, though not perfectly ex-
of the board game "Meet M e at the Mall" is to
pressed, in the original centres . . . were com-
fill shopping bags with merchandise and "shop
pletely forgotten" (1978, 350-51 ).
'ti1 you drop"; an electronic game, "Mall Mad-
8. An exception to this rule is noted by Garreau
ness," uses pretend credit cards and automated
(1991, 511, citing one manager who reduced the
voice product descriptions ("The Short Run"
I shine on his marble floors to avoid the inade-
1992, 5).
3. Rouse's other schemes include Harborplace in ,
, quacy experienced by some consumers when
they inevitably compared it with their o w n at
Baltimore, South Street Seaport in New York, I home. Such anecdotes suggest the totality of the
Santa Monica Place in Santa Monica, California; , enterprise.
the Tivoli Brewery in Denver, the Grand Avenue 9. Foucault (1986) later expands upon his concep-
in Milwaukee, St. Louis Union Station in St. Louis, tion of Heterotopia, and there are several ways
I
Portside in Toledo, and Waterside in Norfolk. in which his notion works here. For example, a
Other festival marketplaces based on this model 1 heterotopic space involves an absolute break
include, for example, Harbour Island in Tampa, 1 with traditional time (fourth principle) and rules
Trapper's Alley in Detroit, Rainbow Center in Ni- 1 of exclusion by which entry into the space is
agara Falls, New York, Marina Marketplace in Buf- 1 necessarily restricted (fifth principle).
falo, Pier 39 in San Francisco, and Charleston I 10. The elderly are specifically encouraged to the
Place in Charleston, South Carolina. Less publi- shopping center by free transport and "specials"
cized failures include 6th St. Marketplace in Rich- because they impart a sense of safe public space
mond and Water St. Pavilion in Flint (Sawicki and enhance the reputation of the management
1989, 348). as civic-minded. Also, the "mature market" (over
44 Cos

fifty years old), is expanding rapidly as "yuppies" Bond, R. 1989. Feeling safe again. Shopping Center
become "grumpies" (grown-up mature profes- World November:I 81 -84.
sionals), has the highest disposable income and Bonnett, A. 1989. Situationism, geography, and
greatest assets, and spends more on grandchil-
poststructuralism. Environment and Planning D:
dren's clothes than do the parents ("Sixty Some-
thing" 1991, 31). Society and Space 7:131-46.
11. The developer personally chose the 29 thirty- Boorstin, D. J. 1973. The Americans: The demo-

foot palms that grace Tyson's Corner in Fairfax cratic experience. New York: Vintage Books.

County, Virginia. Trees were dug up in Florida and -. 1961. The image: A guide to pseudo-

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12. Including, for example, Arkansas Mall in Fay- Building despite the obstacles: Anti-growth sentiment,
etteville, Metro Center in Phoenix, Superstition
Springs Mall in Mesa, Arizona; Pier 39, Lake- local restrictions slow retail development. 1990.
wood Center Mall in Lakewood, California, Chain Store Age Executive, June:27-32.
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Factory Outlet Mall in Orlando, Lakeshore Mall Metrocentre as a cultural form. Theory, Culture
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in Chicago, River Falls Mall, Oak Park Mall in
City's love of art expressed in mall. 1991. Shopping
Overland Park, Kansas; Festival Marketplace in
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Carolina; Hickory Ridge in Memphis, Newmarket Connor, P. 1989. "Silent salesmen" at work inside
Fair in Newport News, Virginia, St. Lawrence and out. Chain Store Age Executive Novem-
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Submitted 12/91, revised 10/92, accepted 10/92.

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