Saturday, June 28, 2014

Urban wastelands

Once upon a time, America was in love with out-of-town shopping centres - but, it seems, no longer. This Guardian article on the death of the mall - illustrated with evocative images by photographer Seph Lawless - is a fascinating read.

The decline and abandonment of so many malls gives the lie to the great capitalist myth of perpetual unfettered growth - of the economy, of jobs, of choice, of opportunity. The stark reality is ugly suburban wastelands - empty buildings that are extremely hard to repurpose (except, apparently, as megachurches) set on land that is privatised rather than public space.

In the UK, the situation is much less pronounced. We may have initiated city centre regeneration schemes much sooner here than in the US, but here, where the population density is higher and there is far greater pressure on space, suburban sprawl was more restricted and so fewer such shopping centres were built in the first place. Nevertheless, vacant purpose-built retail space isn't uncommon in Cardiff, for instance (along Newport Road and down towards the Bay), while in Pilsworth outside Bury, what was once (I believe) the largest multiplex cinema in the country stands empty, with little hope of it ever finding a new use.

Our shopping centres have tended to remain within city centres, though that's not to say they've all retained their appeal for consumers and businesses. New developments in Nottingham, for instance, have left the Broadmarsh a shadow of its former self, while in Birmingham the much-lauded Bullring has effectively dealt a fatal blow to other shopping centres such as the Palisades and the Pavilions. Of course, that was always on the cards - but I imagine the developers were rather happier to ignore it and instead waffle on about improved quality and choice...

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