By Patrick La Roque
It began as utopia, the vision of a prefabricated downtown merging art, urbanity and commercialism. These "shopping centers"—a novel 1950s concept by american architect Victor Gruen—were to propel suburbia into a new age of cosmopolitan flair, creating the type of mixed environment only found in big cities. But while the original vision strived for community, retail soon took over and the mall—as we know it today—was born: a cookie cutter, climate-controlled monument to stores and food courts, surrounded by asphalt and cars.
Lifestyle centers are the most recent attempt at revisiting Gruen's original concept. Instead of an indoor labyrinth, the boutiques and restaurants line makeshift streets and pretend town squares. Hotels, movie theatres and concert venues are all here, striving to provide an anchor, a sense of place and purpose.
Yet all I see are cardboard cutouts.
I grab a coffee at Starbucks and sit at the terrace. Through the buildings behind me I see an ocean of cars. In fact you can't walk from one "square" to another without breaking the spell and crossing an endless series of parking lots. In winter, at minus 5000 celsius...these become wind tunnels. Still, there's a certain beauty in the artificiality. An odd shine to the veneer and emptiness I find this morning. Like decor. If I squint my eyes and forget the fake palm trees, I can almost make myself believe.
I can almost hear the vague murmurs of a city.