Plastic wastelands; the mall the merrier
They’re calling it the “mother of all mega malls”. Frank Lowy’s Stratford Westfield; home to seven miles of shop windows, 300 outlets, 70 restaurants, 5,000 car spaces and 50, 000 lights.
Sounds like hell. But you’d check it out, you know you would. People love to shop.
Fast, convenient and completely mind-numbing. Shopping has become the ultimate lifestyle activity; shopping malls the modern equivalent of the town square.
Like hungry seagulls we flock there; aimlessly wandering the sterile, clean, air-conditioned comfort of the wall-to-wall stores and their wall-to-wall temptations.
The moving walkways, the knick knavks, the gadgets, the piped music. Candles, toys, jewellery, electronics, over-sized pretzels, and endless fast food. Buying stuff we don’t need, eating stuff we don’t want.
Behaviour that is in turn both totally mindless and yet deeply satisfying.
Australian developer Frank Lowy is the face of the Westfield brand; a man who understands our shopping needs and their subtle nuances.
Stratford is the second Westfield in London; the first was built in Shepherds Bush two years ago. And yet even in that short space of time, the ingredients of what makes a mall great has changed.
Despite its palatial proportions, the Stratford store was designed to soothe rather than bedazzle.
Lowy’s design brief did away with the high-end glitz of the London high street, in favour of a more comfortable vibe.
Stratford shoppers should feel like “guests” or visitors, rather than “walking wallets”, said The Independent this week. And they’re certainly expecting a crowd.
Four million people from the surrounding suburbs of east London are expected to make it their regular shopping destination. There are plans for an additional Eurostar stop at Stratford International to enable European shoppers’ easier access to the shopping mecca; and its close proximity to the London Olympic Stadium will ensure it a lucrative and souvenir-friendly time-waster for tourists next year.
Westfield also expects the mall will provide around 18,000 jobs.
Naturally though, not everyone is happy about it. Many say the mega mall will prove fatal to the already struggling local businesses not yet killed off by the GFC, and will also mark the end of an era for the east London area, once a manufacturing hub of trains, wagons, aircraft and buses.
But you can’t help feeling it’s all just a little too late. Two hundred thousand people walked through the opening doors on Tuesday. Plus, there are some attractive fringe benefits.
Celebrated interior designers will stage regular installations throughout the complex and international celebrities will make appearances. There’s a 24 hour text messaging service that advises available car parking from the comfort of your own home, hotels where you can “shop and sleep”, a casino and a 17-screen cinema.
Not exactly high-brow of course, but plenty of options for people just looking for somewhere to kill a bit of time. Or to get the shopping done in one convenient place.
Fact is, malls serve us well. They may not be organic or ‘hip’ but many of us love them more than we’d publicly admit.
The biggest question is what happens to these malls when it’s not just the bookshops that get shut down.
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