Archive for September 12th, 2009
Today I took my two daughters to a movie. The theater was located in a large suburban shopping mall in Southwest St. Louis County, “Crestwood Plaza.” I had not been to this mall for several years, and I was shocked at what I saw. Approximately 40% of the stores have been shuttered and the entire place was like a ghost town. A lonely security guard told me that the stores have been rapidly failing over the past two years. That comports with my recollection. Two years ago, this mall was a packed and thriving shopping area located in a solidly middle-class community. Crestwood Plaza is not an isolated story; shopping malls are failing all across America.
[I've posted a gallery of today's images many of these shuttered stores along with this post. If you don't see that gallery, click the title to this post to go to the permalink, where you will see those thumbnails.]
I sometimes get snarkish when someone tells me they’re going to a shopping mall. I sometimes ask the Intrepid shopper to do me a favor and buy something practical for me, “Could you please buy me a hammer.” I usually get the same reaction, a puzzled look accompanied by a response “They don’t sell practical things like hammers at shopping malls.” Now I’m not denying that malls sell clothes or that we need clothes. Most mall clothes are for far more than staying warm or covering up. They are much more often than not, for impressing others.
For that reason, I’m not shedding tears for the shattering of dozens of mall stores at Crestwood Plaza or anywhere else. The failure of most of the stores means that we won’t be buying things we don’t actually need. Because Hallmark no longer sells its commercial greeting cards, we might be “forced” to create and send our own personalized cards and letters to each other. Now that Libby Lu gone, our pre-teen daughters can get back to being children rather than obsessing about their sex appeal. In my mind, many of these store closings are mostly good things, although I am saddened by the thought that so many people have lost their jobs due to these shutdowns. See these terrific videos by Josh Golin of CCFC regarding the dangers of turning our children into rampant consumers.
Another silver lining is that the mall owners have been forced to do something different with their space in order to survive (assuming they do survive). What they’ve done at Crestwood Plaza is to lease out many of the “store” spaces to art galleries, educational facilities, community theaters and other arts and crafts workshops for children and adults. In other words, it appears that the mall owners are opening up their malls for people who want to develop their minds and skill-sets rather than simply their pocketbooks.
This article from Boston.com raises a critical point. Most Americans know the Harry Potter stories. They know many professional athletes, movies stars and musicians. But they know very little about the people who do science or how science is done. For instance, “Only 52 percent of Americans in their survey knew why stem cells differ from other kinds of cells; just 46 percent knew that atoms are larger than electrons.”
What is the cure?
Americans should be far more engaged with scientists and what they’re doing. They should know the names of leading researchers (most Americans do not) and the nation’s top scientific agencies (again, most Americans do not). To the extent possible they should know scientists personally, both so they can get a sense of the nature of scientific reasoning and so they feel they are being heard, not just lectured to. Perhaps this way, when it comes to the toughest and most politicized questions, they will better recognize that scientists will not rally around a firm conclusion unless it really is precisely that.