Thursday, June 08, 2006

Am I so detached from reality as to not comprehend what happened with the opening of Sylvia Park shopping centre today? I'm reminded of the impeccable Modest Mouse: "...when the earth folded in on itself..." What were people thinking?

The Herald, Frogblog, Scoop/Transit, and a raft of other reports on the opening are plain evidence that malls are for the most part ridiculous. Were the masses attracted by cut price goods? Was it the chance to be the first to gorge at a brand new leisure facility? Or were punters simply keen to get out on the road and check out a massive selection of stationary cars?

Thumb through the current North and South and you'll find a particularly interesting article on the mall phenomenon. It covers the gamut: a mum who brings her kid up in a mall, teens who get a sense of neighbourhood from one, credit card schtuk, and even a hair in a bun retail fiend who "visit[s] a different mall every day to explore Auckland." Bloody'ell.

An earlier thread I wrote lamented the negative impact of large format retail on the local economy and community. Unfortunately I don't have any local knowledge to put this in a Mt Wellington context, but the North and South article quotes an Auckland retail consultant: "it's a transfer of community control to corporate control, with profits going almost always overseas to shareholders who don't care about the locals."

Maybe the world IS folding in on itself. Or Mt Wellington is at least. The critics of my perspective will of course scream "typical anti-consumer would rather see us all living in caves". Of course consumers have choice, but where's the sense in following an economic model that lets business ignore negative externalities?

It's not about big business being bad. Its about some big business doing business badly. Kiwi Income Property Trust - the owners of Sylvia Park (and, incidentally, Northlands which I alerted to in the earlier thread) are in the business of getting people in cars and debt (as are many other large format retail proponents). Direct business impacts such as traffic jams, paved paradise, and Mastercard bills are clearly foreseeable. To me these are indicators of bad business.

So long as the likes of KIPT serve up the punters, shops will be happy in their not so little mall cocoon. Retailers need a good reason to consider the big picture: "how does 'how we do business' impact our community?" A healthy community means healthy bottom lines. And visa versa. The little picture can be fudged to satisfy a 2, 5, or 10 year investment horizon, but only a big picture conception will address the needs beyond... Is that a call for ShoppingFix I hear?

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