Sunday, October 18, 2009

Greater Boston Drive-to-Walk Mall is Manifestation of New Urbanism

Boston Globe architecture correspondent, Robert Campbell, writes of the contradictions (some sinister) of one of suburbia's new outside malls:
Legacy Place ... is a paradox. It’s pretending to be a town center but there’s no town around it. It’s a theatrical representation of town life, out here in the suburbs. It’s crazy: You drive to Legacy Place in order to enjoy a pedestrian experience, the same as you do in Disneyland. It’s fun and it’s well done. But you can’t help wishing it were part of a larger world, instead of being an isolated island of sidewalks and pseudo-urbanity in a sea of suburban freeways.

Similar outdoor malls have been springing up elsewhere, perhaps most notably the Grove in Los Angeles, where a little tram carries you around. There’s even a name for this kind of outdoor shopping environment, “lifestyle center,’’ an utterly meaningless term now common in real estate parlance ....

My problem with Legacy Place isn’t the forgettable architecture. It’s that everything is here to be bought. On the old Main Street, the one that is supposedly being copied here, much of the action was about maintaining things, not merely buying them. There was maybe a shoe repair, a watchmaker, a tailor or dressmaker, a hardware store, a pharmacy, a dentist, a church, a clinic, a funeral parlor, a post office. Nothing like those exists at Legacy Place.

And that old Main Street was public property, owned by the town, where you could exercise your First Amendment right to march or speak for a cause. At Legacy Place, as in all malls, the streets are private and you lack those rights. You’re a consumer, not a citizen.

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