(Roughly) Daily

“[Hannah] Arendt wrote about the subjugation of public space – in effect the disappearance of public space, which, by depriving a person of boundaries and agency, rendered him profoundly lonely”*…

… and Alexandra Lange writes about an (imperfect) modern “work-around”: the way in which shopping malls won over a wide range of admirers, from teens to seniors, by providing something they couldn’t find in their dwindling public parks or on their crowded sidewalks…

… The mall, in its quiet early hours, provides affordances most cities and suburbs cannot: even, open walkways, consistent weather, bathrooms and benches. The mall is also “safe,” as Genevieve Bogdan told The New York Times in 1985; the Connecticut school nurse was “apprehensive about walking alone outdoors early in the morning before work.”

For the more vulnerable among us, malls’ privately owned and privately managed amenities offer an on- or off-ramp from the real world, sometimes literally. Skateboarders and wheelchair users both appreciate the fact that most malls were built to include ramps, escalators and elevators, or have been retrofitted to do so. At Grossmont Center, a mall in La Mesa, California, the parking lot features signs giving the step counts from your parking spot to Target, Macy’s and the movie theater. Few cities can say the same.

It isn’t only the ease of exercise that has made mall walking programs durable. On Twitter, city planner Amina Yasin praised malls as spaces that accommodate many racialized and even unhoused senior citizens, offering free and low-cost-of-entry access to air-conditioning, bathrooms and exercise, while throwing up her hands that “white urbanism decided malls are evil.” Gabrielle Peters, a writer and former member of the city of Vancouver’s Active Transportation and Policy Council, responded with her own thread on some ways malls offer better access for people with physical disabilities than city streets: dedicated transit stops, wide automatic doors, wide level passages, multiple types of seating, elevators prominently placed rather than hidden, ramps paired with stairs, public bathrooms and so on. 

The food court at the Gallery offered a relatively low-cost way to hang out after the transit trip or mall walk. While public libraries and senior centers offer free public seating, they have neither the proximity to shopping, nor the proximity to the action that a mall offers. Like teens hanging out in the atrium, the seniors in the food court can observe without penalty and be a part of community life that can be overwhelming in truly public spaces. After police officers removed elderly Korean Americans from a McDonald’s in Flushing, Queens — managers claimed the group overstayed their welcome, buying only coffee and french fries — sociologist Stacy Torres wrote in The New York Times, “Centers offer vital services, but McDonald’s offers an alternative that doesn’t segregate people from intergenerational contact. ‘I hate old people,’ one 89-year-old man told me.”

As malls closed in the spring of 2020 because of Covid-19, mall walkers across the country were forced back outside, battling weather and uneven sidewalks in their neighborhoods, missing the groups that easily formed on the neutral ground of the mall. One New Jersey couple took to walking the parking lot of the mall they once traversed inside, drawn to its spaciousness and their sense of routine. As malls reopened in the summer and fall with social-distancing and mask-wearing policies, some malls suspended their programs until the pandemic’s end, while others curtailed the hours…

Lessons From the Golden Age of the Mall Walkers,” from @LangeAlexandra in @CityLab.

* Masha Gessen

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As we ponder perambulation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1949 that Hopalong Cassidy (starring William Boyd, who’d created and developed the role in 66 films, starting in 1935) premiered on the fledgling NBC TV network and became the first Western television series.

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