.Malled to Death: Killing towns with consumerism

By Craig J. Corsini

One can describe them any way one likes. The most polite may be “artificial topography,” but I prefer “armpits of retail,” “land tumors,” “commercial biowaste” or “bacterial infections upon the landscape.” I am speaking of shopping malls.

The North Bay is blessed with more than its share: In Marin, there are Strawberry Village, The Village, Town Center, Montecito Center, Northgate, Vintage Oaks, Pacheco Plaza, Hamilton Marketplace, Gateway Center, Marin Country Mart, Red Hill, Bon Air and more.

To the north, there are the Petaluma and Napa Outlets, Coddingtown, Montgomery Village, Vineyard, Sonoma Marketplace, River Park, Silverado Plaza and University Square, to name just a few. The nice thing about Sonoma and Napa is that those counties don’t seem to have purposely and permanently crippled their downtowns in the same ways Marin has, because of the enduring appeal of human scale villages such as Sebastopol, Cotati, Sonoma town, Healdsburg, Saint Helena and Calistoga. The tourist attractions around wine seem to help.

If I have missed naming any great malls, a Patagonia pullover pox upon me.

Shopping, as Clifford Odets wrote, is America’s chronic disease. Malls, as Joan Didion wrote, are pyramids to the Boom years, by which I think she meant the 1950s, the last decade truly beloved by Americans who are willing to overlook lynchings, red-lining, segregated public schools, massive scale environmental degradation and political witchhunts.

Malls are inevitably associated with that other pathologically destructive modern invention, the automobile, which has inflicted another emptier than empty blight on the landscape, the parking lot. When there is a big multi-level parking lot next to a mall, such as the one at Stanford Shopping Center, one has the full Monty of cancerous land use, a peerless example of 21st century fake mobility.

Malls are the pestilent McKinseys of commercial property, not unlike the hooker who is compelled to warn her ugly client, “Not on the first date.” One doesn’t go to a mall to feel alive; one goes there to feel hideous, powerless and dead. The medical equivalent of a mall is valium. When I find myself in a mall, which is pretty rare, I feel the same as I do in an airport: like a cow.

Malls have killed downtown America, for good. Anybody who lived in Marin in 1955 will recall the cultural jewel that was Fourth Street in San Rafael. The entire county population at that time used Fourth Street as its shopping destination. If Fourth Street didn’t have it, one didn’t need it. Now? Not so much.

It wouldn’t bother me if we lost a couple or more of these playgrounds with parking. Enough already.

Craig J. Corsini of San Rafael is a writer, grandfather and “a hell of a cook.”

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