The rather disturbing trend of turning once rundown buildings and city blocks into upscale shopping centers aimed at the wealthy upper middle-class demographic has been happening for a while here in the Denver metropolitan area. Neighborhoods that were once little more than slums are now completely redone, filled with remodeled Victorian houses and Alfalfa's on every corner. LoDo has gone from a homeless neighborhood to a trendy nightclub spot. My grandfather refused to come to Denver for years because he remembered what downtown was like during the 1950's: passing through on his way home from the Korean War, he saw Larimer Square as a slum filled with the homeless. Today, Larimer Square is prime real-estate, covered with trendy restaurants, eclectic furniture and clothing stores, and a tiny skating rink. At Christmas, the city (or the shopowners? I'm not sure) put up strings of lights and turn the entire thing into a brilliantly white glowing strip that advertises its affluence. Look! it says, It's too bright here to have social problems! Lesser elements keep out, because we can see you!

I call this trend disturbing because it isn't an end to the problems of homelessness or slums; it is simply a relocation, a condension. Our shelters still overflow on freezing winter nights. About a year ago we had several gruesome murders in the homeless community, and the killer (or killers) has never been caught. The homeless and poor have become even more invisible in our society because we recreate or disguise their former homes.

A more benign example of this trend is my local mall, Southwest Plaza. It was never "in the ghetto," despite what my friend from the very rich Cherry Creek area may have called it; it was, however, not an upscale mall. Prices were low, stores were more along the lines of Sears and Montgomery Wards than Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and there was always a pack of kids, many of them from my local junior high and high school, standing outside the doors, smoking cigarettes and more potent things. Cops were crawling all over the place. Many people wanted to shop somewhere nicer but couldn't afford it. The floor was bare tile, the food court didn't have anything even resembling a Starbucks, and there were always stores empty.

Starting about two years ago, someone new bought the mall and started to upscale it. The neighborhood around it was also becoming more upscale, but poorer neighborhoods still depended on its low prices. The new owners gave it fancy new entryways, a nicely carpeted floor, more expensive stores, and, perhaps most offensive to the local teenage community, new signs outside every entrance: No smoking allowed.

Subsequently, all the prices went up.

At first, I will admit, I was more upset about this "de-ghettoing" of my favorite mall for selfish reasons. I used to hang out there before it was "trendy" and "cool". I hung out there when my parents didn't want me to. Then I started thinking about the implications for someone besides myself...

Where, I want to know, are the poorer people supposed to shop? Goodwill?! By upscaling the mall, they've taken away one more refuge for those who want their dignity but can't afford the nicest things. It's one more way of laying down class lines. It's one more thing we can take away from someone who isn't making over $50,000 a year. Where are they supposed to go?


Well I suppose I should add something now, since gitm has essentially called the entire essence of my node into question. Let me just explain that the things I talk about in the first part-- the 16th St. Mall, homeless people, etc.-- are very different from what I talk about in the second part. There I'm not talking about homeless people, I'm talking about people who are not as financially well off as their neighbors. Southwest Plaza was a cheaper solution, as were stores like Target, which has now also upscaled. And just because there are homeless people playing chess with you on the Mall doesn't mean that they haven't been forced to move away from their traditional homes. This isn't about the economy; it's about people. And finally, I never called it a "ghetto" mall, as I explained in my writeup.

Introduction

I think there were a number of key things missing from the above writeup. Enough to make it suspect, and for me to write a response and addendum.

First, I would like to correct something: The "ghetto mall" (and I am aware that it is stated as not being one, but the rest of the writeup belies the one phrase) in question, Southwest Plaza, is located 20 miles from downtown Denver in the heart of an affluent suburb. There has never been a ghetto there, nor have I ever seen very poor people trying to shop there. I know where poor people shop, having been dirt poor in this town a few years ago, and it's not in the mall.

Second, I'm not sure what the homeless people have to do with this, since homeless people don't generally shop at all. And the carefully chosen wording in the above writeup hides the fact that most of our homeless would rather die than go to a shelter. How would I know? Me? A reasonably un-poor network admin? Well, I play chess, and for several years the Denver Chess Club was all but destroyed by an embezzler, so the only place in town to play was at a couple of public outdoor tables on 16th street. Guess who made up the bulk of the players? You betcha! Homeless folks. Yep, right there in the middle of shiny 16th street mall with the lights beaming on them and everything. Several times I would play with someone for a while, then take them out to lunch and chitty chat over further games while they ate. I got to know many of them pretty well, and find people's assumptions about them distressing. That being said, I feel it is safe to make two statements: They don't like shelters, and they don't shop in malls

That being said, I shall get on with the chief reason for my reply: I have lived in a number of places around the country, but only Denver seems to have caught on to a very strange fact: Malls kill ghettoes and vice versa

Let's take a look at each of these ideas separately.

Malls killing ghettoes

This is, without a doubt, a fact. Twice in relatively recent years, Colorado cities have managed to turn a burned out downtown strip into a bustling hive of yuppie spending. Denver did it with 16th street, and to a far lesser effect, Boulder did it with Pearl Street. Denver's 16th street (and the rest of downtown) wasn't chiefly a hangout for homeless people. It was a haven for criminals. The property there was worth nothing, and no sane person would go there at night. Denver turned it into an outdoor mall, and while it's not perfect, it is a safe place to walk now. There are still poor people wandering around, they just don't shop there. It has a shiny finish, and it no longer looks like Gotham City.

Is it wrong for the people who owned the property downtown to want it to be valuable? I don't think so. And if you think that's an insensitive view, take another look. Denver is one of two major U.S. cities, with San Francisco being the other, where panhandling is perfectly legal and even smiled upon by legislators. You cannot walk 10 feet on the shiny downtown mall without being accosted by someone looking for money, food, or alcohol. Desperate people have few better places to go in this country than Denver. I could go on and on about this, but that belongs in another node.

Ghettoes killing malls

Let me tell you the tale of a deceased mall, and one rapidly approaching death. Cinderella City was an enormous mall, located centrally, and generally very busy through the 80's. When the population boom began to occur here in the early 90's, the city's demographics changed a lot and it was no longer a good place to have a gigantic mall. I wouldn't say that it is surrounded by poor people, but I would call it a blue-collar area. And its area of influence extended into many very poor areas, and eventually, a couple of years ago, the last store (Montgomery Wards, if anyone is interested) closed its doors and they began to demolish it. Why did this happen? Because poor people don't shop in malls. Most malls are the havens of the middle class, and some cater to those higher. None cater to the poor. That is the nature of an indoor mall, and is inherent to its design. You cannot build a gigantic building and maintain it on moneys derived solely from low-price stores because the low-price stores don't generally make enough money to locate themselves there.

The other mall is Villa Italia. It's on the edge of the city to the west, butt-up against the same suburb in which Southwest Plaza is located. It has never, in the time I've lived here, anyway, been a very nice mall, but it was doing fairly well until Southwest Plaza was built. Then everyone on the southwest side of town was going to Southwest Plaza, and Villa Italia began to decay. Now it looks like Cinderella City did shortly before the end. A handful of stores remain, but most of them are vacant. Gangster thugs cram the hallways, and so on. I will not be surprised when I eventually pass it and find wrecking crews on the property.

Summary

Malls are not public service buildings. They are collections of stores. Stores are built to make money, not to make a social statement.

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