The process in North America
by which formerly glorious farms
, and deserts
become identical, anonymous, uninspiring suburban shop
ping and residential districts featuring disgusting acres of concrete parking lot
s and chain stores. Mallification also entails the destruction of urban
areas and urban vitality and its replacement with suburban conformity
and uniformity as resources shift from the city
to the suburb to the fringe. The consequences for the environment
, for culture
, and for democracy
itself are immense and tragic.
Mallification seems to be an inevitable consequence of Neoliberal economic policy, especially when combined with not so Neoliberal government programs that encourage it, such as subsidies to the oil and automobile industries combined with drastic cuts in public transportation and city services, the dumping of all social problems on central cities, and insisting that Interstate Highways be built right through the middle of cities dividing and destroying everything in their path.
Mallification is essentially the story of the great geographic and cultural transition of the past 40 years. Initial suburbs in America were bedroom communities. People lived there but worked and shopped in central cities. Beginning in the late 50s, a few large shopping centers, accessible only by car, were built around a few major cities. A notable development was Northland Mall, at that time on the outskirts of Detroit, today firmly within the much expanded ghetto. These shopping centers, although small by today's standards, were epic for their time, and given the ironic name 'malls,' invoking the commercial free public parkland of small towns and cities that they were coming to replace as 'public' space. A new pattern of life was established. Other retail development followed in the suburbs, especially after the flight from central cities that took place in the late 60s and early 70s.
However, the true Mallification of America came about in the 80s, as urban decay became an urban holocaust under Reagan-era economic policies. Now all development was taking place in the suburbs. Huge glass and grass office parks became the new locus of economic life, sidewalk-free residential subdivisions sprung up everywhere and obliterated everything in their path, and larger and larger malls and shopping centers, now enclosed and featuring trees and waterfalls - replicas of the nature they were destroying - proliferated. New roads and highways were built to alleviate the traffic congestion that now plagued the endless suburbs, only to become congested themselves as more cars traveling farther each day entered the fray. Mallification spread from suburbs of large cities to small towns everywhere, replacing 'main street' businesses with Wal-Mart style chain stores on the outskirts of town. The shopping center had become the center of public life and human contact. Consumption of goods had become the primary - actually the only - way to interact with society.
In the 90s, Mallification continued its relentless march. The new culture of consumption to the exclusion of everything else was buoyed by an economic bubble. Malls, cars, houses, and highways got even bigger. Even 'revitalization' in central cities became just another version of Mallification, replacing local businesses that served the community with tourist oriented chain stores that served outsiders - a notable example of this being Times Square in New York City.
Mallification leads to environmental destruction in two ways: the greatly increased automobile travel and destruction of formerly rural or wild places. It compromises culture by replacing authentic, local experiences and interactions, not to mention locally owned institutions, with scripted pre-fab experiences determined in far off board rooms and focus groups. And perhaps most dangerous for America, it compromises democracy by replacing truly public space - the streets and town squares of old where debates could be held, where signs could be posted and events discussed, with interaction space that is not truly for public use, but only for consumption and economic interaction.