DEAD MALLS DOT COM. Now that is a cause I can support, wear a ribbon for and donate generously to. Ugly, ubiquitous and impersonal; our civilization has become culturally mauled by the "mall culture". Let us - quickly now, for Christmas is fast approaching - raze them to the ground and scorch their parking lots. It is the festive season.
As if it needs saying, we need to escape the strip malls and find a way to return to the traditional main streets of our towns and cities. Not so, writes Brad Edmonds, who points an unjoking finger In Defense of Strip Malls (there's always one!):
As we drive along the large highways through a city, it is all too easy to wave one's hand and say: "look at all these unseemly strip malls that make this place look like every other!" But if we are looking for a hardware store, need a cup of coffee, or need some engine repair, our tune changes: we are grateful that we can easily spot the Home Depot, the Starbucks, or the Buick dealer. The locale saves search costs, for which we are glad indeed, and we demonstrate this feeling by voting for them with our own money. That's why they appear. That's why they stay.Mr. Edmonds misses the point: the consumer will shop where he needs to, and if this means driving to the nearest strip mall and box store that anchors them, so be it. But malls largely exist because they have monopolistic protection from local governments through large-scale zoning and perverse tax incentives, incentives that encourage urban sprawl and pervert the market. Not so little Stalinist triumphs of state planning.
But thankfully deadmalls.com may be indicative of a small Christian triumph of our own that is in the making. Getting back to Main Street means getting back to our churches, or at the very least, in view of them. As David Warren wrote last week:
A mall is an environment in which a church would be out of place; and were there even a chapel, it would be in some discreet glassy enclosure like the chapels in our airports. That is, designed for people “on the move,” to visit in response to some transient panic.
Whereas, on Canada's old Main Streets, there were churches built of brick and stone. Protestant Canada had churches of many denominations, rather than many parish churches as in Catholic realms, but the outward effect was the same. In driving, riding, even walking towards a town, the first thing you saw was steeples. And what you heard, on a Sunday morning, was the most beautiful symphony of bells.
Indulge me for a moment, all you younger people. Consider this contrast for a moment, and what it tells you about the “progress” of our national life. Consider alone, the effect of warmth upon the human spirit; and compare the interior of an old-fashioned church to that of the latest mall. And now walk along our sad urban streets on a Sunday, and feel in your bones the cold of winter.
Which is not to say that the person determined to find a church will not find one today: they are still there, embedded in the gums of our older neighbourhoods, like an old man's remaining teeth, many of them not yet turned into discount furniture outlets. They have made their own accommodations with the cold world. Parishioners now drive in from across town; almost every church I know has a parking problem. Few have the luxury of walking to church any more: in their Sunday finest.