Walking around Westfield Stratford yesterday reminded me of the dystopian shopping malls of the future, most memorably from Minority Report:
Glass, steel, floating displays, and not a speck of dust to be seen. Dominated by the same shops, the same clothes, and the same food you’ll see in a thousand different malls. All of your individual needs can be met here – all of your needs will be met, because all the high streets have disappeared and we have brought the best the world has to offer, all under one hybrid-glass-open-closed-roof.
And yet, it really didn’t seem that bad. Unlike most dystopian shopping malls, there weren’t armed guards with a hair-trigger mandate to shoot undesirables; in fact there was quite a range of people, rich and (relatively) poor, of all ethnicities and ages and interests. Even some of the food was really quite good and reasonably priced.
I do have problems with mega-shopping malls – they crowd out more interesting and newer shops, they’re ill-suited for rapid changes in habits, they’re corporate-owned public spaces – but like Starbucks, there’s a reason why people visit and like them, even though we know we’re not supposed to. Before dismissing malls of the future and all the people who go to them, it’s worth thinking about the differences between our dystopic visions and reality.