Mall of Misfortune

I think we’re alone now: on a Sunday, when shopping centres are usually bustling, the largest mall in the world is empty. Philip Gostelow for The National

The people who work at the South China Mall, in the muggy, factory-filled city of Dongguan, have the honor of passing each day in the biggest shopping mall on the face of the planet. In theory, it’s a glorious place: a seven-million-square-foot retail-and-entertainment behemoth in the heart of China’s southern Pearl River Delta, the wealthiest region in a nation that boasts the world’s biggest population and its fastest-growing major economy. The mall is part of China’s new arsenal of superlatives: the world’s largest airport terminal, the highest train track, the golf resort with the most holes.

The employees of this giant mall could, if they wanted, spend their breaks driving bumper cars, browsing for house-wares, strolling along a Venetian canal, petting fake herons in an indoor rain forest, or gazing at an eighty-five-foot replica of the Arc de Triomphe – all, of course, without leaving the premises. They could also picnic next to the bell tower of St Mark’s Square in Venice, soak up the ambience of San Francisco, or take a ride on the mall’s indoor-outdoor roller coaster, a 553-meter flying railway known as Kuayue Shi Kong, or “Moving Through Time and Space”.

As it happens, it’s just those things – time and space – that give so much trouble to the workers here. They have too much of both. On a recent Friday afternoon, an amusement-park employee, slouched in a forsaken ticket booth, tried to kill time by making origami. Another worker slept, with perfect impunity, on a table. In front of the haunted house attraction, one attendant was doing hand-stands while two others looked blankly on.

There was nothing else to do, because the South China Mall, which opened with great fanfare in 2005, is not just the world’s largest. With fewer than a dozen stores scattered through a space designed to house 1,500, it is also the world’s emptiest – a dusty, decrepit complex of buildings marked peeling paint, dead light bulbs, and dismembered mannequins.
Link: The National

Next month 101 publishers will be coming out with this awesome book that will contribute a lot to understanding the future of Chinese malls like the one described above.:
The Chinese Dream: A Society under Construction.

Dreaming is not Chinese. By 2020 four hundred million farmers will be living in new cities. The urban middle-class will have doubled in size. The world’s biggest pool of one-child consumers will be out shopping. To accommodate these shifts the equivalent of a brand new Eurozone, or 400 mega-cities, is mushrooming in the Chinese countryside. There is barely time to sleep, let alone dream about the future. The Chinese Dream maps what urban China will probably be like in the year 2020, and investigates what alternative scenarios are feasible. It presents both the hopes and hazards China faces. Ignoring star-projects and focusing instead on the new forms of urban reality China is fast producing through countless anonymous development projects, it asks what landscape will result from the largest migration in human history? And what kind of society will emerge with such flash-urbanization? At the same time that a global energy crisis looms and China’s wealth gap is rapidly widening, we question whether China is inevitably reconstructing the American Dream. Through diagrams, facts, essays and interviews the Dynamic City Foundation (DCF) has sketched alternative routes, a conceptual leapfrog in urbanization: a new dream which transcends the current market-driven reality and lands in city forms as yet unseen.

Combining a conceptual approach with in-depth analyses, the Dynamic City Foundation looks to tackle the big questions facing China’s cities of today, and sketches routes into their futures.

No comments: