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  • Writer's picturejodieharburt

Shopping Centres

Hardly an inspiring topic is it? That is how I feel every time I enter one, whether it be open air or enclosed or one of those that the commercial space designers so extol where we are forced to zigzag between every kind of store before we can reach our destination, both aware of the ruse yet unable to resist our inclination to lavish our hard earned cash upon the praying merchants in return for yet more stuff. That's how it looks to me. Stuff upon stuff right through the lot of them from Armani to Zara.

But that's me, I've never been fond of shopping and tend to buy necessities in one hit bursts. If I am to 'shop' or peruse shops for leisure then I'd prefer that they stock local, idiosyncratic or handmade ware. I love the weird and wonderful to be found in such places as Khao San Road Bangkok, La Boqueria of Barcelona, Spitalfields in London, the Cukurcuma and Kadikoy districts of Istanbul and so many more, every town and village has a special place. Aspiration to acquire is one heck of a peculiar thing; every time I walk down Galip Dede Street to the Galata Tower I feel the insatiable inclination to buy or at least touch one of those shiny musical instrument on display. I get it even worse when I'm in an art supplies shop, my spontaneous 'need' for every type of paint, paper and brush has been known to cause me to twitch. Book stores are disastrous, but now, since I own an ebook reader, I have no justification to satisfy those paperback induced cravings. This is the consumer drug and these are my weak areas, for some it's cosmetic products, clothes or electronics and for others it's hardware stores (ok so I get a tad titillated in those too)

I used to suffer greatly in those shops, each one of them overwhelming me to the point that I could not even buy what I had entered for in the first place. It was just all too much, but then I was a novice. I had moved to a small coastal town here in Turkey many moons ago, where, for instance they only had two types of shampoo*1, Elidor and Blendax. I remember, upon a trip to a big town, standing in front of a huge display in a state of complete indecision. I read the ingredients and purported properties of each before allowing someone else to choose for me. So ok, yeah, I admit it; those years had their toll. I used to get dizzy in supermarkets and large department stores, I used to reel from the unmitigated amounts of stuff and I'd feel that I surely had to be buying it, lots of it, maybe hiring trucks to take it all home, but more or less without exception I'd leave with the bare minimum and a strange, yearning sense that I was somehow being denied.

So this is the effect shopping centres*2 had on me. It's in the past, but now I'm dealing with what I call the 'Post Consumerism Consumer Syndrome' and it's a nasty one. So what happens is this: You enter the shopping center, you might be after some Marks and Sparks knickers or a trench coat, a pair of Jimmy Choo or some flipflops, a Jaguar that's parked in the forecourt of Istinye Park or a trike, you might be grabbing a bite along Kanyon's curvy bits, heading for the flicks at Meydan cinema or up the escalator at the revamped Grand Pera to attend a performance of the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra. Whatever it is you are there for you are passing by the mines, man traps and trip wires laid out for you by the contemptuous shopping mall. They want you to shop and believe me they have puled out all the stops to ensure that you do! However you are the Post Consumerism Consumer, you enter on a strict mission and you suffer the syndrome of being unable to enjoy the experience because you are aware of their ploy.

They don't care about you and they don't care about what you really need and what, of all the stuff that the shelves and racks are laden with, is sustainable and ethical. They don't ask questions about these, they don't even think too hard about the materials they use in their build, the ecological effect of the expanse they have obliterated with their construction, they don't care about people with special needs and they barely pay homage to the mums and children that are the back bone of their own income. They just have a couple of set formula that they implement to keep the cogs of consumer behaviour turning. We, those consumers are the victims of the blandest, dullest misuse there is. I mean if I'm to fall into a trap that is a part of the entire ruination of our ecosystem then I'd rather it had some Lara Croft quality, I'd like to have some adventure and thrill in it and at least go out with a shriek, but no, instead I simply walk in of my own volition.

I pass the security (is there a slight sense that I'm lucky to have been allowed in, I'm one of the few, the ones that are better off than those that are still outside?) I'm immersed in the lighting (as many lack natural light), the piped music, the dreadful acoustics that often assist in the sense of disorientation, the signage yelling both blatant and subliminal messages at me, the throng of people all milling about listless to get some acquisition fix or another, branded bags and packaging circulating in the laden arms of the consumed consumer. Many of us fooled into the oblivion of thinking that we might actually be enjoying the experience and wondering how the bulge in the bags will be balanced by the deficit in our accounts. (All of this and it's not even the sales yet!)

I buy stuff too, of course I do, we all have to sometimes somewhere. Hopefully soon the brands that are truly ethical will be easier to identify and we will be able to shop with impunity. I prefer to shop at local and independent places and Sile (my town) is famous for local cotton however many of my clothes come from the big brand places. My daughter is 4 so she's growing like a rocket and needs new shoes, we pass on her old clothes and gladly take hand me downs, (indeed I recently bought myself a cardigan from a charity shop in the UK) but the habit to simply go buy is hard to break so I too venture into the stores. I don't shop online because the appreciation of what we buy comes in part from the process of acquisition and also from the human interaction that occurs. At least we can maintain pockets of community within this consumer led culture by leaving our homes to shop.

I have another post which is addressed to the mall makers, the investors, developers and designers, operational management and the legislators about the way I believe malls could be built (or retro fitted) to create a community spirit, become green and ethical, to respect the shopper and to enable some of the huge profits to be invested back into the locality*3. So I conclude here with my message to shoppers:

We are not slaves. We do not have to buy. We can walk by to the cinema and we can do our shopping with specific targets in mind. We can browse, but resist. We can enjoy a coffee somewhere and during inclement weather when we'd prefer to stick around inside the mall then we can try supporting any of the local independent brands. We can ask questions of the mall management and encourage them though our habits and demands for better use of the space. We can ask for art, soul, community and the consideration of special needs, children, the elderly and fun to be invested into the domain. We can also really think about what it is we want and need before we step into the mall so as to protect ourselves and the environment from the man traps we may trip up on. It's worth having a Manifesto for One in mind especially in relation to shopping.

We can also thoroughly enjoy ourselves while we chill, chat with friends, let our toddlers crawl and our kids roller skate along those nice clean, smooth floors. We can keep filling our bags and emptying our pockets at will, enlightened and free from manipulation. However we are wise to keep in mind that we are in the midst of the machine, the one that squeezes our blood out to sustain a few of the others.


*1. I now avoid buying Shampoo and all kinds of highly unsustainable products (through packaging as well as content) so for now I'm using a solid bar of natural olive oil and lavender soap on my hair.

*2. The term Shopping Centres here actually refers to the high streets and all other centers of towns, villages and urban areas that have lost their souls to retail.

-Photo credit: Zombies-invade. Wrexhams Eagles Meadow Shopping Centre

-Gallery Photos: East End Tours. Girnal. TimeOut. Hurriyet. NihalErtassBlog. Trvl. CheshireCatBlog (DavidJohn)

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