Thursday 8 September 2011

Attack of the Malls

Busy tapping the keyboards away one day, my hubby peeked over my shoulder and asked, “Is that for your blog? You might want to take a break from writing about natural birth once in awhile.  You know… from a reader’s point of view, it makes your blog more interesting”.

Hmmm… maybe he has a point.  I decided to indulge my number one fan.  After all, I do have “thoughts on natural birth AND BEYOND” as my title, don’t I?  The next question is - what should I write about?  As I am writing this now on a Sunday, the weekend is coming to an end and we are still deliberating where to bring Ava.  Going to the mall is always the least of our options and living in Singapore, which a local cab driver once described to me as “one big mall”, could be a challenge indeed.  You ask, why not go to the mall?  This is what my next article is all about. 

As an urban designer, the city is a dichotomy of the tangibles (built environment) and the intangibles (how people live).  One influences and impacts the other and vice versa.  In Davao City for example, the recent proliferation of national malls (a change in the physical environment) meant that people are patronizing the malls and is slowly adapting to a more metropolitan lifestyle.   

Sharing with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte the importance of public spaces

Opting to stroll around in the mall compared to the city center or park is quite understandable.  The atmosphere is always maintained at comfortable level, it is sheltered from the heat and rain, and the presence of security guards and surveillance systems provides a safer environment.  In "Shop 'Til you Drop" by Evans, K.I. & Fraser, P., the mega shopping mall is seen as almost a city in itself.  Aside from the commercial facilities of retail, food and specialty shops, it also accommodates offices, clinics, cinemas and other entertainment amenities, making it a convenient one-stop destination.  Moreover, the opening hours are longer than most shops in the city center and it provides sufficient parking space.

The implication of such development however, is that the symbolic center of urban activity of the city, the public plaza, is slowly moving towards the shopping malls and its surrounding commercial districts. During such progression, the huge atrium of shopping malls is starting to gain popularity as a so-called “public” space.  Some of the civic events like inter-school choir singing or dance contest previously held at the plaza mayor are now being hosted in the atrium.  Gone were the days when people used to stroll or linger at the city parks for recreation.  In the book, “The Culture of Cities”, Sharon Zukin testifies that, “the culture of public space has become inextricably linked with commercial culture”.

This is where the conflict begins. Commercial culture gives off false impression that the goal in life is to make money and buy products. With parents tagging their children most of the time in the malls, kids are unintentionally and subconsciously pre-programmed to be consumers. Indeed, we are living in a high-consumption society.  Wall Street Journal noted that “Miss [Nancy] Drew wasn’t obsessed with her wardrobe, but today the mystery in teen fiction for girls is what outfit the heroine will wear next.”

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE malls and I LOVE shopping too.  But times have changed, so much different from our simpler time. Kids nowadays are exposed to too much ads. Even if TV time is limited, the malls with its plethora of products provide an easy alternative. Furthermore, the tendency to indulge them with the latest character craze or too many toys gives importance to materialistic joys versus the good old feeling of, say, creating something.

Anyway, without getting too wired on this, I think that there should be a conscious effort to filter the kind of exposure they get and to provide as varied activities as possible. For us, it comes as a challenge since Ava’s Kindermusik and Little Gym classes are located inside the malls and we too, more often, fall prey to shopping needlessly.  

According to child psychologists, outdoor fun play still remains the best option for growing bodies.  Aside from the exercise they get, it develops large and fine motor skills as well as hand-eye coordination. That is why our weekends are always pre-planned.  From going to the beach or zoos, flying kite and playing ball at the park, watching orchestra, and so on, we hope that Ava appreciates the great outdoors and that this forms part of her many treasured childhood memories.
A visit to the zoo is our favorite!
Beach therapy from city living.
I just love the outdoors!

Ava and Daddy appreciating horticulture

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