As walkable neighborhoods receded into memory, people began walking countless circles in shopping malls (my mom used to me a "mall walker"). You knew who they were because they usually moved with great fervor and purpose (as opposed to the "mall zombie walk" favored by actual shoppers).
Now, as mall hours adjust to their new economic reality, "mall walkers" are getting a reality check of their own: they're learning about the concept of public space.
In other words: Malls are NOT public space. Where will they walk now?
As a New Year's resolution, were you planning on starting an early morning walking exercise? I hope you weren't thinking of going to the Southridge Mall. Starting Nov. 24, Southridge will not be open for walkers until 8 a.m. This time is too late for all those who must get their exercise in before going to work. Even retirees who do early volunteer work will no longer be able to get their exercise finished.
This decision affects people from Greendale, Greenfield, Milwaukee, Hales Corners, New Berlin, Franklin and I even know some who come in from Muskego. Where else can we go to walk early in safety in the dark and snowy days that are to come?
My career in volunteer civic service as an Economic Development Commissioner for the city of Franklin, Wisconsin began with a rare (perhaps unprecedented) joint meeting with the Finance Committee this past Thursday, thus the seating in city hall's Common Council Chambers was a jumble of persons around a table and at the elevated dais. Though everyone had a nameplate in front of them -- including me, the new guy, though my name was laser-printed on a paper insert as opposed to a more permanent plastic plate everyone else had -- I spent much of the preamble part of the meeting discerning who was EC and who was FC; seating order was mixed.
The hybrid nature of the meeting, combined with the fact that we had only an hour before the room would be needed for the scheduled Plan Commission meeting, meant that I was able to introduce myself to the persons in my immediate vicinity, but to most of those assembled there I was merely a New Guy - - that much was clear, because I had, after all, the only white nameplate.
As noted here in an earlier post, my target was a seat on the Plan Commission as that is where my interest and expertise lay. I'd heard this: Sensing a potential problem getting the council votes needed to confirm my nomination to that commission (a notion that intrigues me, obviously: two aldermen propose me for the seat; I know at least one more that should have no problem voting yea; Mayor Taylor, who nominated me, breaks the any potential tie ala Pete Kosovich's situation - - 4-3 gets me seated), Mayor Taylor proposed the Economic Development Commission instead.
I'm no prima donna; I took the appointment. And, yes, I will watch very closely to see who fills the still-vacant Plan Commission seat.
I did my homework before the meeting and got the volunteer fact sheets for everyone on the Economic Development Commission. There are 12 members, 2 of which are aldermen with whom I have some passing acquaintance (Steve Olson and the chairperson, Ken Skowronski). As for the citizen commissioners (I've had a conversation with commissioner Jon Zawacki, but have otherwise had no previous contact the the other commissioners), it is a very talented group, to say the least. Given the professional profiles of the persons serving on the Commission, you really get the idea that this is an assemblage you could gather around a table and have answers and informed opinions at your fingertips.
I am not an MBA or a management school graduate. I've spent my career in the creative realm, and for the last 15 years I've been self-employed. A great deal of what I do has to do with "parachuting" into an established organization and taking a fresh look at their marketing and/or branding situation and saying, "Why not do this?" Almost invariably, I'm given a dozen or so reasons why it can't work. And then, in the best cases, we do it anyway. When it's over, everyone decides that it was "destined" to happen.
Perhaps this is my role on the Commission.
About 10 years ago a wrote a book about Hasbro and the creation of the GI Joe action figure. We take for granted today the fact that action figures are a toy (and licensing) staple, but in 1962 the idea of a boy playing with what is basically a doll was outlandish. And that's not to mention the complexities of creating a human-like body that can attain and hold poses, tooling the tiny weapons, sewing miniature clothing, etc. There were about 78 very good reasons that the tiny Hassenfeld Bros. Toy Company could not - and should not - have created and marketed "America's Movable Man of Action." But they did it, and it made them the corporate giant they are today.
And I'm inexorably tied to GI Joe because of something I conceived a decade ago called the GI Joe Masterpiece Edition. My idea was simple: After meeting the former Hasbro VP who developed the original GI Joe toy, I proposed that we tell the story of the creation of the world's first action figure as an oral history, and package the book with a reproduction of the original fully articulated GI Joe toy.
But there were enormous obstacles, and we were told over and over by expert after expert the various reasons my idea would never fly. No one had ever published a book-collectible combination before; "can't be done." The original tooling for the insanely complicated GI Joe body (which Hasbro saw no value in) was long gone; retooling would be "impossible." The package would have to be incredibly complicated; "unshippable." You'd have to sell 50,000 units just to break even; "never happen." Hasbro would have to license their cornerstone property to an unknown entity (though I was working in partnership with the very ex-Hasbro VP who developed the original toy); "too expensive." Etc. Etc. All very sensible reasons why it could not happen.
We did it anyway. Not only that, we sold over 200,000 copies and basically invented the modern book-collectible publishing genre.
I've had pie-in-the-sky conversations with various city officials about how I would change certain aspects of commercial development in Franklin -- including specific initiatives I'd like to see -- and I've been treated to dozens of variations on the "neat-idea-but-impossible-because..." theme (often accompanied by a look of pity for my naivety). There's been no shortage of sensible reasons why we can't do this, that, or the other thing.
But what if we do it anyway?
Perhaps I'll bring a GI Joe to the Commission meeting tonight...
Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple -- that's creativity.
From iLounge, a look at the iPhone update which includes new mapping features for - gasp - walking and transit!
Walking and Transit Directions
In addition to the driving directions that have been available in the Maps application since the beginning, users may now choose to see directions appropriate to walking, or transit information (where available). When viewing directions in Maps, three buttons are now shown at the top of the screen to allow you to toggle between the three types of directions. Driving and walking directions differ both in terms of the selected routes and the travel time displayed. Driving routes tend to prefer major streets and highways while walking routes naturally avoid them, preferring a more direct route and even using pedestrian-only pathways where this data is available.
Bakesale When I was growing up, bake sales were a fact of life for school, sports teams, academic clubs, whatever.
There was even one especially memorable bake sale in high school, when I served as co-chair of the cafeteria committee (yeah, I said it -- and I was proud of it. I got those kids a pizza cart, a jukebox, and outdoor patio seating), and the cafeteria ladies allowed us to use their wholesale ingredients (which, given that it was a public school, may have been just a little bit illegal, now that I think about it) to make breads and cakes and what have you, and we sold them in front of the Wal-Mart and made several hundred dollars in just a few hours, and we donated it all to a shelter for abused women and children.
Right, bake sales. Big deal.
But not in California, not anymore. State regulations now strictly limit what foods can be sold to students. And the hallowed bake sale -- and its verboten, obesity-inducing carbs -- is falling out of favor:
The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. The guidelines were passed by lawmakers in 2005 and took effect in July 2007. They require that snacks sold during the school day contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat.
School clubs are could still sell to non-students off campus. But they're being hit hard.
Southridge Mall in Greendale may be thinking "change or die" at this point. As the attached story contends, the failing economy will not be kind to castles of consumerism - - and that's not to mention the fact that the entire mall culture and format is steadily losing appeal across the country. Just watch that peculiar walk that people use in malls; it's the "mall zombie" near-shuffle and accompanying glazed-over expression common in these soul-sucking theme parks.
The pedestrian-friendly Greendale is right next door, and the mall's stakeholders will surely create some connectivity if they're wise.
How sadly ironic that in the print version of FranklinNOW, the Southridge Mall piece faces a story about the grandmother who was struck and killed by a car in the Southridge parking lot, along with two of her grandchildren. This unfortunate woman was attempting to navigate space that is openly hostile to anyone not enclosed in a vehicle.
In it, I talked about being moved to participation in city government by the mere chance that someone like Barack Obama might be elected President of the United States. Whether he won or not, I wrote, I would heed the advice of two alderpersons who promised to advocate for me if I made myself available for the city of Franklin's Plan Commission.
And Obama won. He was not merely elected, but swept in on a tide of can-do spirit that crossed generational, racial and even partisan barriers. When I told my 10 year-old daughter the next morning what had happened the night before, I could barely get through the sentence, "We elected Barack Obama as our next President," so significant was the lump in my throat.
A New Day, indeed.
So I turned in the Volunteer Fact Sheet (go ahead and read it: Download MICHLIG Volunteer Sheet rev) that the city asks all candidates for committees, commissions and councils to fill out. The stars were aligned: A fresh vacancy on the Plan Commission; two aldermen advocating for my appointment (as well as, I'm told, some lobbyists "on the inside,"); I got a nice note from the outgoing Plan Commissioner that seemed to indicate that she would like to see me in the seat she vacated.
In the Fact Sheet I checked the single group I was interested in: Plan Commission.
Well, that's humbling. Suddenly I am in awe of Pete Kosovich, the ex-alderman who managed to get an appointment to the commission for which I truly believed I'd demonstrated fairly keen aptitude and insight (and for which I'd sacrificed a significant acreage of grey matter) over a couple of years - in public - via this blog. (
I will address the question you almost certainly have in mind: Do I think my name on the Plan Commission would have caused consternation among certain developers and thus created some grief for the mayor and/or aldermen who would have approved my nomination? Answer: Yes.
I am nothing if not empathetic.
So, a bit of a disappointment. But, true to the spirit of The New Day, I took the position on the EDC. At the Common Council meeting last night, after some very flattering words by Mayor Taylor (for which I'm grateful), I was unanimously approved by the council.
The EDC's mission and powers are as follows:
The mission of the Economic Development Commission is to promote and enhance the image of the City of Franklin, actively pursue commercial and industrial business development/investment for relocation into the City of Franklin within the goals and guidelines of the Common Council, work with the business community in the retention and expansion of businesses already within the City, and promote the City in various manners as a good place to live and do business.
The EDC meets approximately once a month. It's had 11 meetings scheduled this year; 6 of them have been cancelled.
But I remain optimistic, and will strive to grasp at least a bit of Robert's Rules of Order before our first meeting tomorrow (Thursday) at 6 pm. My daughter will probably be there as well because we won't be able to get a sitter - - but I'd also like her to see a bit of participatory democracy in action. Watch the old man wade in.
Let's see what we can make of this ...
(See my "Additional experience or qualifications" sheet in the extended.)
“We’re looking at about roughly four to five (tenants) per building, including a coffee place and a couple of sit-down restaurants,” [Spokesman Gary] Rosenberg said. “I know the specialty retailers will be targeting women’s clothing.”
Carstensen will likely announce the first outbuilding tenants later this month, with the businesses scheduled to start opening early next year, Rosenberg said.
With lighter wallets and heavier burdens, Americans are rethinking their conspicuous consumption. That's bad news for retailers.
Tony Dokoupil Newsweek Web Exclusive
There's something growing in the New Jersey Meadowlands, the marsh just nine miles west of Manhattan—and it isn't the gentle ferns that the bucolic name suggests. Instead, what's emerging is a man-made behemoth, the largest and most expensive mall ever built in the United States. Originally slated to open this month, Xanadu is now scheduled for completion next summer. Lawsuits, political grandstanding and construction delays have nearly doubled the mall's cost to $2.3 billion. When it's finished, the half-mile "retailtainment" center will be a Vegas-meets-Disneyland pleasure dome with the country's tallest Ferris wheel and first indoor artificial ski slope. There will also be a two free-fall skydiving jumps, indoor surfing, a mini-city for kids, a digital media river on the ceiling—and, oh, some 200 shops.
The scale and scope of the project would be breathtaking in its own right. But what makes Xanadu extraordinary is the fact that it is emerging just as the American mall—that most quintessential of American institutions—is in its dying throes, if not already dead. Moribund malls have not gone unnoticed amongst industry analysts and Web sites like Deadmalls.com that feature photos of hundreds of now-abandoned sites. But what were once just worrying signs appear to have finally flat-lined. Last year was the first in half a century that a new indoor mall didn't open somewhere in the country—a precipitous decline since the mid-1990s when they rose at a rate of 140 a year, according to Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones, coauthor of the forthcoming book "Retrofitting Suburbia," which focuses on the decline of malls and other commercial strips. Today, nearly a fifth of the country's largest 2,000 regional malls are failing, she says, and according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, and a record 150,000 retail outlets, including such mall mainstays as the Gap and Foot Locker, will close this year. Xanadu, whose officials declined NEWSWEEK's requests for comment, has named just nine tenants for its 200 spaces.
So what's the cause of this malaise? After all, malls have been part of the national landscape for more than 50 years, spawning their own indigenous culture (mall rats), native cuisine (Cinnabon) and home-bred pop sensations from Tiffany to Timberlake. Prior diagnoses have pinned the mall's decline on retail cannibalization, the repopulation of cities and suburban gang problems. The current economic skid certainly isn't helping to fill shops and attract vendors.
"The mall at the end of town is dead. Amen," says Bill Talen, a.k.a. Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, a secular movement dedicated to exorcising consumerism from everyday life. The reverend's tactics may be unusual—he's been known to leap on shop counters in order to "exorcise" cash registers—but his message of modest spending is increasingly mainstream. This month's Buy Nothing Day—an annual holiday from shopping sponsored by Adbusters magazine (it's the day after Thanksgiving)—is expecting to attract millions of participants, according to Kalle Lasn, the co-creator of the event that is now in its 16th year. His magazine, meanwhile, has grown from a local Vancouver zine to a $9 international glossy that's mainstream enough for Whole Foods supermarkets, and it has more than 100,000 paid subscribers.
Just as people are flying from malls, many are landing at a series of offbeat, alternative trading posts. The Salvation Army has seen sales jump 15 percent at some locations, while The Freecycle Network, a clearing house for second-hand goods has grown from 40 people to around 6 million since its founding in 2003. Each day, the group says, it keeps 500 tons of stuff out of landfills and in use. Another second-hand movement, known as The Compact, where members commit to buying nothing new for an entire year (underwear excluded), has grown from 10 friends to 10,000 members since 2004. Even those who are still buying new are viewing shopping through a changed lens: almost 40 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 30 prefer to use brands that are "socially conscious"—environmentally safe and produced through fair labor—according to research by Alloy Media and Marketing, a youth-focused ad agency.
"It's about manners," explains Donna Daniels, a former Duke University anthropologist now at Iconoculture, the retail consultancy. For years, she and her colleagues have been tracking the rise of what they call the "socially frugal" consumer class—people who buy less to escape attention and respect the constraints of others rather than because they have a cash-flow problem. Other experts, including pollster John Zogby, point to a "great transition" in the needs and expectations of average Americans, particularly those under the age of 30. In his recent book, "The Way We'll Be," Zogby argues that the same people who might well have become mall rats just a few years ago are learning to "make do with less and find a subdued peace in the process."
To survive this new age of austerity, many malls are trying to recast themselves as centers of thrift—hyping low-cost retailers if they have them and trying to add them if they don't. And it's about time, says Stuart Ewen, a City University of New York media professor who studies the social roots of consumer culture. He sees the 20th century as a "100-year barbeque" of resource-burning in an otherwise largely unbroken history of sustainable and thrifty living. "The word consumption used to be a pejorative, meaning death, destruction and waste," he says—now "more and more people are aware of that."
The consumerist backlash has become so mainstream that it's even popping up in politics, business and big-screen entertainment. John McCain and Barack Obama both talked frankly during their presidential campaigns about the need for Americans to dial back their spending habits, borrow less and save more, while Disney's best chance for an Academy Award nomination this year is "Wall-E," a film about robot love on a planet left sterile by human wastefulness. Marketers, ever sensitive to new opportunities to name a demographic, have done just that; many now see a group on the fringe of the "green" environmental movement they call "dark greens" and "very dark greens.
Developers, too, are adjusting to the times. They're trying to win back reluctant shoppers with "life-style centers," retail hubs that boast residential apartments, parks and promenades—the better to blend shopping seamlessly into everyday living. Such structures are going up faster than ever, with 37 new lifestyle centers—almost 40 percent of the form's total square footage built in the last decade—going up last year,according to Portfolio and Property Research, a Boston-based retail consultancy. One such break from the fashion-and-food-court formula cropped up this past summer in southern California, where a development called The Americana at Brand looks more like a movie set than a $400 million outdoor mall. The un-mall is laid out to resemble a small town, with a trolley car, chemist and car-free streets that resemble the quaintest quarters of New Orleans or Boston.
All of which makes the overt branding and commercialism of Xanadu stand out—for all the wrong reasons. The mega-mall has drawn fire from an unusually large and strange set of bedfellows: the Sierra Club, which sued to save environmentally protected wetlands; the Federal Aviation Administration, which has complained that the 287-foot Ferris wheel might disturb planes landing at nearby Teterboro airport; and former New Jersey governor Richard Codey, who has called it's design "yucky-looking." More recently, according to a person familiar with the matter, Xanadu's architects at the Rockwell Group have stopped returning the developer's calls and may remove their name from the structure, citing aesthetic concerns. Not that Xanadu entirely lacks believers. Its own personal Kubla Khan, developer Larry Siegel, has staked his career to the deal, while Pepsi has sufficient faith in the venture that it has bought the naming rights to the Ferris wheel (now the "Pepsi Globe") for a reported $100 million.
Still, with a move towards a quieter, more retrained way of life, New Jersey's Xanadu may yet find its dreams of leisure and retail success are as fantastical as the mythical world for which it was named.