Malls are, perhaps, the most obvious symbol of consumption in the US. Allison Arieff, in her [By Design blog](http://arieff.blogs.nytimes.com/), [reports on the recent convention](http://arieff.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/rethinking-the-mall/) of the International Council on Shopping Centers.
> At the 2009 International Council on Shopping Centers convention held in Las Vegas last month, pedestrian-oriented development was not top of mind (though in a 3.2 million-square-foot convention center, walking was a defining part of the experience). Despite a nearly 50 percent drop in attendance from prior years, most talk at ICSC was of how business as usual could resume once “things came back.”
The addictive nature of today’s (maybe yesterday’s is more accurate, given the economic slump) way of shopping is held in place by the belief that human beings are creatures full of insatiable needs, and also by the bricks and mortar of malls and big box stores. Cultural patterns and habits are shaped by the kinds of tools that actors have available to them. One can trace hyper-consumerism all the way back to the building of our highway system, cheap gas, urban sprawl, single-use zoning, credit cards, and the invention of malls.
Without such infrastructure, consumption patterns would look very different. Malls are still a relative rarity in much of Europe, perhaps because gas has long been expensive, and cities are concentrated with extensive mixed-use neighborhoods. In spite of many reports of reduced consumption and changed consumer attitudes, it is likely that the consumption habit will return as Arieff reports when “things come back,” driven to a large extent by the rebuilding of these infrastructural elements. Little has been heard from centers of corporate or government power about solving the economic system breakdown in a new way that would not continue to fuel the fire of hyper-consumerism and its strong link to unsustainability.
In an interesting closing counterpoint, Arieff also describes an effort to build a local economy that shuns most, if not all, of the structural elements that malls signify.
> In fact, I’ve already seen something akin to Crossroads City implemented on a neighborhood scale. The Ainsworth Collective, a group of some 50 households in Portland, Oregon’s Cully neighborhood that came together out of a mutual interest in sustainability and community, have created a micro-economy within their few square blocks. They’ve published a directory of services provided by neighbors (from tax preparation to massage services to cat-sitting), encouraging local transactions. They’ve instituted tool-sharing, car-sharing, bulk food-purchasing and even own a farmer’s market that sells produce, baked goods and other items made by its members. There may always be mega-malls, but developers and architects would be remiss in not exploring grassroots solutions like this.
The Ainsworth Collective is just one of many experiments in local economies that are springing up in many places. The idea of local economies, even including local currencies, is not new. For those interested in probing further, a Google search will produce a very good list. There are just too many items to list here. For readers a lot younger than my generation, I would recommend that you read E. F. Schumacher’s classic, *Small Is Beautiful*, first published in 1973. So much of what is driving “local” thinking can trace its roots back to this wonderful, prescient book.

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