News - Does Atlanta have enough malls?

No. Malls provide the public spaces people need and cities failed to maintain.

In George Romero's 1978 horror classic, Dawn of the Dead, the last surviving humans barricade themselves in the upper floors of a shopping mall while flesh-eating zombies stagger below. Every morning, the mall's automatic lights switch on to reveal the zombies shuffling in endless circles past store displays.

"What are they doing? Why do they come here?" one survivor whispers as the undead tumble from escalators and bump sightlessly into storefronts.

"It's a kind of instinct, a memory," another survivor replies. "This was an important place in their lives."

For better or worse, malls are important places to us. At one time, religious leaders even worried that they might replace churches, before the godless '70s ground down and empty pews filled up again. It was during this era, too, when gurus of another stripe worried that malls might represent the triumph of consumerism over the pursuit of higher ideas. But this fear, statistically, was also unfounded: More people attend college now than at any other time in history.

Admittedly, both churches and colleges seem more like malls today, as consumerism has crept into classrooms and pulpits. But that's hardly the fault of the guy who peddles Orange Julius franchises.

What malls have replaced is the town square — and by the '70s, who wanted to wander around town squares anyway? Malls provide the public spaces people need and cities failed to maintain. They're places to walk without breathing car exhaust or tripping over drunk guys passed out in their own vomit. Store owners and mall managers may just be behaving as if your personal dignity matters because they want you to buy more of their cunning citrus candles. But obsequious capitalism is nonetheless a step up from the type of social contract that involves getting your shoes stuck in gin-scented gum outside the Five Points Marta while schizophrenic street preachers scream obscenities in your face.

Do we suck because we'd rather go to some indoor mall than scrape bum vomit off our shoes? Probably. Probably we should all be out there bathing and bedding down bums instead of buying cunning citrus candles at the Bed Bath & Beyond. But that really isn't the choice the vast majority of Americans would make. For most of us, it's either go to the mall or stay home to partake in that even less interactive modern town hall (electronic hearth, as Peter Jennings calls it): the television set.

So go ahead — build more malls in Atlanta. In this complex, often unpleasant, fragmented society, malls beat the crap out of other available public spaces. Maybe George Romero's zombies weren't dummies after all.

Tina Trent did all of her Christmas shopping online this year.??

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