I recently got back from a family holiday vacation to Chicago, IL and River Falls, WI. The beauty of our family vacations is that we always drive. It doesn’t matter what the end destination is, almost always, the road trip is the best part.
This trip was no different. Normally we go straight up I95 from Florida to Pennsylvania; but this year, we had a new route for a new destination. And, the significance: the new scenery. I was a bit stunned by the massive contradictions along the route. One the one hand, there were old abandoned farm buildings; on the other hand there was an incredible wind farm on I65 in Indiana (more on that at a later time). Where as I95 has an amazing plethora of vital, active cities along the route, it seemed I75 and I65 had more of the sleepy, agricultural towns that seemed one bad weather event away from a ghost town. Now, don’t get me wrong, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, Indianapolis – all big cities and beautiful in their own rights. Everything else, though, sleepy.
We stopped at a few places along the way to stretch our legs. Being from Florida, one doesn’t realize that the actual functionality of a mall is that its inside and away from the weather (we realized this in Nashville at an indoor outlet mall there, it had been pouring rain all day during our drive and we needed a respite from the rain). I started thinking about building design and shopping. In Chicago, the most interesting shopping was on the streets, going from one store to the next…and it was frigid cold. Of course, these were mom and pop type stores, just the common everyman owner trying to make a living in an incredibly expensive city. If I’m not mistaken, the first mall was in Minnesota – and I’m sure the people there were thrilled to have a multi-shopping venue that allowed one to do something other than play board games or read by the fire during a horrible winter.
While on the trip, I found this really neat article about the economics and nostalgia of dead malls – I saw a lot of strip malls that were completely vacant; also a problem here in Florida. One of the most interesting aspects of this article, as is almost always the case, was the many comments. I skimmed them and found the location of the commenters just as important as the comment themselves.
I don’t know how I feel about lively malls or dead malls; I do know that as I’ve gotten older, I find the eclectic shops that aren’t often found in a mall to be the most interesting. I’m not sure what that says about me or society; but I am sure that malls are probably much more alive and well than one would think after a cross-country drive through agricultural lands.