Shopping uniformly

Our cities are malls

I was sitting on the tram number 6 trough the center of Helsinki on my way to Hietalahti, and it crossed my mind, how similar the businesses in metropolitan areas are becoming. It doesn’t matter if its Paris , Madrid, Stocholm or Helsinki, but in the core shopping district you always find Prada, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Hästens, Hennes et Mauritz and Zara occupying all of the downtown rental spaces. It’s the same verywhere! Cities need to stand out and find their own character again.

We used to imagine this was a phenomena only concerning shopping malls; that is where you find the shops and enterprises composed of specific pre-organised compounds of shops. Shops that do not enter into each other comfort zone too much to create real competition in prizing, shops that tend to the needs of the average IMAGINED shopper of a specific targeted area. You have malls targeting middle class; these are the malls on the ring roads and perhaps the malls in city center targeting the offspring of the wealthy (those who can afford to live in the city)…so we get for example Kamppi Mall in Helsinki centre that attracts mainly teenagers. (The Kamppi Mall is by the way the busiest mall in Europe –insert ad here-). But as I watched the well known brands pass by my tram window, I realised this has happened to our city centres outside the malls as well. Our cities are becoming a malls.

So what will happen if the turbulence on the financing market continues? Would it possibly create new opportunities to reclaim the liveliness and dynamics of the city centres? When people stop spending on luxury, and the brand shops have to close down, is there a new dawn for experimental enterprises in the centre? Perhaps we will see sprawling young entrepreneur businesses find a niche in our cities. I remember the attraction and excitement of for example Barcelona a decade back, that lay in the possibilities to create things, live from it, change your mind if you felt like it and go in another direction, and succeed again. This was the creation of young students, immigrants, of refugees, of local people using the buzz…all of this both gave opportunity to business to establish and to the atmosphere of that your life lay at your feet to create, whatever age you were. The centre of Barcelona was full of unknown designer shops, small clubs popping up everywhere, record shops, cafés, restaurants. The huge number of tourists consequently flocking there gave way to a lot of trendy hostels. Forget Gaudi (however fantastic), forget the MACBA Museum…the city grew its fame out of the will to do things of people living there. If the city centre would not have supported low enough rents for small new businesses, if the rent levels would only allowed brand names there, the famous Barcelona we know today would not exist.

History, Catalunya, beauty of architecture…all of this would prevail, but we would not have our imaginary City of Life. A lot of `city´ is in the minds of its inhabitants and its visitors, and like the rug under the feet of the financing market, it is also easily shaken if not tendered.//aito

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