Thursday, August 13, 2009

Musings From A Mall


So, on my vacation to the great white north, I spent a few hours in what once was the world's largest shopping mall. According to Wikipedia (which never has incorrect information, so I trust it implicitly), the West Edmonton Mall was the world's largest mall from 1981 to 2004 (although different articles say 1986-2004, see Wikipedia is never mean). So what happened in 2004? Well the Chinese built a bigger mall. Then, someone built a bigger mall in the Philippines, and a bigger mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as well. The West Edmonton Mall is now the fifth largest in the world. The West Ed previously had always been in competition with the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the title of world's biggest, but the good folks in Asia have made that competition moot.

Kuala Lumpur having a huge mall seems particularly relevant, because that's the same town where they built the Petronas Towers; the twin set of buildings that you might remember seeing in *Entrapment* (that Sean Connery movie with Catherine Zeta Jones in the skin-tight black outfit sliding her butt under security laser beams in close-up). Those buildings displaced the Sears Tower as the world's tallest building. Then came Taipei 101, an even taller building, displacing that.

There are a few other buildings under construction now that will displace those, but this whole thing got me thinking. Until recently, America (and Canada) had the big buildings. Now, Asia lays claim to all of those titles. Why is it that Americans didn't find it necessary to try to top the Sears Tower with another even taller building? Have we perhaps matured as a society and no longer find it necessary?

See, it seems to me that that kind of thing eventually happens. Once, a hundred or more years ago, the tallest structure was in Europe, the Eiffel Tower. But Europe was already getting old by then. Their ambition was waning. Then came several world wars, destroying once and for all any glamour in the ideas of empires, conquest, and competition for world supremacy.

However, a hundred or so years ago, a once provincial nation on a different continent was just beginning to see these kinds of ideas as viable. So they set out to prove themselves as worthy. They built tall buildings like the Empire State Building and the Sears Tower. And they started taking their influence overseas. Eventually, the United States of America became *the* world power, as the British Empire used to be. But the British grew out of the need to assert dominion. Now, after a hundred years, it seems like the U.S. might be growing out of that need too.

Instead of building ever taller buildings, we just build them to be as big as they need to be. If you've ever seen the movie *Towering Inferno*, then you know that a tall building can be a real problem when disaster strikes. Why build a building that tall? Not really necessary. It's only important as a status symbol really, and does America need status symbols any longer? Not really, we've got all the status we need.

So here comes Asia. China building taller structures, Malaysia building taller structures, Taiwan doing it as well. They've built bigger malls too. They are out-commercializing the kings of commercialism. They've just got so much ambition over there.

Once, the Arab world was the height of civilization. Then one day, they woke up and found that Europe had left them behind. Then America strode ahead of Europe. I know this is a big stretch to make based on a visit to a mall that's no longer as grand as it once was, but I think these signs point to the fact that, in the near future, Asia will be the home of the world superpowers that make the agenda for the rest of the planet. They are the ones who have the ambition these days. Hopefully they will be wiser than we have been.

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