Guest author Jessica de Heij is bemused by Kiwis’ love of malls.
The modern mall is a stressful place. At least, it can be. Getting there and trying to park, especially at the weekend, is a nightmare. Then there’s the walking between parked cars, the people fighting to find a space, not to mention the slow-moving pedestrians before, finally, you’re in.
Nice, dry shopping heaven, right?
Personally, I’m not a fan of malls; you won’t find me strolling round one all day. The same shops and food places as every other mall? No, I like variety. Clothing options, fresh air and, of course, a freshly brewed flat white and some healthy food options – good luck finding those nestled among the fast food outlets. And don’t get me started on the crowds.
I’ll admit, it’s cozy in winter and cool in summer, plus there’s lots of seating for your elderly grandparent, play options for the kids and even easy accessibility if you’re differently-abled.
On a recent TVNZ Breakfast, Auckland Council’s high-profile Design Champion reckoned that Kiwis love malls for just this reason: they are easy, warm and have everything in one place. His comments were in the context of property owners’ fears for Auckland’s Newmarket, a combination of “high street” and mall shopping around a major arterial road, now one of the area’s major malls is closed.
Do we go to the mall here because it’s great or because it’s the only real choice we have?
I grew up in the Netherlands and wasn’t used to malls when I first came to New Zealand. I was more used to people-friendly high streets. With malls there’s plenty of parking so you park (as close as you can to the store you need), shop and leave. Efficient, right? But I’m not looking for efficiency; I’m looking for a great shopping experience.
Maybe we enjoy these malls because it’s the one place we can walk around without worrying about our car? What if we could enjoy lovely places that are outside and carless, like Nelson’s Trafalgar Street?
In the Netherlands, shopping is a whole-day affair planned with friends, fancy lunch included. We enjoy big clothing stores like H&M (other chains available), but also shop at groovy little boutique shops found in cute alleyways. There are urban areas with lovely squares and benches, plus cool cafés on corners to recharge.
Even my mum, who is 65, still plans an annual day of shopping with her six sisters; a new city every year. They start at 10am and go all day before their partners join them for dinner at a swish restaurant.
I’m not saying it’s perfect. In the Netherlands we don’t have public toilets and shopping in old buildings can be tricky when you’re older or in a wheelchair. But I prefer an outdoor shopping centre (with no car access) 10 times more than a Westfield Mall. Yes, it can be cold in winter and maybe warm in summer (with the exception of inside the stores – they’re air conditioned – luxury!), but the shopping experience feels so much more fun and social.
I’d like to think we could replicate this experience here in New Zealand. We’re still a young nation; why not bring the best of both worlds together? So, malls and stress be gone! It’s time for the return of the high street…
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Feature image CC by Clem Onojeghuo
Mall picture CC by The Vantage Point
Trafalgar Street CC by Nelson City Council