The Disneyfication of Downtown

There's a new trend in the development of"downtowns" that is some combination of the Wal-Martization and the Disneyfication of shopping. This is not a happy trend.

Wal-Martization is the process of deep-pocket, low-wage, chain-store outfits coming into communities and using both predatory pricing and a massive advertising budget to kill the local competition, forcing out the hometown groceries, hardware stores, pharmacies, bookstores, etc. They have squeezed the economic life out of hundreds of downtowns.

But it turns out that, gee, lots of folks miss downtown -- you know, strolling along Main Street and popping into this shop or that. So, now come the Disneyfiers. Having destroyed downtown, national developers now are replicating it with what they call "outdoor malls," with faux "main streets" and brightly painted stores that appear to be independent entities. The developers say they are trying to "create a town-center feel with local flavor and get away from the could-be-anywhere feel of standard malls." Indeed, the developers now deride the old indoor malls, asserting that people today "don't want to go inside of a big air-conditioned building where it's noisy and dark. "But, hey, Mr. Big Developer -- that's the very ambiance you created and promoted to crush our real-life downtown businesses.

As for "local flavor," they're not talking about the Chat & Chew Cafe and other genuinely local stores, but of Starbucks, The Gap, Barnes and Noble, and more of the same-old same-old chain operations that are everywhere.Yet, they even try to imbue these plastic places with noble social meaning: "It will be something of a gathering place, not just a retail market," said one national developer.

This is Jim Hightower saying . . . But their new "downtowns" are not downtown and offer no real community. Isn't there enough dishonesty in the corporate world without them claiming that more chain-store commercialization of our communities is something noble?

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