In the post-war years, Americans migrated en masse into suburbs punctuated by shopping centers that served as social and recreational hubs. Concerned about the civic wellbeing of shopping-centered suburbanites, a group called the Agora Coalition formed in the 1990s to enhance malls' civic functioning through a combination of design and programming strategies. This paper presents an adversarial alternative to such an approach. Rather than working "with" the mall as its prodding civic conscience, the paper recommends strategizing "against" it on behalf of civic life. The paper reveals four vulnerabilities in malls that such thinking can exploit: mall users may not find malls ego-enhancing places in which to socialize; the current economic recession has pointed up that many mall goods are frivolous nonessentials; malls are less likely to engender topophilia than are local public landscapes; and, as successful retail institutions in a competitive capitalist environment, malls employ successful strategies for gaining customers that designers of civic spaces can emulate. Indeed, the adversarial, zero-sum approach recommended here exemplifies the use of market-honed, "mall" strategizing. To nurture such thinking, I refer to Sun-Tzu's classic treatise The Art of War. The 2,400-year old text is required reading in MBA programs nationwide and presumably informs the thinking of many who build and manage malls. What would these people do if they were now competing against their creations on behalf of civic life?


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pp. 27-51
Launched on MUSE
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