Space invaders

I was in Stockholm a while back, it’s as always a fantastically beautiful city. One thing I don’t understand however, is the obsession with shopping arcades, or city malls if you prefer. In recent years a number of arcades have opened up in the central part, most recently in Skrapan, a refurbishment of what used to be the Swedish tax department’s old headquarters. Another arcade was stopped by a surprisingly energetic grass roots movement in another part of the city centre. Furthermore, when the proposal for Slussen, an area with incredible potential, was presented, it turns out it’s going to be a cultural centre, located in, surprise, a shopping arcade.

Yet another project is Sergels Torg, right in the middle of the city. Here a lengthy discussion has involved everything from constructing picturesque 18th century style town houses to a park. In the end the consensus appears to be to put a glass wall around the existing shops and, presto, you have a shopping arcade.

The perceived problem with open streets and squares, Sergels Torg in particular, is security and crime. There’s no denying that Sergels Torg has its fair share of dodgy characters, drug dealers, users and so on. At the same time, isn’t that really just a proof of it being a public space that actually works? It actually does present the user with a reasonably accurate cross section of Swedish society, for good and bad. Does anybody seriously believe that if you turn it into a controllable space, the dealers will stop dealing, users stop using and so on? Or do they just don’t want to see these elements of society? We live more or less in a society where the middle class sets the rules, and I believe that it is essential for those in charge to meet their subjects, otherwise it’s all too easy to become cruel.

One of the great things about the classic European city is that you meet the others, people who aren’t like you. The shopping arcade is a quite sinister way of excluding and controlling space so that people won’t be threatened by the other. Taken to its extreme in Minneapolis or Houston, it creates a double world where nobody meets anybody who’s different and thus have no understanding for any values or lifestyle other than their own.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not a fanatical advocator of the European city model, at the same time I do recognize that it has got a few qualities that are quite rare in any other model. I do not believe this is resulting from the inferiority of any other models, but probably because they are still evolving.

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