LeviathanApril 20, 2017
We need to speak about Courtenay
For years sitting as an empty hole in Courtenay Place, an eyesore, a broken tooth, a scab upon the sullen carcass of downtown retailing – we Wellingtonians had joy in our hearts and hope in our chests when, 16 years ago, the hole was at last infilled with a lightweight facade and a large name tag: Courtenay Central !
Such big city delights as a multiplex cinema, a food court, multiple shops, a link through to a car park, an upstairs restaurant, and an escalator! Such sophistication! A premiere destination mini-urban mall!!!
However, since then it has gone seriously down hill, to the extent that now it is (once again) an empty hole in Courtenay Place, an eyesore, a broken tooth, a scab upon the sullen carcass of downtown retailing. We are, effectively, back to where we started from.
I’m hopeful however that this is the low point and from here it can only get better. Well, it can hardly get worse, can it? The dining upstairs is a dog and needs to go – awful. The dining downstairs has already gone, and may be even coming back -= so far we have a McDonalds that is pretending very hard not to be a McDonalds, and a lone Chemist. Brave people. Everything else has gone – the Whitcoulls first, then the DVD store, then even the Dungeons and Dragons man – and you just know that when even a seller of tiny plastic toys for spectacled nerds moves out, you have got a problem. So – they have deleted the silly double entrance, and reduced it to just one, and of course the multi-story carpark building has gone now also – they’re starting from scratch. What now? Suggestions please! The only way is Up, baby!
I’m going to leave you with a favourite quote from Blubberland, a cutting (but gloriously accurate) book by ex-Kiwi Elizabeth Farrelly:
“So it is interesting to note the increasing interiorisation of shopping as an activity. From the traditional street market where interiors were ususally makeshift and temporary, to the modern mall where entire city blocks and precincts are interiorised to give the (usually female) shopper the illusion of being in a vast, sparkling, bejewelled, cathedral-like home. Woman like malls because they’re known, comfortable, clean and safe – from muggers and spitters, from sun, storms and mendicants. Here, at fantasy-home, women will relax, and when they relax, they will spend.
Malls titillate and relax, even while they make you feel needy, inadequate and dreamily disoriented. They’re meant to. It’s like chocolate. If you can be made to feel bad, in a small way, the more want soothing, and the more you buy. One thing you don’t see much of in a mega-wall, therefore, is social life. Whereas in a high street you might stop for a coffee, in a mall you bump into someone, you say hi and press on. This is because, from the first car-park moment, the place is designed as a disconnect, separating you from your reality and from your higher, warmer self. It’s designed to put you in a bubble – a car-like bubble – of self-gratification.
This is another reason why the mall experience begins and ends at the car park. Grey, fumy and jammed with other irritable, bubble-wrapped humans, the car park is no pleasure-dome. It’s designed to do a kind of good-cop-bad-cop routine with the mall interior, to make you more susceptible to the shopping urge. And because it is important that we come to it through the gates of hell, the mall is the first architectural typein history that has an inside but no outside. The mall has interior design, heavily themed and fantasised, but it has no street presence, no public self, no architecture.” p150 – Blubberland, MIT Press, 2008.
That, in a word (or two) is what a mall is meant to do. Make you feel good. Warm your heart, titillate you, give you a feeling of fantasy! Currently, this black ceiling is no more than a nasty gothic nightmare…