Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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The Mall as Agora in Terramagne-America

The history of malls really goes back to things like town squares and market days: a semi-enclosed area bounded by businesses and/or social buildings where people regularly gather. The Greeks called theirs the agora. In the modern era, someone thought to put a roof over the thing, making it pleasant regardless of the weather outdoors. For decades, this was a pretty fantastic idea.

In local-America, alas, the era of malls seems to be waning due to a variety of factors ranging from rich people sucking all the money out of the economy to mall owners making policies that drive away stores and customers. Manipulative leasing rules have gone from driving out unique and interesting proprietary shops, so that malls became almost entirely chain store enclaves, to driving away even the chain stores. :( In more and more malls, discriminatory rules now ban senior citizens and/or all minors unless accompanied by a parent. >_< Well obviously, those are the people with the most time and interest to spend in malls, so if you drive them out, you don't have much customer base left. And if you make the mall youth-hostile, people will not grow up hanging out in the mall, which means they won't think of it as a place to spend their money when they are adults with jobs. *kawhoosh* That's the sound of millions of dollars flushed down the economic stream to Amazon or iTunes.

So let's take a look at malls in Terramagne-America, which have expanded on the idea of the agora ...

* Malls are a place where people come to browse and buy stuff. So in addition to the permanent stores, they often have food carts, food trucks, kiosks, and other moveable features. Then there are shows. Car shows, collectible card shows, antique shows, trade shows, flea markets, etc. A thriving T-American mall has some kind of special activity happening 2-3 weekends out of the month, and occasionally weekday events targeted to audiences who don't shop much on weekends. A senior event might run on weekday mornings when the walking club is bustling.

* A free-flowing audience of potential customers makes it much easier to start a retail business than doing it on the street where you have to pull them in. Remember Arcadia East? They have those relatively small shops, and a lot of turnover -- not because many shops fail out like here, but because the successful ones outgrow the slot and move to a bigger space elsewhere. They are literally generating small businesses and turning them into bigger businesses. \o/ Most malls have stores of varying sizes, from big department stores in the anchor positions to medium and small stores in the slots. T-America usually has a medium-to-large slot that can be subdivided into sections for retailers who can't afford a whole separate storefront yet. The idea is that the unsuccessful ones will fail without losing too much investment, and the successful ones will grow into a storefront of their own.

* Malls provide a big social center with a lid on it. So in addition to shows meant to sell stuff, there are also things like job fairs, beauty pageants, pet shows, safety days, and so on. They also provide a place to show off big collections or other items of interest. This can be done in the middle of the walkway or plaza, depending on mall shape, and/or in a store slot. Our local mall still does that with things like a holiday village of figurines in a store slot, and the model railway display when it comes is so big that it sprawls down much of the midlane. People come to look at the cool things and, of course, usually end up buying something from somewhere.

* Some malls have auxiliary space beyond the retail floor(s), usually either the basement or top floor. This can hold nonretail businesses such as offices, lawyers, counselors, tutors, a walk-in clinic, etc. It provides a different reason for people to visit the mall, and maybe shop before or after their other activity. It also draws on another branch of the economy than retail stores, offering a buffer against economic swings.

* Public art makes for a beautiful and peaceful atmosphere. Most malls in both worlds have some combination of fountains, fish ponds, charity wishing wells, statues, murals, sculptures, planters, and other attractions. In T-America, these types of public art are very popular and may be funded by the mall owners and/or the municipal budget. That helps support more municipal and business artists, which helps keep the money cycling.

* Exercise is important for everyone. Here, a few malls encourage walkers, especially at less-busy times of day. Others have mini-playgrounds for children and/or a fitness center for adults. In T-America, exercise is part of public life. The mall itself often incorporates gentle ramps and stairs. Long staircases to upper stories typically have artwork, light shows, sound systems, or other interactive elements to encourage folks to climb them. There is usually at least one playground for children and a fitness center for adults.

* Food and beverages keep people in the mall longer, and make it easy for employees to take care of themselves on breaks. It's good to have a mix of permanent restaurants and rotating suppliers like food carts and food trucks, so people have reliable favorites and variety so they don't get bored. Larger malls usually have a food court, while smaller ones may have one or two eateries scattered among the stores. T-American malls tend to insist on a range from healthy to indulgent food, instead of having all junk. A typical mix might include a pizzaria, a sandwich place, one or more ethnic restaurants, a salad bar, an ice cream parlor, and a juice or smoothie bar. Something far more common there than here is a fruit stand offering everything from whole fresh fruit to fruit cups and fruit salads, larger carved fruits to share, sometimes combined with a juice/smoothie bar.

* Good malls are family-friendly environments. There is something for everyone to do and to enjoy shopping for. In T-America, larger malls often have a daycare, reading room, play gym, or other space with staff so parents can drop off small children and then go shopping. Many of these have a mix of fully-trained employees and volunteers, which makes a great opportunity for young people who want to work with children or seniors who want more social interaction outside their own age group. A mall that has a maternity store and/or toy store may also host family events around that storefront.

* Senior citizens have lots of time on their hands. They don't always have as much money or company. So they gravitate to malls as a place to spend time around other people in a comfortable environment. A few L-American malls, and most T-American malls, have something like a Golden Eagles social club and/or Silver Sneakers exercise club for seniors. While they may not buy something every time they come, they usually do buy things occasionally. And they're free watchdogs. People who come to the mall regularly to walk will notice when the fountain glitches or some guy is creeping on the girls. If the mall treats seniors well, they will report problems so those can get fixed. A particularly astute mall will arrange meetings between its senior and junior clubs, which benefits both groups. This helps seniors stay more active and involved in community, while encouraging youth to find mentors and learn social skills. Since people tend to buy gifts for friends on special occasions, and these folks are in the mall a lot, that contributes to the profit margin.

* Youth also have lots of free time. If they have an allowance or a job, they have some spending money. They're at a time in their life when they need to lean away from their parents, connect with peers, discover themselves, and feel out their place in community. Sure they'll make some mistakes, but everybody does that and teens need a safe place to make mistakes. It's also better to do that while young and move on, than reach adulthood with no real sense of independence. It is much safer for youth to have a public place to congregate, where nearby adults can intervene in case of mishaps, than for them to sneak off by themselves and get into trouble. In this regard, the mall functions as a miniature society where people can socialize, shop, eat, and otherwise interact. Young people get plentiful feedback from older citizens as to whether their behavior is laudable, tolerable, or unacceptable. Good behavior is rewarded, while bad behavior may get them scolded or kicked out. It is absolutely vital for adults to distinguish between the two, because otherwise kids tend to do whatever feels good, which rarely has desirable results.

In pursuit of this, T-America malls often have clubs or other activities for youth. If they have auxiliary space, it's a good meeting place for Activity Scouts, volunteer organizations, and other youth groups. In general, T-America expects youth to behave decently and only interrupts if they do not. Well-behaved youth are unlikely to be bothered. Teens with babysitting credentials can make themselves known to the mall staff and definitely not get hassled for having a younger child in tow, unless there's a problem, although it's not required to have such credentials. This meshes with the fact that T-American youth often start earning practical credentials like babysitting cards, a bike license, and bus mastery as tweens or early teens. In fact, one who can't manage at least some self-direction by 13 or 14 raises concerns, because then they're only a few years from when they might start driving a car.

Many T-American malls have something like a Junior Citizens program that youth may enter whenever they're mature enough to pass a basic test on public skills. Then there's an orientation meeting about how the mall works and a tour of its facilities. That's usually the end of the required stuff. Typically there are more sessions that members can take to earn points which can be redeemed for store discounts, free food, free arcade tokens, and other goodies. Common offerings include Mall Safety, Citizen Law for Shopping Centers, Basic Budgeting, Smart Shopping, Grace and Courtesy, Hanging Out with Friends, Young Love, Helping Out at the Mall, and So You Want to Work at the Mall. The first two usually have the highest reward because they promote safety, but they're one-time classes; volunteering at the mall is a high-reward, ongoing option while Grace and Courtesy tends to rotate through many different topics at moderate reward rates. It's very common for youth to start with volunteering, then go to light work such as greeting people or passing out flyers, and eventually hire on as mall staff. It gets them involved in community, encourages and rewards good behavior, and promotes a healthy work ethic -- without the wage theft of forced "volunteering" that L-America attempts. People who grow up thinking of the mall as a fun, safe, productive place are more likely to keep going there as adults even if most of them wind up working somewhere else after they get out of school. But it's the first place they'll probably think of if they decide to start their own business.

Naturally, when you have humans rambling around together, some will misbehave; statistically speaking, a majority of these will be young, because most people outgrow wild behavior by their 30s or so. Other times, people might cause minor conflicts and not even realize it. Remember that discipline teaches, while punishment hurts. Think about how to repair relationships after a mistake. Consider some examples:

Walkers are getting in the way of other people.

Okay: "Hey, you're kind of clogging traffic here. Also you're getting bumped around and that doesn't look like fun. Let's sit down in this rest area and talk about how to solve that problem. There are times the mall is less busy. Could you come here then to walk? There's also a gym with treadmills where you could get a membership, which has a senior discount. If you're looking for free space, the community center has free days sometimes and the park has a walking path."

Not okay: Banning senior citizens from the mall.

An unaccompanied child makes a mess.

Okay: "Whoops, that's quite a mess. Let's clean it up together, because we like to keep our mall tidy. Then we'll go find your parents. It looks like you're not ready to shop by yourself yet. Don't worry, you'll grow into it eventually."

Not okay: Banning all minors from shopping alone.

Someone spits on the floor.

Okay: "We don't spit on the floor in here. It is rude and unsanitary. Now you can mop this rest area and then go about your business, or be banned from the mall for a week. If you keep spitting on the floor, the ban will get longer, because we like to keep our mall clean. Your choice."

Not okay: Banning everyone who remotely resembles the person who spit on the floor.

Someone whistles at ladies walking by.

Okay: "Whistling at ladies is rude at best and illegal harassment at worst. Also it makes folks think you are a poor excuse for a man. Now you can go take an afternoon class in manners at the community center and come back after that, or be banned from the mall for a month. If you keep pestering the ladies, the ban will get longer, because we expect people to treat each other with respect in here. Your choice."

Not okay: Banning all men who might conceivably whistle at women.

Someone plays with their pocketknife in public (other than legitimate tool use).

Okay: "Put that away. A knife is a tool, not a toy. You could hurt yourself or someone else doing that. Also it makes you look irresponsible. If you need something to play with, child fidgets are for sale in the toy store, adult fidgets are for sale in the office store, and there's a box of all kinds in the quiet room for people to borrow. Now you can go take a knife safety class at the knife shop in the east wing, and come back after that, or be banned from the mall for two months. Do it again and the ban will get longer, because people don't like to see someone goofing around with sharp things. Your choice."

Infantilization: Banning all sharp tools from public places. Responsible adults should know how to handle dangerous things safely, and should not be treated like children or criminals.

Someone assaults another person, whether a shopper or a mall employee trying to maintain order.

Okay: Call the police. It is their job to deal with that stuff. Have a mall policy matched to common crimes so that each offense leads to a consistent consequence. This may be a ban on returning to the mall, a requirement for supervision, a term of community service, etc. in addition to whatever the court may impose. Generally, a minor crime should lead to a temporary ban, while a major crime may reasonably lead to a permanent ban.

Discrimination: Banning all youth. Banning all black people. Banning all Muslims. Et cetera ad nauseam.

Bear in mind that well-behaved people and poorly behaved people may view things very differently. Getting arrested is scary and embarrassing to generally lawful people. But to many hooligans, it is cool. Rowdier ones who have been arrested or jailed are viewed with more respect by their peers. This makes it much less useful as a deterrent. Having to mop the floor you spit on? Having to help inventory the store you shoplifted from? Boring and NOT COOL. Hooligan friends will laugh. This increases the chance that wild young things will either behave better, or decide on their own that they would rather go horse around somewhere else.

Furthermore, teaching youth what behavior is expected will give them a chance to make more mindful decisions in the future. Understand that many people who behave badly have grown up in a lousy environment where nobody modeled decent behavior. If someone else doesn't teach them, they will go right on not knowing better and behaving badly. Nagging and threatening don't work; modeling does. If you want people to behave well, you have to make sure they know how, set a good example, encourage positive behavior, and discourage negative behavior.
Tags: a little slice of terramagne, community, family skills, how to, life lessons
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