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Stress-Free Zone | Simplify Your Life

Why Move Mountains for Malls?

July 13, 1998|ELAINE ST. JAMES

Stress is a major factor in many of our health-related problems. A key way to reduce stress is to simplify. By reducing clutter, commitments, tasks and expenses, your life will streamline into the Stress Free Zone. Elaine St. James tells us how.

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Five years ago my friend Catherine sold her apartment in New York City and moved to a quiet little town upstate. She wanted a less frantic pace and a simpler lifestyle, and she found it in her riverside community. Then last month the second-largest mall in America opened a mile from her home, creating a devastating intrusion. To clear the space for such a massive endeavor, it was necessary to bulldoze the side of a mountain into oblivion.

"I would have an easier time accepting it if there were a need for this mall," Catherine said. "But within less than an hour's drive from here there are 40 malls. What's the point of destroying the environment and creating permanent traffic congestion so we can have exactly the same stores with exactly the same merchandise right next to each other?"

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, there are already 20 square feet of retail space for every person in the United States. Malls have become the primary centers of family entertainment. The mall in Catherine's neighborhood contains an amphitheater, an ice skating rink, numerous waterfalls, 22 movie screens and a Ferris wheel. According to Richard Rodgers, a marketing professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, malls are "the Main Streets of the 21st century."

What an unsettling thought. Is this really what families and communities want? Or have we been bulldozed into thinking that these commercial enterprises are what we need?

I know many people share my idea of real entertainment: a quiet walk with their kids on a sandy beach, watching the sunset from an untamed hill, sitting beside a quiet pond. The people I hear from are interested in lifestyles that revolve less around consumerism and more around relationships, nature and time with their families. They want to preserve the essential beauty of America, and they'd love to be able to protect the environment against the steamrollers of urban sprawl.

Though it's too late to stop the development of this mall, Catherine and a group of like-minded friends and neighbors decided to do something about limiting future malls. They called and wrote their city and county planners to let them know how they felt about having more malls: that they have enough already, and enough is enough.

However, they don't delude themselves that City Hall will necessarily listen to them: Even if Catherine and her friends pooled all their resources, they couldn't match the pocket-lining funds that mall developers have available for planners and politicians who make these commercial development decisions, often unbeknownst to their constituents. So they've made a commitment to also vote with their feet by staying out of the malls and taking their walks on nature trails instead. If enough of us vote this way, we could make a difference.

* Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111, or e-mail her at estjames@silcom.com.

The people I hear from are interested in lifestyles that revolve less around consumerism and more around relationships, nature and time with their families. They want to preserve the essential beauty of America, and they'd love to be able to protect the environment against the steamrollers of urban sprawl.

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