“open” Public space vs. malls

Part of the Melbourne Conversation, where the research was into the Transnational & Temporary, was the use of public space. Why is it that malls like Melbourne Central or QV were much more populated, as opposed to parks like Lincoln Square, the State Library (when there was grass), and so forth.

I think many doing the study, haven’t actually studied foreign geography closely enough. Where do the 37% (or 50% if looking at the northern fringes – does this include Melbourne Central/QV? Where exactly does this fringe end? – if Figure 1 was online, its safe to assume the area around RMIT (Latrobe) to UniMelb) of students from overseas come from? Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, mainly (going from memory, afaik – I’m sure there are more, but the major classification stated by the researchers seemed to be these).

Is there a park culture in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong or Vietnam? Having been to four out of the five countries in that list, I can assure you that nobody hangs out in parks. The idea of sitting down on the greens, in the humid sweltering heat, is just not fun. You hit up malls and shopping strips. Air-conditioning is good (same can be said for the heating, here, I guess).

Its only normal that if you’ve grown up spending time in malls, you’d do the same when you go overseas. The park is foreign, as a culture.

Is the solution having little seats below a shady tree? (suggested last night) I don’t think so. Will the use of open public space like parks make them more community members? Or should change be embraced, in where we head for a mall culture?

Years ago (and this was not long ago – 5 years is a good bet), Melbourne didn’t know of Starbucks, Gloria Jeans, or Coffee Bean. Coffee, was to be had at small corner cafes. Now, does anyone want to count the density of coffee joints on Swanston St., for example? Changing culture, has led to a new, more commercialized coffee culture.

Any guesses as to why we have such changing culture? You guessed right, it came from the mall culture that the overseas students brought with them. Businesses recognize this – change is the only constant, and we’re all in it to make a profit. However, some people are still holding on tightly to the past.

7 Comments so far

  1. Darren (unregistered) on May 11th, 2007 @ 6:19 pm

    Isn’t mall culture predominantly American? I mean, it is technically an American concept – the capitalist capitalisation on consumerism – in other words: We just love to shop.

    But yes, familiarity plays a huge role. Cold Storage in Singapore (also ‘The Fresh Food People!’) is where I used to spend my hours gazing at the aisles and tall shelves of bottles and cans and boxes. This is why I always tell my friends:

    “QV is my favourite place in the universe.”

    “I love Safeway.”

    “My favourite cashier is working today!”

  2. colin (unregistered) on May 11th, 2007 @ 6:33 pm

    I don’t know if mall culture is predominantly American or not – I’ve not spent enough time there. Sure, I spend wayyyy too much time in downtown SF, but that area in itself, is a lot like the Melbourne CBD – lots of shops, “strip malls” (?), but no real big malls (save for maybe Macy’s, and those departmental stores).

    Wait, now that I think about it, its very San Francisco :) I can’t say for the rest of the US of A… maybe american readers would like to comment on mall culture more/further.

    But with the Asian crowd (making up most of the student population, right? – so says the researchers) it does seem that its familiarity.

    To know if its capitalist related, we should always look at the turnover of shops. Sampling qv/melbourne central, we tend to see stores staying open for a long time (rate of change is very slow). So I guess the students love to shop too…

    Which brings an interesting point up – are students really starving? I’ll save that for another post…

  3. Brett (unregistered) on May 11th, 2007 @ 6:52 pm

    QV doesn’t seem like a traditional shopping centre (like Melbourne Central, say). To me it looks like an attempt to create an environment and culture like the little laneways you get elsewhere in the CBD, with their chic boutiques and funky cafes spilling onto the footpath. And then that’s sandwiched between some big chain stores and a food court. So it’s a hybrid of outer suburban and inner urban styles, I guess. And why not — seems to be working quite well for whoever built the place, and it’s certainly more fun than trudging through a seemingly endless building full of shops!

  4. Winza (unregistered) on May 11th, 2007 @ 9:31 pm

    I still love sitting on grassy areas in the sun. I did that throughout high school but not so much at uni. It all depend on which group of friends I am with. My aussie friends are like me – we all love sitting on the grass and enjoying the sunshine. But my Chinese friends dislike it because they tend to think that it’s dirty sitting on the grass.

  5. International Student (unregistered) on May 12th, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

    From Singapore, I am an International Student studying at the University of Melbourne, so I suppose you can say that I am part of the demography that you refer to as constituting that mall culture which you disdain.

    Besides pointing out that International Students contribute to the commercialization of the CBD (which you make it sound like a bad habit we’ve brought we us), perhaps you can also remember that International Students are here without families. That is to say, unlike suburban Australian families who are able to enjoy family time at home and in parks, the alternative that International Students have is each other and a lot of studying.

    RMIT and Melbourne University are located very close to the malls in the CBD, the malls therefore constitute part of the neighborhood that International students live in. So isn’t it fair to frequent the places you live in? Especially under circumstances where time is a constraint.

    When you introduce yourself as a Melbournian, you refer to it as belonging to a place beyond the confines of postal code 3000. In many other locations just skirting QV and Melbourne Central, coffee is still to be had at small corner cafes, the street boutiques at nearby Fitzroy and Brunswick will still remain “mall free”, parks and lawn frolicking is not about to be overrun by imposing structures of glass and steel.

    In fact, your argument has come full circle because if International Students only know how to amuse themselves within the malls of Melbourne 3000, it is there that they will be confined to, unlike an encroaching disease.

    On a last note, it is rather unfair to say that nobody hangs out in parks in the 5 countries you’ve mentioned. They do. In any case, does having a tangible presence in parks alone equate to a higher quality of living? All these 5 countries are so diverse in themselves that no one should generalize them together as being void of a park-culture or in any other aspect.

  6. colin (unregistered) on May 13th, 2007 @ 5:00 am

    @the international student:
    I don’t disdain the mall culture. I am equally guilty of it. I’m referring to what was spoken and found out at the research (so please do reference that).

    With regards to parks, its a generalization. You mention you’re Singaporean – thats a very nicely planned place. HDB flats, parks, shops, and so forth, all *very well planned*. In my random visits to Singapore’s suburbia, the parks always seem empty – au contraire with the Orchard Rd strip (Melbourne, pc 3000 :P).

    I personally think change *should* be embraced. I was actually disappointed with some of the research points, and worse, some of the comments by folk.

    (qv/melbourne central were mentioned at the talk, too… you should have been there to get context, quite clearly)

    Anyways, hope you’d continue good discussion.

  7. xlynx (unregistered) on May 14th, 2007 @ 4:25 am

    parks vs shopping centres.

    What do you do in a park?
    sport (play with a footy or frisbee).
    picnic (socialise).

    What do you do in/near a CBD shopping centre?
    shop (for basic necessities or social benefit).
    eat (socialise).
    meet friends from all over who cross paths in the hub of public transport (socialise).
    catch public transport (basic necessity).

    What doesn’t the modern convenience seeker want to do:
    sport (equipment requires planning).
    picnic (we don’t want to plan our meals that far in advance).
    read (we like movies. reading is anti-social anyway).

    That leaves you with:
    1. basic necessities in/around CBD shopping centres.
    2. working on your social life in CBD shopping centres.
    3. walking in parks (weather and transport permitting).

    I think most would agree they’re listed in the correct order of preference.

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