Shopping malls: temples of the religion of consumption

Together with Turkey's rapidly increasing modernization attempts in the 1980s, consumption habits started to change, causing a transformation in shopping spaces.

Shopping malls: temples of the religion of consumption

Together with Turkey's rapidly increasing modernization attempts in the 1980s, consumption habits started to change, causing a transformation in shopping spaces. Malls such as Akmerkez, Metrocity and Kanyon have replaced open markets like the Kapalıçarşı, Beyoğlu, Nişantaşı and Osmanbey.

Associate Professor Dr. Gaye Birol, a lecturer at Balıkesir University, touches on this metamorphosis in her examination of shopping centers. "The basic characteristic of shopping places in the cities until the 20th century is their unity with the urban characteristic," she says, adding: "However the collapse of the unity between the urban spaces and shopping centers has reached its top point with the conemporary shopping malls in closed boxes."

On one hand the cutthroat competition for shopping mall construction between domestic and foreign investors is picking up speed; on the other hand, the malls' architectural construction and the qualifications are modernizing as well. Meanwhile, each shopping mall is determining its own customer portfolio. "I never like going to Galeria on the weekends since that is generally when customers from the country visit. Although it's further, I prefer to go to Metrocity" says one of the customers, drawing attention to the class differences among the malls which is nowadays more visible than ever. According to a recent survey conducted by the Shopping Association around İstanbul, generally women, the rich and youths between 17 and 23 visit shopping malls. Why? Aside from shopping itself, malls are now lifestyle centers in themselves. One can find whatever they are looking for -- eating, fitness, cinema, dry-cleaning, shoe repair and more.Lots of customers park their cars in the lots, buy all they need and then return home without ever stepping foot into the street. Moreover, there has appeared a special group of high-income people living in the luxurious residences of shopping malls and separating their lives from others because it is impossible to reach their "strictly controlled" secured living places. With the help of these secured living places and controlled shopping malls where there appears only one type of lifestyle, lives are becoming more and more surreal. And the problem is starting here at this point of separating from the streets.

Associate Professor Dr. Kenan Çayır, a sociologist and lecturer in Bilgi University's sociology department, says the controlled style of shopping malls are never compatible with the reality of city, adding: "There are so many different kinds of people living and interacting socially somewhere in the city. For example, it is possible to see a man singing in the street, a few youths demonstrating in front of Galatasaray Lisesi and explaining their reasons or you could collide with a man on İstiklal Caddesi." Çayır says that such places are open-minded areas where people can interact with differences, and understand others during these encounters. The city is a place that leads to a developed culture in learning to live altogether. According to Çayır, shopping malls, however, are single-minded spaces with no variance or surprise. "You cannot come into a shopping mall without being searched; you cannot shout and sing or make any demonstrations of your own, etc. It is impossible to create an urban culture in that way. And without difference, there is no democracy," he explains.

Having worked for years as the domestic supervision director for Carrefour Shopping Centers, Atilla Karagöz says shopping malls are not new for us because there were public houses and covered shopping areas during the times of the Seljuk and Ottoman Empires. "However, since there was not a central tradesman planning during the Republic term, individual shops have appeared. Now the contemporary shopping malls are compensating for this deficiency" says Karagöz, adding: "What is different now is that the need for a 'bazaar' is being remembered again. And these bazaars are being reconstructed in a modern way."

Karagöz also brings up the fact that shopping is a common need of everybody, totally disagreeing with the idea that shopping malls serve only a limited group of people having a certain income. "Whoever wants to buy the best and the cheapest in the easiest way is going to a shopping mall suitable for his or her interests. I think there is no difference between shopping in a mall or in Taksim" says Karagöz. In stressing the class divisions in shopping malls, he adds: "On this point it is important to ask who goes to Profilo or Cevahir or Akmerkez, because I think the most important competitor of Profilo is Taksim, not Cevahir."

One of the basic characteristics differentiating malls from more diverse places is security. Many families prefer that their kids spend time in a "secured" shopping mall rather than on the street. However, in separating kids from the street, they knowingly push them into a consumption craze. One customer around 40 years old, shopping in Ikea, defined the situation well, saying: "At least we did not have so many choices in the past. And when didn't have them, it was easier to live with what we did have."

Çayır, who claims that this rapid increase in the number of shopping malls depends mostly on urban planning strategies and political decisions, alleges that the city is transforming into a place of consumption, explaining: "Everything is planned beforehand. Where you will sit, what you will eat, etc. You don't have the option of ordering something different than what is on the menu. Maybe the worse are the artistic activities because, for example, only Hollywood films are shown in the cinema."

Shopping malls mostly serve the rich and create a single type of lifestyle. Places such as Akmerkez, Metrocity and the newer Kanyon are obviously separating themselves from other malls with their shops and customer profiles. A customer walking around Kanyon, which also is made different from its peer facilities with its open architecture, stresses the divisions among groups and how the malls impact people psychologically, saying: "While wandering here, you have to pretend as if you have millions in your pocket to spend."

Karagöz also underlines the importance of targeted groups for the malls. "If there are super luxurious shops in Kanyon, it is enough for them to attract three rich customers instead of 1,000 from the middle-class," he explains.

Çayır, supporting the thesis that such malls are shaping people's behavior, claims that these kinds of controlled places are creating one kind of person and lifestyle, saying: "You have to arrange your attitudes as per the culture served in the malls. There is no difference, no creativity."

Nowadays one of the malls experiencing an intense cultural transfer is IKEA. Customers are working as laborers with paper, pencils and tape measures in their hands in IKEA, where Swedish-style dismantled furniture is sold. Customers themselves are finding what they are looking for and carrying it out themselves. Many may prefer this style for the sake of cheaper costs, but the number of others who desire to be served during shopping is never little. One customer who visited IKEA for the first time explains his initial impression and underlines the cultural differences between Turkey and Sweden, asking: "How could you host your guests in these two-seater houses?"

Now instead of going to picnic places or parks on the weekends, families are getting social behind shopping carts at malls that are hot in the winter and cool in the summer. While we are rushing into the malls for things like security or curiosity or "charisma," the West has already faced up to the reality that public and urban culture has fallen as a result of these "strictly controlled" shopping malls. Western managers and urban planners have just begun preparing to turn back to the streets.

Karagöz believes people would prefer traditional shopping places if they could be give some order, too. "If there were no security problems, purse snatching or pollution in Taksim, then why would people prefer not prefer to go there for shopping? If Taksim were managed as well as contemporary malls, I don't think people would go to Profilo," he explains.

It seems the next five years will see an increase in Turkish shopping malls from 130 to 230. "This figure shows that people go to malls, so investors continue to build new ones. I don't think they are totally bad places. But to protect urban culture and create new green areas for people, malls need planned for rationally and built away from downtown," says Çayır.

Today's Zaman

Last Mod: 26 Ağustos 2007, 13:54
Add Comment