Green Mall & Consumer Apartheid (Syracuse)

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The new addition (“Destiny USA”) to the old “Carousel Mall” in Syracuse, NY is worth a complicated look. 

On the one hand, Destiny USA is remarkably well designed. It is a green mall, and it looks like one too, full of earth tones, direct and ambient light, and lots of large picture windows opening out to the city. The main three story “canyon” is dominated by three large, arboreal sculptures, and there’s a towering stand of bamboo at the center. It looks like something from planet Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar. I might actually come back when they open up the bowling alley, and it was very cool to wander around in it. The design is very intelligent and very pleasant.

On the one hand, I tend not to like malls and tend not to go to them. I don’t like the private nature of the mall-space, the vacuum packed airlessness. “Destiny” is particularly problematic. Originally, it was supposed to compete in scale with the Mall of American in Minessota. There was a lot of hype in economically desparate Syracuse, the capital of the post-industrial Central New York rustbelt stretching across I-90 from Albany to Buffalo. The big plans bottomed out. There were all kinds of arguments about tax incentive giveaways, and all of that, and finally, they just scaled the whole thing back down to earth.

One is simply left to wonder about how the slick design elements and consumer apartheid will work out. The new addition is full of high-end shops and high-end eateries, which stand in stark contrast to the more pedestrian venues and shabbier feel in the old section of the mall, especially at the old food court, which is very, very depressed and depressing. No matter how well designed the new wing of the mall is, the design team failed to blend it into and with the old Carousel Mall space. Connected by a long and narrow corridor, the two wings are very much detached from each other. I can’t imagine vistors to the new mall heading back into the old mall. The new mall is a good looking mall that looks like gross inequality.

You see Central New York using good design to try, desperately, to pick itself up. You can see the same kind of design renewal on campus at Syracuse University. But on what basis and will it work? I think the point is how to go about attracting attention.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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