8.09.2008

I’m Sick of the Color Green, or, Why the Carousel Mall can never be Eco-Friendly.

If you’ve taken a walk through the Carousel Mall in Syracuse at any time in the past year, you’ll have noticed that it’s been green-ified. Exploiting its captive audience of shoppers to the greatest extent possible, the people that own Carousel have been shamelessly selling the proposed expansion and ‘greenification’. Posters hang from every wall, an interactive map sits at the bottom of the atrium and everything from railings to walls have been painted varying shades of green. I didn’t know ‘going green’ was meant to be taken so literally.

The people of Syracuse are ambivalent on the subject. For some, the expansion of the mall means jobs and that’s what Syracuse needs. For others, the Mall is an example of the increasing popularity of green ideology: one friend explained to me how the ‘common people’ need to be educated by corporations about the importance of the environment. Perhaps he saw the Carousel Mall as some sort of modern Rachel Carson. Of course there are those who see Carousel with a bit more skepticism.

As someone concerned not only about the environment, but also the state of our local communities, the domination of corporations on our political, economic and social lives, and the broader cause of social justice, I find Carousel Mall’s turn towards green to be infuriating. Why?

Because a mall can never be green.

Never.

Even if they build everything from penthouse suites to urinals out of recycled toothpaste containers and power their buildings by organic, free-range, cruelty-free hamsters running on little wheels for union wages. Why?

1. Malls emerged out of a car-culture and a car-economy. At the heart of the Carousel people’s promise to economic transformation is that it will bring in business from around the northeast. Of course, the assumption is that they will drive to Central New York. No matter how many solar panels they put on the roof, the are still built off of a gas-devouring culture of automobiles and highways.

2. Malls Centralize Production. A walk through Carousel sees most of the same stores one sees in malls in Massachusetts, Florida, California and Hawai’i. The stuff inside them are almost universally produced in places across oceans and borders. Everything in that mall is shipped there, often thousands of miles. If Carousel Mall were to be truly green, they would be talking about building a Gap factory in one of the city's many brownfields.

3. Malls are artificial places. Carousel claims that it will build a miniature Italian summer in its expanded grounds. Now, like all Central New Yorkers, during the winter I wouldn’t mind occasionally jumping into Florence in June. Especially when I’m shoveling and snow has gotten into my boots. But to actually reproduce it under a bubble is an unsustainable project. Part of being green is not just consuming green stuff, but in making our lives line up better with the natural cycles that surround us. The attempt to completely control our environments—through means like jacked-up AC, anti-biotic sprays—has caused innumerable problems (like summer brownouts and superbacteria resistant to anti-biotics) while never giving us the control we desire. Carousel is not only continuing this trend but ramping it up a notch with its promises of utopian summers in a CNY winter.

The key here is the idea that green-ness does not exist only at the point of sale. The things we buy in a mall have histories before they ever arrive at the store. The materials they were produced out of were extracted from some natural resource, which was then transported to be processed somewhere else which was then transported to be turned into a product somewhere else, which was then transported to a distribution center which was then transported to the mall. Malls are absolutely crucial in reproducing that type of economics and this is something that the Carousel Mall can never escape from, its built into its very fabric.

When I make this argument, my friends will often say, “but why make such a big deal, isn’t what Carousel is doing better than nothing?” The great religious teachers know that false piety is more dangerous to a faith than blasphemy: after all Jesus stood up to the pompous priests of his own faith, not the oracles of the Roman gods. When Carousel claims to be green it makes it more difficult for people to separate out what ‘green’ means. Carousel sucks at public monies set aside for green projects, cutting the supports out of real eco-friendly ideas. Moreover, it makes people complacent: “Carousel Mall’s green now, we don’t need to change other things.” Finally it distracts the energies of the people who are protesting it (such as this essay) who should be working on more productive tasks than attacking a mall expansion.

-Jesse

5 comments:

dlyn said...

Isn't being green staying home and not buying a lot of crap? :)

John Warren said...

Holy Cow! You're still with us! I've missed your post.

You should check out my new blog New York History when you get a chance.

I'm also having a hard time with the alleged greening of corporate America - it's a lot of nonsense.

York Staters said...

Dlyn-
Basically, yeah. Though some stuff is necessary--I wouldn't want to face a Syracuse winter without a coat--we certainly don't need malls for that.

John-
I'm alive and well though other projects have been distracting me for a while. I do miss the blog though. Thanks for the greetings, good to hear from you.

-Jesse

Anonymous said...

"Even if they build everything from penthouse suites to urinals out of recycled toothpaste containers and power their buildings by organic, free-range, cruelty-free hamsters running on little wheels for union wages."

Hahahhaha, oh man, Jesse. I haven't checked out your blog in a lil while, nice to see you're writing again :)
~Alia

Anonymous said...

I worked in that mall last winter, and the very large bookstore I worked at didn't even have a recycling container for soda bottles/cans. EVERYONE threw them away...And when I asked they wouldn't let me bring one in... The manager told me it would just get all thrown together wherever the trash gets taken off too. The only green they're the capital of is Money... and ugly paint.