To a large extent, Gardner does not think that the development of high-tech shopping centers is a bad thing. However, he is quick to acknowledge that certain problems have been brought by the phenomenon although these can be tolerated by the consuming public.
Gardner believes that a large number of criticisms brought out against upmarket retail centers are idealistic in nature. In other words, opponents of the entire retail industry usually hold unrealistic points of view that fail to adequately explain why such a phenomenon is so ‘evil’. For instance, the socialist school of thought propagates the view that any act of consumption is negative and that society must strive towards production.
This school of thought is propagated by anti-capitalist notions that perceive high-end retail stores as depictions of the ills created by capitalism. The problem with such an assumption is that it fails to acknowledge any benefits that can be derived from consumption. Therefore such a theory has been dismissed by Gardner.
Furthermore, this analyst believes that even other opponents of the retail boom fail to offer satisfactory explanations on why high-tech shopping is such a bad thing. For instance, he criticizes left-centered thinkers’ perspectives on the matter as this group has failed to consider some of the new dynamics that are affecting British shoppers. These proponents claim that retail centers have been designed to manipulate shoppers into continuously keeping them in business by buying their commodities and making them rich.
Gardner strongly objects to such views because they rest on the assumption that shoppers have no mind of their own or that they can be tossed from left to right by whoever pleases. This view is clearly biased as pointed out by the latter author. Buyers have the power to reject or accept popular notions as it is well within their right to do so. The nullification of these ideas by Gardner further indicates why he does not think that retail growth is such a negative development.
Gardner continues to critic fairly modern assertions made against the retail boom. For instance writers such as Warpole believe that the growth of shopping centers leads to the dilapidation of social life by emphasizing the divide between the rich and the poor. This causes increases in crime rates since such factors are a form of rebellion against the have-nots’ inability to participate in the retail industry.
Upon further analysis, one can see that there is a problem with such an argument. First of all, many retail boom critics have asserted that high-tech shopping centers will lead to the demise of civilian life as we know it yet none of their predictions have come true. Aside from that, such a perspective is extremely pessimistic in nature as it only considers the worst-case scenario. Gardner, therefore, affirms his position on shopping centers by nullifying yet another argument against the industry.
Gardner goes to great lengths to describe the new high-tech shopping centers. For instance, when describing one of the malls opened in a street in London he asserts that “it is done in angular, ’raw tech’, neo-constructivist style by Crighton design, with a giant ‘drawbridge’ spanning the central space”. He does this in order to capture the welcoming nature of the shopping malls that make them suitable locations for interactions and meetings. This is especially in light of the unfriendliness found in the British outdoors. In this regard, the author believes that the retail boom is actually necessary in fulfilling a real need in society i.e. the provision of a meeting venue for people who have increasingly difficult times trying to do so in other parts of their cities.
Aside from the latter, the author also believes that this retail boom is a natural response to the dreary structural conditions of urban life. Most urban dwellers cannot afford to live in well-designed buildings and the only form of luxury that befits their income status is a visit to one of the high-tech shopping centers. Failure to improve such conditions by concerned authorities has given the masses few alternatives for indulging in luxurious lifestyles. Consequently, the retail boom was fuelled by this need for short-term gratification. Gardner, therefore, asserts that shopping centers ought not to be treated as negative things since they offer the British population what other public institutions cannot.
Gardner further believes that the retail boom was not a creation of the British masses per se; it was caused by economic forces beyond their control. This implies that it would be improper to demonize the trend since no single group of individuals actually caused it. In demonstrating this, he cites examples such as the inflation that occurred in the past decade. Citizens got to learn that saving their money was not always going to protect them. On top of the latter, rising unemployment levels led to an unrestricted spending ‘bug’ since individuals wanted to rebel against the system that imposed on them such a heavy burden. Therefore, one can say that Gardner supports the retail boom.
How far I agree with Gardner
As much as Gardner seems to dismiss anti-capitalist principles, there are still certain aspects of this phenomenon in his explanations. For instance, the author affirms that most middle-class or low-class Britons engage in shopping in order to rebel against the powers of the day. He further claims that consumers try as much as possible to defy such powers by focusing on their consumption role rather than their production duties. These ideas mirror ideas from the socialist school of thought where adherents believe that production is progressive while consumption is not. In the latter, the proletariat often resorts to unconventional means to oppose domination by owners of capital. In the retail boom era, this rebellion has been staged through excessive spending. I, therefore, disagree with Gardner on this argument as it reflects the same socialist ideas that he firmly opposed before.
On the other hand, I concur with some of Gardner’s sentiments especially on the helplessness of the masses with regard to social and living conditions. The author believes that the retail boom has been propagated by some situations beyond the control of the masses such as poor housing infrastructure.
It is very logical to take up such a position as this is demonstrated through basic rules of demand and supply. The retail industry had been offering products and services prior to decade 80 yet demand for the goods was not as high. Consequently, suppliers responded to this low demand by offering fewer shopping options. Therefore the country was stuck on a low equilibrium. However, upon the introduction of a new component into the equilibrium, demand for shopping centers went up. The new component, in this case, was poor housing infrastructure – inadequate service in a complementary sector led to increased demand in another area and this is why the retail sector grew tremendously. Aside from the controversy on sociological theories, the rest of Gardner’s arguments seem quite weighty as they are derived from basic economic theories.