Things (Still) Happen at the Mall
Plus, Edward Hopper’s desolate urban visions and the view from Utopia, the Bronx
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On the surprisingly enduring resonance of the shopping center
by Piper French
Lately, I’ve been going to the mall. Specifically, I’ve been going to one of two sprawling shopping centers in Burbank, whose vacant downtown seems to be entirely taken up by them, and only for the movies. These have been uneasy experiences: I spent the second half of a recent film gripped with the absolute certainty that someone was going to barge in with a gun and light the place up. A few weeks later, I got lost on the way back to my car, wandering from parking lot to identical parking lot and cursing the decision to set foot in one of these complexes in the first place.
The thing is, though, I barely registered that I had been at the mall at all until I began to read Meet Me by the Fountain, the design critic Alexandra Lange’s 2022 treatise on the mall’s past, present, and future. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that I was participating in a time-honored American tradition—mall-going—or that these places I associated mainly with dissociation could be endowed with a rich and complicated history, that they could mean something different to other people. Meet Me by the Fountain straightened me out.
Read more about the shopping mall’s wealth of Proustian association here.
For Edward Hopper, New York was a fount of sights that he never tired of seeing or, indeed, painting.
by Sean Tatol
Edward Hopper is remembered as the great painter of New York’s classic era in the first half of the twentieth century, and so he is. But despite his reputation for the moody, noirish introspection of Nighthawks, the human figures on display in Edward Hopper’s New York at the Whitney Museum do little to suggest any actual interiority. On the contrary, the atmosphere of his paintings comes from the resolute impenetrability of his subjects; they may be dreaming, but we know only that we do not know their dreams. When you look back at it, Nighthawks isn’t as atmospheric as we recall: our memories of a melodramatic haze of smoke and fog are upset by a starkly lit and oddly antiseptic greasy spoon that seems more drained of ambience than suffused with it. Popular culture has pinned Hopper with a nostalgic association that is mostly missing from the paintings themselves, romanticizing a sense of midcentury isolation that was considerably less picturesque at the time.
Which is not to say that Hopper’s paintings are actually cold and unfeeling. They are neither.
Read more about the city’s most devoted portraitist here.
A pair of new books takes stock of Co-op City’s idealistic origins, brutal challenges, and lasting successes.
by Charlie Dulik
As the parable goes, after a group of blind men happens upon an elephant, each feels a different body part (a tusk, a trunk, a tail) and comes to a different conclusion about what the animal must be. None are fully correct, of course; the creature is some combination of their projections. When it comes to alternative models of mass housing in the United States, one could replace the allegorical elephant with Co-op City, the crown jewel of the country’s cooperative housing movement—in fact, the largest housing cooperative in the world, 15,300 units spread across thirty-five towers and 236 townhouses, home to roughly 45,000 residents.
In our adaptation of the parable, different stakeholders finger the massive development, built from 1966 to 1973 on the 320-acre site of a crumbled theme park, for something it was and wasn’t. To a collection of trade unions and housing advocates, Co-op City and the type of cooperative housing it exemplified would improve the lives of workers, build their collective consciousness, and loosen the foundations of a society premised on real estate speculation and the exploitation of the working class. To a host of politicians, developers, and capitalists, it was a pragmatic way to provide much-needed middle-income housing with minimal government intervention; it was less socialistic than public housing and reinforced the values of homeownership. To residents, it presented a rare opportunity for realizing high-quality, stable, affordable housing in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Which constituency got it right?
Read more about Co-Op City here.
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