Thursday, April 12, 2007

Race, Crime, and the Shopping Mall

The big news this week has been the sale of the Medley Centre in Irondequoit. To the uninitiated, this is the property formerly known as the Irondequoit Mall. Remember the signs on the 104 Expressway -- "Welcome to Irondequoit, Home of Irondequoit Mall;" those were the days, my friends. In a perfect example of much ado about nothing, the sale has touched off a modest controversy locally. The current owner, Adam Bersin, was given hefty incentives through the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency (COMIDA) to redevelop the property just a couple of years ago and it now appears that Bersin has made quite a hefty profit on the deal. The popular perception is that he did very little to deserve it; apparently Steve & Barry's, Target, and O'Boticario are not terribly well-respected in our humble burg. Some blowhards are going so far as to call it a swindling of Monroe County taxpayers.

As you well know, I'm all for criticizing COMIDA. This agency seemingly does whatever it can to harm the inner city and waste our tax dollars on increasing the ranks of dental hygienists. However, sometimes they do get it right. The fact is that the Medley Centre was incredibly distressed and, without the time and money that Bersin put into it, the mall would probably be abandoned and deteriorating today. While it is far from a bustling mecca of commerce, it has been stabilized and given a new lease on life. The new owner, Scott Congel of Syracuse-based retail magnate Pyramid, claims to have a $135-million loan to further redevelop the property. Despite the recent announcement of Bon-Ton's closing, I think this property has a bright future. Of course, I'm not a racist, classist, brainwashed dirtbag.

You see, the problem with the then-Irondequoit Mall wasn't the selection of stores or the design and layout of the property, it was the appearance of a large percentage of its clientele. The sad fact is that the demise of Irondequoit Mall can be entirely attributed to the unfortunate mental disease known as prejudice. One need only read the comments on the Democrat and Chronicle's chat boards to see how alive and well racial and class prejudice is in America's suburbs. It is plainly obvious that white suburbanites began to avoid Irondequoit Mall because there were more minorities and lower-income individuals shopping there than in Greece, Henrietta, or Victor. It's the same reason the suburbs grew and are still growing, white and/or higher-income folks do not want to brush shoulders with minorities and/or poor people. Like it or not, it's the truth.

The common refrain heard regarding the problems with Irondequoit Mall tend to focus on crime and gangs. True enough, at Irondequoit Mall you were more likely to encounter groups of five or more black city kids walking together than you would at Eastview. People don't realize that calling a gathering of young black kids a gang is wildly racist. You rarely hear the same insinuations when a group of eight white kids from the suburbs walk through a mall. While these black city kids may have been doing nothing other than hanging out with friends and sharing time away from the often-difficult environment in which they reside, these same white suburban kids were shoplifting, destroying merchandise, pouring detergent in the fountains, breaking into cars, drinking and smoking at the entrances, and harrassing your teenage daughters. I should know, I was once one of these precious suburban white kids. Thank you, America, for turning the other cheek to my actions; I guess I should have played for Duke lacrosse.

Furthermore, from what I understand, Marketplace Mall has always been the leader when it comes to crimes committed on mall property. Irondequoit only felt less safe because it was more Karl Kani than Karl Lagerfeld. I know I'm beating a dead horse with this rant, but shit like this really pisses me off. As News 10NBC pointed out last night, even Eastview Mall has its troubles with crime. Three drug arrests in one day; I guess we need to build a new mall even further out so that suburbanites can feel safe.

If you're like me, you hate shopping malls. They pretty much symbolize everything that is wrong with this country. But as much as I hate to admit it, they provide a good cross-section of middle America. What happened to Irondequoit Mall is what continues to happen in America's communities every day. We as a nation are growing further apart. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is getting squeezed at both ends. City neighborhoods are dying while downtowns are becoming playgrounds for the rich. Inner-ring suburbs are dying too, as more minorities and/or poor people begin their trek out of the city and the existing white population must move to the next suburban outpost. This nation is heading for collapse if we do not rethink our way of life. Hopefully, rising gas prices and unrelenting global warming will finally force this lifestyle change. I think I'll just save myself the headache and avoid the malls as best I can.