An Analysis of Rob Shields's Essay Social Spatialization and the Built Environment

Categories: Sociology
  • Shields, Rob., 1989. Social Spatialization and the built environment: The West Edmonton Mall. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 7: 147-64.

Shields article explores numerous aspects of social spatialization and the environment of the West Edmonton Mall. The development of this world class tourist attraction became the “largest, comprehensive tourist attraction ever built in the universe” (Shield, 150). The city of Edmonton needed a world class tourist attraction, needed a place were people would come to instead of going to other cities in the world to find the same thing.

In this article Shield’s provide a well analyzed and clear setting towards on how the Mall is becoming a substitute for the Street, and the contrast between the mall users or more specific ‘post-shoppers’ and ‘mall rats’. One of the first point Shields mentions is the architecture of the mall, how the exterior is created with concrete and brick, and inside there is a bricolage of historicist recreations and high tech fantasy for example, a water park, ice rink, roller coaster, a three hundred and fifty room hotel and streetscapes’ replica such as “Europa Boulevard”, and New Orleans’s Bourbon street.

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The Mall is built “under one roof” to offer the participants worry free of the weather conditions. The creation of this mall followed the same typology for other malls across North America, to have “two anchor department store at each end of a long street of specialty shops” (Shield, 150). Furthermore, Shields explains the reason of success for the mall it “defies conventional marketing wisdom” (Shields, 151).

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The development of the mall started at the right time during the decline in the oil industry in Alberta, and in turn it became a huge success, in 1987 it became the third best tourist attraction to visit respectively behind Disney World and Disneyland, that year the mall drew 9.14 million tourists, who spent over three hundred million dollars (Shields, 151). The mall can be a place for social interaction. It represents a new era of ‘space’ elaborating the practice of flanerie (strolling), according to Lefebrve this constructs space of representation. The mall can be viewed as “play space’ which allows the consumer to engage in a full fun day of shopping or sightseeing and abandoning themselves from the problems of the outside world. The mall’s objective was to create a place were the consumers can view real images so they would not have to go somewhere else to get them however, the mall has nothing that represents the surrounding environment of Edmonton nor Canada such as the Rocky Mountains. Further into the article Shields becomes more analytical toward the usage and users of the mall, stating are all users of the mall shoppers? This raises the problem of reception and mediation of the mall by its users (Shields, 154). According to Shields, West Edmonton Mall represents a spatial ensemble which both encourages and requires a specific type of ‘crowd practice’ for commercial viability. The author here is demonstrating the contrast of behavior of today’s flaneur to the 19th century flaneurs, because today’s consumer crowds are more of a wandering type.

West Edmonton Mall promises its consumers and experience of a life time, however the Mall is built “out of borrowed and artificial attractions which displace genuine attractions and authenticity” (Shield, 158). Which further develops on North America problem of “images of reality elsewhere” (Shield, 158), most major attractions in North America such as Las Vegas are filled with images of elsewhere.

Shields address the issue of difference between the mall experience and the street experience. Shields explain how in malls business deals are struck and social relationships are made as they are in the street cafes of Europe. The indoor experience brings a new meaning of flanerie, and a place for people to hangout. Shields uses the United States as an example how malls are the most frequented public spaces, even for non shoppers. West Edmonton Mall and other malls have become popular private venues for underage teens. Most malls are filled more with window shoppers rather than actual shoppers. However, since the mall is a private owned space a shopper can not dwell on the fact the he or she are able to act freely in the mall, such as sitting down on the floor rather on the bench or a seat, this action would result in the immediate attention of a security guard, as Gladstone describes in Canada, property rights take priority over human right and freedoms.

Shields draws upon the issue of liminality or carnivalesque, the difference between the both of them, liminality is tightly ritualized were as carnivalesques represents the inversions or discarding of social codes and hierarchical norms. A malls success just like West Edmonton Mall is based on its users.

Ultimately, the key factor for the success of mall is based on its user, and the approach the user has towards the mall. It is here were Shields mentions “post shoppers” which in contrast relates to “mall rats” or the way he interrupts it “passive dupes”. ” Post shoppers are defined as flaneurs that act as consumers however in a “complex, self-conscious mockery” manner.

Look at post-modernisim and talk about contrast of spaces of the mall and the activities they allow compare to the streets.

  • Van de Ven, Lisa., Sept. 2001. Shopping malls must find new niche: Big box stores a big threat. Financial Post: 15.

This article written by Lisa Van de Ven discusses the problem with shopping malls of today and how ‘big box’ stores are the result of this issue. Big box stores can now be found through suburbs and through out the city. They offer many different types of merchandise, the aisle of the store can sometimes be as long as a street has convenient parking outside and best of all offer good deals to the consumer. According to Lisa the big box stores were first introduced 15 years ago. Wal-Mart, Sport Mart, Winners, and Home Depot are all examples of box stores. For owners these stores are better economically because there cheaper to build, cost less to run, and on top there are no rental fees, the stores can produce its own image. Consumers rather shop at box stores because it save them the hassle of walking through a mall to get what they desire.

The creation of these box stores has resulted in the change of retail business and the way retail business is done. Although, according to Dr. Ken Jones, director of the Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity at Ryerson University, 40% to 50% of all shopping within Canada is still done in shopping malls. However, the malls are still at risk, they may never die down but they must change the way of business, for example Dr. Jones mentions how malls such as Yorkdale Shopping Center, Eaton Center, and Scarborough Town Center in Toronto will continue to prosper because of their located in the heartland of the city, were there surrounded by high density traffic and high density areas. Dr. Jones believes one of the main reasons for falling of the shopping mall, is that each mall offers the same store, and in order to prosper again they need to change. Dr. Jones believes that malls should become more diverse and aware of the community surrounding them, and only cater to them. He mentions Ethnic malls that cater only to a specific ethnic community, and as well as lifestyle centers, that offer top fashion clothes and would only cater to the higher-income individual. He believes in the near future these type of malls will appear more, moreover they need to appear in order to survive. Another issue Dr. Jones raises is the growth of urban communities and most shopping centers are located in the suburbs.

Stuart A. Smith, an associate with commercial real estate firm CB Richard Ellis, states that shopping centers are stuck in the 50’s concept of shopping centers, and have been around far too long. Smith also mentions the same issue as Dr. Jones, about the growing urban communities and the raise of townhouse and condominiums living, in result he believes no one would want to travel to the suburbs for a shopping mall.

Both Dr. Jones and Smith see eye to eye on the fact that shopping malls should not be located within the suburbs, because of the traffic and noise it creates. Dr. Jones states the Canada should and will follow the US’s approach, having a shopping mall integrated into the community that surrounds it. These Urban Mall will offer a more pleasurable experience of shopping, not a traditional mall that is integrated with housing and roads.

Ultimately, big box stores will continue to prosper and spread through out Canada, already Edmonton and Toronto have the biggest numbers of box store, there are 500 box stores alone in the greater Toronto area. As long as consumers keep shopping at box stores more will open up, Smith states: “Retail follows the consumer. Developers usually think ‘if you build it, they will come”. Shopping malls now must take these factors into perspective in order to achieve the status they are thriving for.

  • Kershaw. June 1994. Buying retail: shoppers spend less time in malls than ever before. Here’s why shopping centre investments still make sense. B.C. Business Magazine, v.22(6): 50.

This article written by Kershaw is based more on a financial aspect, and how and why shopping malls are losing money however, in the same time still making money. Kershaw’s article is based on a article written by Harris Gordon, a consultant with the Boston office of Deloitte & Touche, in the current edition of his firm’s publication The Retail Advisor. Gordon’s article points out several troubling trends in the US retailing. Kershaw, however believes if the fundamentals of retailing are so bad why are shopping center doing so well? Gordon statistics are based on US retailing. Gordon states that since 1970, retailing spending as percentage of disposable income has dropped to 45 per cent from 50 per cent. Moreover, disposable incomes remains plateau and income taxes are rising and the same with GST, meanwhile the cost of purchase are raising in result. Other issues raised are the population growth rates slowing in suburban communities, and aging population is increasing, the end result is demand for services and products will decline.

Shoppers are not “called super shoppers as they once were” (Kershaw), they are spending less time and money in shopping malls, Gordon states that the number of consumers that stop in stores have been cut in half. The outcome, more retail space is available now then in 1970, “in most communities overbuilding is a huge problem” (Kershaw).

The article mentions how its more trendy to shop at block store such as Wal Mart, Target, Home Depot, Nordstorm and etc… because of the lower prices, which allows consumer to save money.

Although retail is dropping Kershaw, mentions he will always invest in retail, because he believes one day retailing in shopping centers will get back on track. Kershaw raises the issues brought up by Gordon to Randy Scharfe, executive vice-president, shopping centers with Bramalea. According to Kershaw Scharfe’s company is consider to be a well- managed shopping center portfolio of outstanding quality. Scharfe was not able to respond to Gordon statistics; however he mentioned that in Canada right now urban shopping centers are doing well because there are starting to cater the community that surrounds them, rather than the suburban malls which are declining. Scharfe’s uses Calgary and Winnipeg as example of urban malls that are doing well in the retail business and have never done this well before. Scharfe’s view towards block stores, is that there not threat to him, however these types of stores has lead him to change certain concepts that affect their business, for example hardware and food were taking out of his shopping center, and more soft good and fashion retailing are in. He also take a low-rent anchor tenant and replaces it with a series of smaller hightenants. And in Bramalea’s regional malls, vacancies are falling, lease rents are rising and tenant sales are increasing at surprisingly strong rate” (Kershaw).

Ultimately, Kershaw, states that over a certain time period shopping centers will become dominant again, and for an investor to be patient because in the end the retail business is a good place to invest. Or is it? Critical Component: The three articles I choose offer three different views towards the shopping mall. In the first article Shields delivers an argument relating to the issues toward the space of the shopping mall more specifically West Edmonton Mall and how it is used by the consumers. Furthermore, he develops an argument between the different types of users such as the ‘post shopper’ or the ‘mall rats’ and the ‘flaneurs’ and how each user affects the surrounding environment of the mall. He compares the indoor mall, with the traditional street shopping of the 19th century. West Edmonton Mall was created in order to increase tourism in Edmonton, they wanted a world class tourist attraction.

Works Cited

  1. Kershaw. June 1994. Buying retail: shoppers spend less time in malls than ever before. Here’s why shopping centre investments still make sense. B.C. Business Magazine, v.22(6): 50.
  2. Shields, Rob., 1989. Social Spatialization and the built environment: The West Edmonton Mall. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 7: 147-64.
  3. Van de Ven, Lisa., Sept. 2001. Shopping malls must find new niche: Big box stores a big threat. Financial Post: 15.

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An Analysis of Rob Shields's Essay Social Spatialization and the Built Environment. (2021, Sep 10). Retrieved from

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