Saturday, September 20, 2008

In Search of the Western Sector - Eden Shopping Centre reviewed

Returning to Newlands was a peculiar experience. I always thought it would be – maybe that’s why I delayed it so long. I attempted to adopt an air of professional detachment which was only partially successful as the project was always a personal journey – as Cathy had printed on the large scale Significant Sites map ‘This is no project – this is my life’.

Eden they have somehow branded this red brick consumerist behemoth, a moloch that will devour our children. A retail concentration camp, shoppers with bar codes burnt into their retinas, the whole scene directed by George A. Romero or John Carpenter – the no-comedy, spoof-free remake.

The development process that we documented in our project was one of ultra-artful deception from start to finish – a slick PR-savvy campaign by arch corporate colonists, like the alien invaders in the 80’s sci-fi earth invasion ‘V’ who adopt the guise of friendly attractive humans in order to seduce the human race and offer us amazing visions of the future they will bring us – then once we have given ourselves over to them, lowered our defences they remove their masks revealing their reptilian form and their true intention to farm us for food to feed their insatiable appetite. David Icke would probably close the circle and claim that the head honchos at Multiplex and the quisling Council Leaders who sold out the town are in fact lizard-like shape-shifters, a genetic throwback to a master race who aim to enslave us poor innocent homo-sapiens.
I don’t agree with Icke about the lizard thing for the record. I met many of the people responsible for the ‘Horror of Newlands’ and they just looked like perfectly pleasant corporate suits, in much the same way that British colonial viceroys were often urbane, cultured souls. This didn’t prevent the brutality of imperialism – merely meant that it was administered by men who could relate it to the relevant precedent in the classical world. The mark of the colonist was to change the names of local landmarks, towns and villages. And so the Octagon has gone, that dark noxious place full of wonder – a piss-reeking reminder that shopping malls are places to be avoided at all costs. There was no deception with the old Octagon – it spelt it out for you ‘Shopping is Shit’. Where the Octagon still stands now the name reads ‘House of Fraser Eden’. The Octagon is erased from the collective memory – now there is only Eden. Shopping as Soma.

(a recreation of the tour of the site that I did with Cathy in 2004)

And so the Eden Shopping Centre was rationalised in terms of jobs and economic benefits. The havoc it would wreck on the psyche of the town, the scar it would gouge into its flesh was a concept they were unable to engage with. I presented this idea to both the architect of the scheme and the fella at Mulitplex – they simply didn’t have a vocabulary for the experiential qualities of space and place. That a building, especially a large lump of buildings could effect the way you feel, could influence your psychology. They had sophisticated models showing how to drive footfall through the mall, of how to enhance the shopping experience to maximise the consumer spend. But when confronted with the idea that a person might have an emotional response to such a place they were at a loss.

The evidence is there now – the gormless zombies listlessly perambulating from one chain-store to the next. The minimum wage jobs barely paying enough to cover the price of a double-caramel frappucino at BigBucks. The traffic on traction gliding from home to parking-space located conveniently close to the anchor store. The bus delivering you to your retail heaven. This other Eden that looks a lot like Hell to me.

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Blogger Vincent said...

Yes, I know what you mean but can't you accept that it's popular enough? The combination of shops seems wrong to me, too many jewellers and mobile-phones for example, but that's to be expected. It will settle down over the years. One could be snobbish but it is what much of Wycombe has been waiting for. I wrote about it in this post soon after it opened. I admit to not liking it much but that doesn't matter really. I live nearby, in a cheap victorian house in the factory district surrounded by immigrants mostly, in the street housing the mosque. So one adapts and learns to love.

"us poor innocent homo sapiens" have always been divided amongst those who seize power and those who just have to get on with it.

The consumerist behemoth is no doubt a moloch that will devour our children, but there are plenty of competing contenders for that honour, and probably always have been.

No, the Octagon is not erased from collective memory at all. You remember it well enough: give others the credit to be equally sensitive and memorious!

11:06 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say I empathize with Vincent, being in a similar geographic , demographic position in the Wycombe area. Sensitivity is not the perogative or sole ownership of the 'thinking' classes. It covers are peoples and regions.
The Eden project like nearly 100 % of all business was and is all about making money. It is a pity that most of the occupancy of the Centre seems nowadays to go to big Multinational or nationalfirms - it could be anywhere in the world - there is negligible local or English characteristics - all part of the enforced multiculturist global village environments much loved by politicians , planners and speculators but generally hated and resented by the general population.
Local identities and environments should be preserved, nurtured and sustained otherwise where are we all going when the resources run out ?

1:56 pm


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