She Took The Words Right Outta My Mouth
puts it absolutely perfectly when she berates outdoor mall developers for trying to convince us that their creations are in any way akin to a thriving downtown area:
Fake-street shopping/lifestyle plaza dealies
"Santana Row is one of those fake-street shopping/lifestyle plaza dealies. They're all over the place here. See, it's like a thriving downtown, without all the poor people and non-chain stores!" Going Jesus hit the nail right on the head there. When I went to eat with my family at the Atkins Park in Smyrna Market Village, out in the suburbs west of Atlanta, it was charming, but something just seemed sort of Disney, like it was just a facade of a downtown, a hollywood set. Every single building in the Smyrna "downtown" was brand new, and if you got to the end of it it was just field beyond. Very surreal. I don't know what they did with the old downtown Smyrna. Bulldozed it all? I think the main difference (besides the lack of poor people) is the lack of historic buildings, memories, family owned businesses. Coming from small towns, when a charming (or even slightly run down) downtown has those things, you can actually feel the difference. That's what makes a downtown different than a mall. Dressing a mall up as a downtown is just putting lipstick on a pig.
Amen, sister. That pig can have a Crate & Barrel and a Whole Foods and a Barnes & Noble and a Claire's Boutique all it wants, but it ain't no downtown. There's nothing organic or community or real about it. When you put in a public square, a library, a free theatre and other elements that one can participate in without spending a dime, then you can start calling yourselves a "lifestyle plaza." But until "lifestyle" becomes synonymous with "shopping" (and God forbid!), let's just call it a MALL, okay?