WOW! It’s a… big shop

MY granny and grandad had a house. A biggish one by its time. On one side there was a bar and on the other there was a shop. In the shop there was a Post Office as well. As I say, it was a house. Nowadays it would be called a Town Centre.

You don’t have to be a raging leftie to find the attempt by commercial interests to appropriate our civic space distasteful and a touch feudal.

Dundrum Big Shop opened last week to a mighty fanfare. Are we so utterly boring that the opening of a shop gets so much publicity? Maybe if it was the eighties when we hadn’t a bean, or hadn’t seen a new building in ten years, you could understand it. But after a decade of the Celtic Tiger with malls on every street corner and every motorway where’s the news value in another one?

It could, I suppose, be argued in journalist realism that a new shopping centre has more impact on people’s actual lives than the war in Iraq or the tsunami, but it doesn’t justify the attention given to a private commercial initiative.

There’s something rotten about this whole mall thing. It is a huge public space controlled by narrow commercial interests. Democracy stops at the door. No political campaigning or street protest or any activity which is not in the commercial interest of the owners is allowed. We get a Ronald McDonalisation of street theatre and street life. This is wrong and it shouldn’t be allowed to continue.

When a new private housing estate is built the streets are eventually handed over to the local council, to be ‘taken in charge’ as the process is called. The same should happen with these shopping centres. They are just too big to be a private concern outside democratic accountability.

Not enough debate is given over to whether these gigantic retail centres are good for the city. There is pressure on local authorities to grant permission because they get the rates and it creates local jobs. And there’s not enough debate on the effect on smaller and local retailers.

But then, maybe that’s too cerebral for the credit card generation.

The thing is… we own it

The reason these big shopping centres get built is that there are huge amounts of cash sloshing around in the international financial institutions like banks and building societies.

This money is put there by people who have pension funds and savings. People like you and me.

The unfortunate thing is that when we put this money away, we have very little say in how it is invested. Do you know if your money is invested in the arms industry? Do you know if it is invested in businesses that have a poor environmental record or are exploiting poor people in the Third World? Do you care?

A lot of people do care and that is why they put their money into ethical investments. Even more people are demanding that the financial institutions make clear what they do with our money.

As we get wealthier our money will be whizzing around the world in search of a profit. Everybody should know where their money is going.