The above tweet is indicative of the fact that we at Mediolana have been looking at ourselves in the mirror – quite literally. But what was the purpose of our Creative Director & CSO’s rendezvous with a DSLR camera – and for once, with himself in front of the lens? All will be revealed; stay, as they say, tuned!
One of the more inspiring stories that we at Mediolana have come across in recent days is that of a shopping mall with a difference: Bikini Berlin (‘BB’). The six-floor structure, which is based near the German capital’s zoological garden, and which opened after redevelopment in April 2014, has won plaudits for its originality: the uppermost section of the mall comprises a 7,000m2 terrace with excellent views of the adjoining Tiergarten Park, and is accessible from street level. Within BB’s main hall are 19 ‘Bikini Boxes’ – pop-up stores in which independent retailers can set up shop for between three and 12 months. Experimentalism abounds: for four months in 2014, there were even social spaces within the mall where customers could play football.
And the customers have more than responded to this shopping-mall-as-public-space concept: nearly 500,000 thronged to Bikini Berlin in its first week. BB is a model that satisfies ‘arthouse’ impulses as well as the bottom line. After some contemplation, we think that London and its shopping options should strive to incorporate at least three key lessons from this remarkable paradigm:
- Take Risks. London as whole and its shopping centres in particular are hives of conformity. Identikit outlets increasingly populate all four corners of this city; indeed, those who do not know the UK’s capital particularly well could be forgiven for perceiving that one Caffè Nero-McDonald’s-Ryman-filled neighbourhood just merges into another. In many commercial areas it is rare to see anything other than a chain store. This risks making a vital part of the urban experience exceedingly boring – and exploitative.
- Stop Worshipping Luxury. London retailers seem to be increasingly divided into two camps: those which sell low-value trinkets which are broadly accessible to most demographic groups, and those which service the needs of the global mega-rich. The sheer prominence of the latter group of retailers is getting disturbing in a polarised city where 21% of workers are now earning less than a living wage. Planners and politicians need to incentivise the flowering of a different breed of suppliers.
- Encourage Relaxation. Far too many London shopping centres have virtually no concept of public space or civility – unless you want to spend lots of money quickly, these are not places where you would want to linger, with pathetic seating provision and brusque, impersonal service. Ultimately, this is a counterproductive strategy, and is just driving people to satisfy their retail needs online. A total redesign and reconceptualisation is the only thing that can save some London malls in what is, after all, a notoriously volatile sector.
Ever since the rise of Japan as a technological hyperpower in the second half of the twentieth century, it has been apparent that if ‘the future’ is being realised anywhere, it is East Asia: from the latest trends in communications to the robotisation of large sectors of the workforce, the world looks upon that region as a kind of oracle.
Therefore, the results of a new study authored by Seoul’s National Assembly Research Service into demographic trends in South Korea should be of interest to a wider audience beyond Korea’s borders. It posits that this digitally-defined, highly-industrialised nation of over fifty million people will be extinct by 2750, and that a number of its major cities will see their last-ever newborns grace the planet at some point in the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth centuries. More tangibly, South Korea will contract to a nation of just twenty million human inhabitants well within a century – a decline of over 60% on the present-day population.
Arguably the key reason why this report is so important is that is highlights the ‘irrationality’ of ‘rationality’, or at least some aspects of the hypermodern societies that virtually all countries are aiming to march towards. Universal education, urbanisation, economic specialisation and massive technological advances seem to be yielding populations which regard the basic business of self-replication as too expensive, messy and lacking in utility to bother with; but the net result is a much-reduced population which – ceteris paribus – can drastically reduce a nation’s standing in the world.
As a quick perusal of global geopolitics and economics will tell even the casual observer that demography does matter. The reason that China and India have large multinationals and SMEs alike dribbling insensibly is the same reason that they largely (though often quite wrongly) overlook countries with otherwise similar economic profiles such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Small European republics with similar birth rate patterns to South Korea and Japan risk resembling otherwise insignificant open-air museums à la Slavenka Drakulić’s memorable Euroskansen formulation. Policymakers everywhere would do well to consider the implications of this particular aspect of hypermodernity – or their successors in future generations might not have many compatriots left to discuss this issue with.