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Let me tell you about a man called Victor Gruen.
Born in Austria, he moved to the United States
just before the Second World War broke out
and became an architect.
And he looked at the suburban sprawl that was taking over America
all the people just commuting back and forth, back and forth
between home and work in their cars, and thought that what they needed
was something like the old city centres and downtowns that he knew.
What he needed was a city centre for the suburban sprawl
and what he came up with was the idea for the shopping mall.
'Course, he had some more utopian vision for it.
He thought, oh, this is going to be wonderful,
there's going to be homes, and shops, and schools, and even hospitals,
all working together and being this new space.
Unfortunately, money and politics got in the way of his utopian visions
and what you ended up with, twenty years later when the idea crossed the Atlantic,
was this: Brent Cross Shopping Centre,
described by a friend of mine as "Hell on Earth on a Saturday".
It's the reason I've been driving around looking for a parking space for about half an hour.
Now, Victor Gruen did not want this.
He did not want these temples to consumerism
with every psychological trick in the book designed to get you to buy.
One of those psychological tricks got named after him:
the Gruen Transfer, the idea that there are a few seconds after you walk in
with all this new stimulus, where your brain just gets a little bit confused
and almost hypnotises you into buying more.
Doesn't matter whether it's true -- it's probably not, the evidence is shaky,
but what matters: it was named after him.
And at that point, he was railing against what he called
these "bastard" offspring of his original idea.
Well, this is what we've ended up with.
He died in 1980, at a point where there was a new shopping mall
opening in the United States roughly every week or so.
Which was not what he wanted...
...but things have changed.
Economic downturns and the rise of the internet
mean that now a lot of those old malls are closing down.
And the new spaces that are popping up in their path?
They're a lot more like his original designs.
They're pedestrianised high streets, and they're big, open spaces
with actual space to sit down that isn't just convincing you to buy.
From beyond the grave, Victor Gruen might have the last laugh.
Not that that helps me, when that guy just took the last parking space.
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