Joan Didion on the Shopping Center, December 1975:

“‘The Shopping Center,’ the Urban Land Institute could exult in 1957, ‘is today’s extraordinary retail business environment…the automobile accounts for suburbia, and suburbia accounts for the shopping center.’ It was a peculiar and visionary time, those years after World War II to which all the Malls and Towns and Dales stand as climate-controlled monuments. Even the word ‘automobile,’ as in ‘the automobile accounts for suburbia and suburbia accounts for the shopping center,’ no longer carries the particular freight it did then: as a child in the late Forties in California I recall reading and believing that the ‘freedom of movement’ afforded by the automobile was ‘America’s fifth freedom.’ The trend was up. The solution was in sight. The frontier had been reinvented, and its shape was the subdivision, that new free land on which all settlers could recast their lives tabula rasa. For one perishable moment there the American idea seemed about to achieve itself via FHA housing and the acquisition of major appliances…

“I recall staying late in my pale blue office on the twentieth floor of the Graybar building to memorize David D. Bohannon’s parking ratios. My ‘real’ life was to sit in this office and describe life as it was lived in Djakarta and Caneel Bay and in the great chateaux of the Loire Valley, but my dream life was to put together a Class A regional shopping center with three full-line department stores as major tenants. That I was perhaps the only person I knew in New York, let alone the Conde Nast floors of the Graybar Building, to have memorized the distinctions among ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’ shopping centers did not occur to me…my interest in shopping centers was in no way casual. I did want to build them. I wanted to build them because I had fallen into the habit of writing fiction, and I had it in my head that a couple of good centers might support this habit less taxingly than a pale blue office at Vogue.”

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