Author/entrepreneur Seth Godin posted on his blog today about the reinvigorated Xanadu, a huge shopping mall project in New Jersey. Triple Five, the company who created the gigantic Mall of America in a Minneapolis/St. Paul suburb, are taking over development of the stalled Xanadu shopping complex in New Jersey and they plan to rename it The American Dream Meadowlands. Seth speculates about the significance of the moniker and the goal it represents:
"Is this the best we can do? Shop?"
Good question. The developer pitches the project as an opportunity to create jobs and adds that it will drive tourism to the area. NJ Biz reports:
"Triple Five’s Mall of America attracts 42 million people a year, but 'we believe and are confident American Dream will be drawing 55 million visitors every year,' 40 percent to 50 percent of which will be tourists, [Dan Jasper, Triple Five spokesman] said. The local population surrounding Mall of America 'is insignificant' compared to that of New Jersey and New York, he said."
Of course, the attraction won't be just the projected 300 stores and fifty restaurants:
"The expansion will include a glass-domed indoor amusement park, an indoor water park, an indoor skating rink, bowling alley, mini-golf course and aquarium; Triple Five plans to retain the ski slope, outdoor observation wheel, performing arts center and 26-screen, 5,000-seat movie theater that already were part of the project plan."
And yet, I suspect that the people who currently show up at the Mall of America entertainment/retail venue and those who will show up at The American Dream will find shopping an integral part of their experience.
The American dream has long included a certain amount of stuff -- "a chicken in every pot," a bungalow with a white picket fence -- but the quantity of stuff that's included now has increased exponentially. It's not enough to have comfort; now we expect luxury. It's not enough to have what we need; now we want what we want -- and plenty of it.
The original American dream was focused on freedom from persecution. Have we abandoned all such noble goals? Have we stopped dreaming about providing affordable health care to everyone, a solid education for children in safe public schools, cities with fully functioning infrastructures? Or personal goals like sending your kids to college, having a meaningful career and a secure retirement? Has it all been reduced to wanting enough cash for a good time at the mall and a home crammed full of more stuff than we'll ever use, let alone need?
Life doesn't have to be a daily exercise in which we think only of serious responsibilities to our fellow man and our own survival. It's legal to have some fun, too! But how do we define the American dream now? Seth asked if shopping is the best we can do.
No. We can do better.