Saturday, November 29, 2003

I was doing the malls on McKnight Road in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, mostly for nostalgia purposes. I end up buying most gifts online these days. Shopping malls are, sad to say, twentieth-century institutions. I'm sure yinz have seen the "Dead Malls" website, right? Northway Mall is by no means a "dead" mall, but it's been on lifesupport as long as I can remember. It's been full of empty shops for at least the last twenty years. They keep renovating it, but the renovations don't generally take. The two tent poles holding up that sagging bladder of a mall are the cheap-movies multiplex on the second floor, and a Borders on the first floor. Eh. I kind of miss the old Northway. They used to have an enormous, two-story birdcage filled with dozens of songbirds. It must have generated a lot of bird dung; it certainly produced one hell of a lot of noise. You could hear it from one end of the second floor to the other.

Northway Mall now has a temporary, third tent pole. It's a library. Northland Library, the main public library for the North Hills, is apparently in the middle of a full-building renovation. Instead of simply putting the whole library into storage for the duration, somebody decided to put all of that empty retail space to use. They've hauled a cluster of tables, desks, and associated library-ish furniture into what was once a large, no-brand toy store, along with one heck of a lot of bookshelves. The librarians on duty insisted that the mall library represented the whole of Northland's holdings, which alarmed me because Northland had been a good-sized two-story library with far more books than could possibly be fit within a single room, no matter how large. I've since been reassured that they put a good share of the less-popular holdings into storage.

I find it amusing that they're using a failing example of twentieth-century commercial technology, the enclosed shopping mall, to house a still-vibrant exemplar of the height of 18th-century intellectual technology - the public lending library. It demonstrates that the blinkers of American zoning ordinances are removable, given enough imagination. I hope to one day see the increasingly-worthless strip malls and enclosed shopping malls of America turned to new, old purposes - housing, office space, or some day, back to the land itself.

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