Posted by butalidnl on 2 June 2009
In the Philippines, with its many malls scattered all throughout the country, the construction of a mall is almost routine. It is uncontroversial. But, in city where I live (Tilburg, the Netherlands), the plan to build a mall is so controversial that the city council has put the question to a vote. This coming Thursday, 4 June, we will be having a referendum on whether or not to put up a mall in the city.
Why all the fuss? Well, for one thing, malls are not common in the Netherlands. Actually, we do have a couple of shopping centers here that Filipinos could call malls, but the people here don’t call them that.
The opposition to the mall centers on two issues. The first issue is the competition that the mall will pose to existing shops. The shop owners in the central shopping district of Tilburg fear that their sales will suffer as a result of the mall. Then, the shop-owners in neighboring cities – through their elected officials, are also objecting quite vigorously. They fear that shoppers will be attracted to Tilburg, and shun their shops.
And then comes the issue of the environment. The mall is supposed to attract people from outside the city in order to be profitable. While the government will be setting up bus service from the train station to the mall, the bulk of the shoppers is expected to come by car. The mall will thus mean a lot of car trips, and thus increase pollution.
The construction and operation of the mall is claimed to harm the environment. The trees in the designated area will be cut down, and the mall itself will use up electricity, etc. In response to these kinds of criticism, the mall builders say that they are going to use environment-friendly techniques in the construction and operation of the mall. The parking area will even have recharging sites for electric cars.
Those in favor of the mall say that it will create jobs and increase the overall economic activity of the city. Tilburg, with its history as a working-class textile city, has left it with a drab image. With the mall and other developments, the city hopes to “brighten” Tilburg’s image. And many people, especially the younger generation, want the mall since it would be a nice place to go to.
Thoughts for the Philippines
Initially, I did not think much of the mall debate or referendum. But in the course of all the discussions, I think that I am getting the sense of why this is such a heated issue. And with this realization, I would like to reflect on the situation with malls in the Philippines.
Yes, malls are a nice place to go to, especially for the youth who want to have a place to hang out with friends. But what about the issues of the environment and the competition with other shops. In terms of competition with shops, I think the Philippine malls have learned to coopt the shopkeepers. There are even places provided for really small shops. It has become a complete experience, with shops, food, public shows, even religious services.
But the environmental impact of Philippine malls is much more destructive that that of the prospective mall in Tilburg. In the Philippines, the main environmental damage is in the operation of the mall itself – as a whole big enclosed air-conditioned space. This uses enormous amounts of electricity. And to think that this is not really necessary. It is possible for a mall to be designed in such a way as to use much less electricity. Think of heat exchangers which would recirculate the coolness, while using fresh air. Or, more plants and fountains. Or even lowering the cooling temperature a bit, so that it is merely comfortable and not cold.
With all these in mind, perhaps it would not be a bad idea to discuss the economic, environmental and social issues before a mall is set up anywhere in the Philippines. Perhaps even a local referendum would then make sense.