Print Edition: October 9, 2013
Back in 2011, then-mayoral candidate Bruce Banman (amid the usual topics municipal politicians are expected to discuss) offered a vision of a city that didn’t exist. Abbotsford: to be one day as old as Paris, and match his campaign speech describing towering, beautiful architecture and solved sprawl. Ideals and politicians being what they are, we haven’t heard much of anything from Banman when it comes to remapping the city in the two years since his election, but there is something coming around the corner that is impossible to ignore.
Highstreet mall, currently in the middle of its phased opening, will be fully functional by Christmas.
Of course it will be.
Like it or not, intended or not, while the new Abbotsford hospital was the city’s most tangible public addition during George Peary’s run as mayor, Banman’s term brings a mall.
The first and perhaps only real benefit to people living in the Fraser Valley is the number of jobs, not “created,” but available because a number of corporations have deigned to open additional retail outlets in the area. But quantity is enough to matter now, and it’s likely the average student already knows a friend or two that will benefit in this way, so it sounds good, even if it’s more of the same.
Advertisements have started to flood the Fraser Valley with phrases like “Highstreet will provide Fraser Valley residents with a new and exceptional experience,” which, like any advertisement, is only as good as its ability to make you laugh at its idiocy. Highstreet is anchored by a massive parking lot, a Walmart, a London Drugs, and an overpriced movie theatre. It’s a Monopoly piece. Some effort is made to point out there will be smaller boutiques and quasi-local offerings, but anyone who has ever been in a mall knows these are merely the less prominent, more interchangeable parts of the same block of storefronts.
The point has been there since this was announced years ago: Abbotsford already has a mall and a Walmart district and a movie theatre. But Shape Properties, the corporation behind Highstreet, is counting on that not being enough, that it will be, as they call it, “destined to become one of the Fraser Valley’s favorite new gathering places.”
They’re also counting on students. The mall showed up at the opening week barbecue and concert series on the Abbotsford green with free gum, affixed with a label calling Highstreet “a breath of fresh air.” Even horrible advertisement is advertisement, and even a student with anti-capitalist ideas has a basic need for convenience.
This is where the performance of the mall comes in, and the city’s role. Highstreet is located out near the Fraser Valley Auto Mall, where no one is ever going to find themselves in the neighbourhood. There are plans to improve public transit to the area, but the real audience, and the reason for the parking lot, is contingent on two factors: Abbotsford and Highway 1.
The real “addition” to Abbotsford is that Abbotsford, finally, has that series of familiar fluorescent signs floating above trees to passersby on the freeway. To paraphrase transit writer Nathan Pachal, now you can shop in Abbotsford while completely avoiding going into Abbotsford.
No mall would completely bank on people passing through, so there’s still a projection that involves Abbotsford residents driving or taking the bus to this place to buy things already available at slightly less shiny locations.
An article, but basically an advertisement, appeared in the September 23 issue of the Abbotsford News about the new theatre – the prime attraction, the truly new thing. Naturally, it will play exactly the same movies, charge the same $7+ for popcorn kernels and salt, but, and here’s the perk: ticket prices will be higher, so you can get larger seats and a larger menu. With progress like this, there’s a chance it will be almost as good as your living room.
Reading around, it’s hard to find much opposition. People know enough about “made in” tags and corporate influence to be offended on principle, but without any change in action. The jobs, sure, are nice, but does it matter if they’re all dead-end? Highstreet is an opportunity for familiar companies to extract more out of consumers – another place to rush to on Christmas Eve. But it’s also a place, at least due to location, that it’s easy to say no to.