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Let’s (not) go to the mall

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.



By Michael Scoular (The Cascade) – Email

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.

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  1. Dustin Froese

    October 10, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    The author of the article above seems to be encouraging people to avoid the new Highstreet shopping centre because the jobs it creates are not entry points into careers, the range of stores somewhat excludes local fare, and the merchants are poised to extract revenue from customers.
    While I admire Scoular’s attempt to address potential problems, the only solution he offers is to avoid the new mall. In my experience, such a tactic will only guarantee the failure of the new mall, resulting in the loss of newly created jobs, wasting the resources of the newly constructed mall and a general halt of business that could spread through the community.
    The new jobs created by the Highstreet development are predominantly retail type jobs. People who work in retail are incredibly important in the fabric of the local economy. They are the smiling faces that greet us when we enter their stores, they are the ones that solve problems and assist customers. I think these kinds of jobs are perfect for students who wish to work in another field but are not yet qualified to do so because they lack the required education. To me, it looks like the managers of Highstreet have recognized this and have reached out to Abbotsford’s student community in an effort to begin such mutually beneficial relationships.
    In my opinion, the new Highstreet mall is quite attractive (aesthetically speaking). It hosts a good variety of interesting exterior finishes and large glass storefronts. Even the signage is elegant and tasteful. Where gaudy signage could have been installed a well designed company name or logo can be found; A gesture that speaks volumes towards the care taken to ensure that Highstreet is an appropriate and contributing presence to the Abbotsford environ. Wide pedestrian pathways, large tree planters, outdoor seating areas and a children’s playground are some of the amenities that Highstreet has built to make their shopping experience a more human one. And, while Highstreet is not the penultimate model of our current vision of the ideal marketplace, it has taken large strides towards such an idealistic vision while ensuring that it can remain profitable and in business for many years to come. I think this stable yet sensitive model is perfect for a growing community like Abbotsford.
    Abbotsford’s economy is a complex system of companies and businesses that all rely on people, who are the lifeblood of the whole system. As I understand it, our success as individuals is aided by the success of the collective population. Consequently, economic failures also extend beyond their perceived borders. So, I will encourage all of you to go visit highstreet and experience it for yourself. Enjoy a coffee, watch the kids play or take in a movie with friends and family. It most certainly has the potential to be a healthy and vibrant part of our community, but this can only happen if our individual attitudes are hopeful and willing to make this happen. Vilifying Highstreet is a quick way to ensure its demise- a sad future that can only negatively affect the rest of us.

  2. Trevor B.

    October 10, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    This was a really well written article. Thank you for voicing the opinions of those of us who aren’t capitalist boot lickers.

    Entry point to careers? Was that comment written by the manager of Highstreet® himself? Come on Dustin, how are minimum wage retail jobs a benefit to anyone’s career? You can go from a $10.25/hr cashier to a salaried manager who ends up making less than that per hour due to all the hours you must work? The large corporations that make up the vast majority of that mall benefit from people willing to give up their precious time for peanuts much more than the other way around. I really don’t understand the opinion that these huge companies are doing anyone any favours here. If that was truly the case, their wages would be double what they are now. All those minimum wage, part-time jobs, HOORAH!

    The plain and simple crux of the matter is that the mall was built away from most of the population of Abbotsford. Who in their right mind will drive farther to buy the same cheap Chinese goods from a place with nicer signage?

    I think the only real benefit to shopping there instead of Seven/West Oaks is the lack of seedy people hanging around it. Too bad I’m not scared enough of crackheads and hookers to drive 10 extra minutes to go buy shit.

  3. Jason

    October 11, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Trevor, I don’t believe Dustin was himself claiming that the jobs provided by Highstreet were “entry points to careers” at all. As to the nature of retail work, there’s certainly a place for jobs with low entry qualifications. As well, many of those companies do seek to benefit people’s long-term careers; an example would be the tuition benefits employees of Starbucks receive. Regardless of how you feel about large corperations, there’s plenty of people who depend on those minimum wage jobs to get by, whether they be students or people who didn’t choose to pursue post-secondary education. Whether they should be paid more than they are is a totally different discussion.

    As to the mall being built away from “most of the population of Abbotsford”, it’s interesting to note the 2011 Abbotsford census data for this (see question 3: There’s a significant population of people living west of Clearbrook Road, to whom the Highstreet Mall would be more or equally convenient to Sevenoaks. To say that no one would find themselves in the neighbourhood of the mall, or to say that it was built away from most of the population of Abbotsford is maybe true of those who live in the eastern part of the city, but there are at least 35,000 people who would likely disagree. Perhaps you yourself do not find it convenient, but that does not mean it had no benefit.

  4. Christopher DeMarcus

    October 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I avoid the new mall because it’s boring and creepy.

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