Princess Monkey over at Voices in the Wilderness writes perhaps the most thought-provoking blog story I’ve read in a long time. She describes an incident where she witnessed a harried mother beating a child on the street, only to be stopped by a street person named Jack. Pretty soon the police got involved:

Naturally Jack and the woman start talking at once and so, while the officer sorts them out, I give the little girl a woven cloth ball that I happen to have in my bag. Eventually, the officer asks if anyone else witnessed what happened. I relate what I saw, but the man who was with me at the corner says nothing. The officer asks Jack to wait while he takes the woman and little girl to talk by his car. I hug Jack, thank him, and start to leave (by now I am quite late). The other man accompanies me back across the street.

“What’s a pretty girl doing rubbing up against someone like that”, he asks me. As politely as I can, I explain that in my books, defenders of children deserve hugs. I tell him I know Jack and that I’m glad he took the actions that he did. I ask the man why he didn’t want to be a witness to the event. He says: “it wasn’t my business, and it was only a plastic bat anyway”. He says: “I see that guy on this corner begging for money — he’s in no position to criticize anyone”. I ask if he means that a person shouldn’t stick up for a child because they are poor. And he says “I betcha that woman goes to work everyday, which is more than I can say for him”.

For the record, Jack, the street person, who is on the street due to mental illness, and is otherwise harmless.

This story makes me feel several different emotions at once: sadness that the harried mother likely won’t see the error in her ways, anger at the jerk who believes that a man’s economic status defines his worth, but most of all admiration for the Princess for seeing beyond such prejudices and speaking out. I frankly doubt that I could have done as well, and the fact that there are some people who could do better than I gives me hope for this world.

(P.S. In the comments, Princess notes that the police took Jack’s version of the story seriously and referred the matter to Children’s Aid. No doubt Princess’ standing by as witness helped.)

A Question to my Readership

I hope you folks will participate in my poll, as I’m considering whether or not to change the behaviour of this blog. I’m fieldtesting a beta of Movable Type 3.2, and it offers a number of improvements in the way comments are handled and spam is filtered. So, I’m wondering if I should open up the comments on all of my posts again.

As good as the filters are, however, and as good as MTBlacklist is, I fear that doing so would put a big “spammers eat free!” sign on this website, and I don’t want that. This may become more of an issue in the coming months as (dare I hope) traffic on this site increases, so I’m wondering if I should require all people who’d like to comment to register with TypeKey, and thus enter a password before they comment on this website. The question is, is it too restrictive?

Signing up with TypeKey is quick and easy. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Read up on the service.
  2. Click on “Register”.
  3. Enter in a username, a preferred password, and how you’d like yourself to be identified on blogs.
  4. Enter in your first and last name and a valid e-mail address. This e-mail address will NOT appear on blogs you sign onto, so you don’t need to worry about spam.
  5. Enter in the confirmation code, and affirm that you are over 13 and agree to Typekey’s terms and services. Then click “Sign Up”.
  6. An e-mail will be sent to the address you gave them, containing an activation code. Paste that into the box provided and click “Continue”

And that’s it. You now have a TypeKey identity that you can use to post in all Movable Type weblogs that have TypeKey enabled.

I have TypeKey enabled, but since I also allow just anybody to comment, there’s no incentive for anybody posting here to sign up. The question is, if I change this, will you lose the incentive to comment on my blog? I care about your opinion, and if I get even a sizable minority saying they won’t comment here anymore, I won’t change my policy. So, have your say, and please vote:

The Slow Death and Transformation of the American Mall

This news item caught my attention in today’s Globe and Mail. Ignore the truly atrocious headline:

Manchu Woks away from mall expansion

Monday, July 25, 2005 Page B1

In early 2002, investor Michael Chan outlined an aggressive plan for Markham, Ont.-based Manchu Wok Enterprises Inc.

It called for the Chinese fast-food chain to double its number of outlets in five years — to 400 in North America from 213.

But 3+ years into the plan, Manchu Wok is down to just 203 restaurants in Canada and the United States.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself: aren’t there far more than 400 malls throughout North America? But there are probably other considerations at play, here: finding a good site in a healthy mall, for instance, and beating back the competition for such space. Either way, Manchu Wok now finds itself ten outlets down from 2002, when they should have been well on their way to 400.

So, they’ve revised their plan. Now they want 500 stores by 2009. And since the malls weren’t doing it for them, they’re going to widen their search a little bit:

The chain is focusing on non-traditional locations such as amusement parks, airports, hospitals and military bases — as well as stand-alone street level outlets.

Notice something missing from their list, here? It’s the power centre. And it’s the power centre that has caused them to miss their expansion targets so badly the first time around.

This relates directly to what I said two and a half years ago about the slow death of the traditional suburban mall. Since graduating with an urban planning degree in 1995, I’ve been looking for this, and slowly, but surely it’s happening. The malls of the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties, which used to trounce our downtowns, are finding themselves locked in the downside of their evolutionary cycle, suffering under the onslaught of the bigger, louder, more car-friendly power centres. The downtowns themselves are coming back by stepping out of this evolutionary dogfight and offering an experience that the Power Centres can’t match. So the downtowns thrive, as do the power centres at the edge of town, leaving the older, inner suburban malls to become greyfields.

Manchu Wok is a food outlet that tied itself firmly to the fate of the mall foodcourt. Stand-alone outlets are rare. They have come to rue their decision. Worse still, those new power centres going up don’t seem to have food courts. Thus Manchu Wok has no choice but to change its strategy and get really creative as to where they put their stores.

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