School of Geography, University of Leeds geog1300 Geography Tutorials

Example Essay: A Very Bad Example?

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5.1 Example Essay: A Very Bad Example?

Spend, Spend, Spend

A new upmarket shopping centre has just opened in London’s King's Road. It is done out in angular, 'raw tech', neo constructivist style by Crighton Design, with a giant 'drawbridge' spanning the central space. It is the latest, and as befits Chelsea, the most sophisticated, of a clutch of new or refurbished shopping centres which opened across the country in October and November. Liverpoool, Barth, Nottingham, Rotherhithe and Guilford, five distinctive new centres for five widely divergent markets. Over thirty more are in the pipeline for the next two years.
Though varied in size and stale, nearly all centres offer the same basic features. Most importantly, their are spectacularly engineered glass atria or glazed barrel vaults to flood the shops and walkways with natural light. Plants and trees by the forest-full are being used too and many of the shopping centres are finished in polished steal with mirrored walls and marble or terrazzo flooring. For winter andnight-time use, they bristle with the latest high tech lighting. Massive heating and air-conditioning systems provide perfect environmental control. Those on several floors generally have opened sided escalators, or glass sided wall rising lifts to give customers a short scenic ride. Many have incorporated centrally located food courts, offering a range of eating experiences' where customers can sit and eat. More importantly, it is a vantage-point from which they can be seen, an essential element of the unashamedly voyeuristic shopping centre culture.
All this investments reflects one central fact, that the retail sector of the British economy is its most dynamic component and it has been growing at an enormous rate during the eighties and nineties (as stated in my course textbook). Retail space alone increased by 50 percent between 1980 and 1987 and investment in new palatial shopping centres, including companies such as Next, Tie Rack and Body Shop, has been upward ever since.
Then there are the numerous refurbishments and rebuilds underway, both of existing 'slab like' sixties and seventies city centre malls, as well as the ageing departmental dinosaurs of the business. We have already seen Debenhams and BHS completely remodelled at the hands of Ralph Halpern and Terence Conran respectively. Now more famous traditional department stores are getting in on the act. Barkers of Kensington for example, has been completely overhauled and Whitelys in Queensway has been born afresh.
But we are not just talking numbers here. The eighties and nineties have also seen enormous growth in sophistication in both marketing techniques and retail design. One recent estimate of the value of burgeoning British design buisiness posited a figure of £1.7 billion, the largest part of which was graphics and interior design.The growth is undoubtedly retail related. Design giants like Fitch and Co, McColl, Michael Peters and Conran design now have staffs of hundreds and turnovers of millions. They have been mainly responsible for the rapid and restless turnover of new images and interior styles which the retail business now demands.
At the same time as the increase in the floor retail area, spending has followed suit in retail sales in the years 1980-1987. As well as spending money, the British are spending much more time shopping. Retail growth has restructured leisure patterns. Shopping centres in particular have become new sites of pleasure. Warm, clean colourful and fashionable they offer a range of satisfactions for adults and children alike. The cold windy and dangerous football ground can hardly compete. Shopping trips are now likely to fill a whole Saturday rather than half a day, as was customary 10 too 15 years ago. According to recent surveys, the British now regard shopping as their favourite leisure activity after holidays and television. What was once seen as a domestic chore. is now a pleasure.
This leisure element has been reflected in several ways. Firstly, in the growth of themed interior designs, such as those at the country's largest centre, the metro on Tyneside, which has a section done out as an ersatz Roman Forum, complete with statuary pediments, columns, mosaic floors and period murals. Trading on the British penchant for the package holiday, a fake 'Mediterranean village' is to follow soon (it is a pity about the Newcastle weather). Then there is the increasing tendency to combine retail with sports and cultural venues (such as the Coppergate in York next to the Jorvik Viking Museum). If that does not work there is the integration of leisure features proper within retail schemes, from street theatre a la Covent Garden, through to restaurants and cinema complexes or even small covered pleasure parks as with Metro Centre's Metroland feature.
The 'retailisation' of Britain, the evident desire of the British to 'spend spend spend' presents several problems. Socialist theory, fixated as it has been on production as the progressive moment in the capitalist cycle, finds shopping difficult to handle (my course text book). For 150 years it has been a case of production = good, consumption = bad. According to the theory, commodities produced under alienated capitalist labour conditions cannot possibly offer satisfaction, only further misery.
To understand the cultural social and pyschological shifts that are taking place, it is not sufficient simply to denounce the retail boom as a cultural deviation or an economic time-bomb; nor to trot out some broad all-embracing truism about post-industrial culture. It is far more important to draw up a balance-sheet of both positive and negative features of the boom and to come to grips with the underlying processes, the shifting web of desires and needs that make people look 'to the retail experience' as a major site of gratification.
First we have to dispense with the theoretical cornerstone of most left analysis of popular consumption, particularly that of a post- Frankfurt variety. This is the notion of 'manipulation'. Using this model, marketing and retail designs are seen as one giant conspiratorial con trick on the part of capital, to sell more commodities and keep the system ticking over. The desire to consume is seen as an erroneous need offering delusory pleasures and satisfactions. This is shopping as a form of a disease, with shoppers reduced to mere helpless victims. It's an argument which shows a sinister contempt for the way most people live.
A more coherent line of attack on the retail boom (though he stresses his position is not anti-shopping per se) is that mounted by Ken Warpole, co-author of Trade Winds (South East Economic Development strategy document). In a Guardian article last year (Warpole 1988) he constructed a new demonology: both city centre and out of town retail schemes are, he argued, destroying our urban fabric, intensifying antagonisms between the haves and the have nots and catalysing crime. In short, retail developments of all kinds 'pose tremendous danger to the quality of civic life.'
There are several problems with Walpole's analysis. Many of his remarks on city centre schemes seemed curiously out of date and referred back to the old monolithic malls of earlier decades. The 'death of the high street' due to out of town schemes, has been predicted endlessly for the past decade or more, yet most continue to survive. Liverpool city centre for example, with its two shopping centres and pedestrianised streets, is a vast improvement of the traffic ridden hell of ten years ago. One has to ask serious questions about the rather romantic evocation of 'civic life' pre-retail boom. In many cities it is something that has not had any significant existence since the early fifties.
At one level it is possible to see many shopping centres reclaim some of the functions of medieval market places, or town squares and boulevards in southern Mediterranean cultures. In other words spaces not simply to buy and sell, but promenade, meet, sit and enter other forms of social exchange.
Certainly observation of the way the people use shopping centres would seem to confirm such a role. This may not be there intended function, but in Britain's climate, their covered, weather proof environment makes them eminently more suitable candidates for such an official, informal role than open streets. The gradual tendency for longer shopping hours and Sunday trading can only deepen this trend.
Off course it should be mentioned that the retail boom has relied overwhelmingly on low-paid female labour often working long and anti-social hours. But it is unfortunate that the short-sightedness of both the Labour Party and the unions has resulted in a strategy to restrict opening hours and oppose Sunday trading.
In fact, the experience of retail developments over the past decade has done much to improve the quality of the public environment. Out of town developments have forced councils and retailers to improve the facilities and condition of run down city centre high streets. Many new city centre and edge of town schemes are both architecturally sensitive to the existing urban fabric and possess environmentally pleasing interiors.
Perhaps one of the major attractions of the 'retail experience' is not so much the art of the purchase itself but the validation that modern retail institutions offer the customer, at least in environmental terms. For an urban populace brought up in mediocre housing located in dreary, poorly designed cities and towns, the quality of the environment, the use of 'luxurious' materials, the originality of design and the sense of space offered by today's shopping centres - and many of the shops within them - is a source of both excitement and gratification. Architectural excellence and attention to design are attractions that in general have not been offered to most people either by home, school, hospital or any other civic institution.
There are, perhaps other factors helping to create Britain's retail culture. One was the experience of seventies inflation, which finally broke most peoples conservative conviction that saving was better than spending. Then along came the easy availability of credit. The final link was broken between money and commodities on the one hand and wages and work on the other.
At the same time high unemployment in the early eighties shifted the stakes. Consumption became a defiant form of celebration, positive evidence that you were still part of the dominant culture, that you had not been marginalized. What mattered was not what you bought, only that you bought. Buying power itself became the real buzz.
None of this is to deny the real problems with the 'retail revolution' as it has currently developed. I agree with Warpole that, particularly as we reach 'saturation point' in retail developments, solutions must lie more in consultative planning and careful social audit of the total effects of the new schemes together with an uplift in the status of retail work itself.
Perhaps, long before then, the Chancellor's nemesis will have transformed the scene utterly. Even before the last trade figures were announced, forecasts pointed to a retail growth of only 1-1.5% in the coming year. After the Christmas spree, higher interest rates could reduce retail spending still further and many commentators see this decades retail boom turning rapidly to a slump. It may have been fun while it lasted, but the 'shopping junkies' amongst us could soon have to face a rather painful withdrawal.

5.2 The road map -- What it is and why you should include one in your essays

You should include in your essay a ‘road map’. The road map takes the form of a few sentences near the start of the essay that serve as a guide to the ground that you are going to cover. These sentences serve two important purposes. They act as a guide to the reader so that s/he knows what points you will be covering and in what order. Secondly, and just as importantly, they act as a pointer to you, the writer, so that you know whether you are covering the ground you intend and whether your essay is robustly structured. In other words, the road map is an abbreviated and written-out version of the outline that you will have jotted down before beginning to write.
You might want to prepare this road map in note form while drafting your introductory paragraphs and then return to it when you have finished writing your essay to make sure that it still reflects the structure -- and that the structure of your essay reflects the road map.
Try not to make the road map too pedestrian, even if it is likely to follow a fairly predictable pattern. Below is a slightly adapted version of text from the second paragraph of a recently completed book chapter. Note that this road map appears in the introductory section of the chapter but not in the first paragraph itself.
From: Waley, P. forthcoming, 2010. Urban Landscapes. In V. Lyons Bestor and T. Bestor, eds. Routledge Handbook on Japanese Culture and Society. London: Routledge.
After an initial discussion of both historical and contemporary interactions with the landscape, the chapter is grouped into three sections, examining urban governance, the urban terrain and urban life-spaces. Each section introduces a series of preoccupations within the literature, and each represents a different scale of engagement between urban actors and the urban landscape. At issue in the first is the scripting of Japan’s premier city, Tokyo, vis-à-vis other leading world cities. The central question here revolves around the composition and nature of the forces that drive urban restructuring and the extent to which these may or may not differ from other leading cities around the world. The second section reviews the twin processes of extensification (sprawl) and intensification (high-rise construction) that have transformed the urban terrain in Japan over the last 30 and more years. In the third section, the discussion moves in closer to the spaces of everyday life in Japan’s largest cities. It follows the literature in examining the nature of community and the extent of difference in Japanese cities. The chapter tends towards the rather bleak conclusion that the success of the institutions of Japanese economic development, both public and private, in working Japan’s urban landscape has been such as to thoroughly standardise it.

It is worth mentioning here the importance of using 20 to 25 minutes at the end of the essay writing time to reread your work and correct spelling, insert missing words, check grammar, tidy up diagrams and insert references.

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