Discouraging Consumerism-Encouraging Social Interactions

Recently, I was in Stockholm, Sweden to attend an academic seminar at The Royal University of Fine Arts, Department of Architecture. And in a typical European way, Stockholm was a great city experience - pedestrian friendly streets, lots of cycling tracks, the efficient & connected Metro network and of course very few people to enjoy all this, which made it even more fun for us Indians who are often faced with unending lines and bulging crowds.
But, more than these urban amenities which have been written about everywhere, what struck me was the fettish of the malls and particularly, the small shops to close at 5 pm on weekdays and at 4 pm (would you believe it!) on weekends. So just to clarify your unasked questions, yes, the shops and all shopping related services (malls, streetside stalls etc) operate typically only between the "conservative office work hours" of 10 am to 5 pm.

"How is that possible?" was my first question to our hosts when much to our frustration we ended up on a crisp sunny evening (sunset in Stockholm in the summer is at 10:30 pm, by the way) on a shopping street to find everything closed. Much to the surprise of us Indians, with our 'developing' economy where we find cities through their malls, theaters, eateries being open all through the night, this scene in Stockholm was no less than bizzare.

Well, since the shops were closed and there was no family to go back to, I and my colleague, Poorva spent the warm & sunny evening in the abundant public spaces around the city centre. There were gardens and plazas dotting every corner, interesting sculptures to admire, the waterfront so beautifully alluring us with its clean, blue-grey waters and the cute ferries with the tourists for a waterfront tour of Stockholm. We spent the entire evening amongst other tourists and like them sporting the Stockholm Map, finding other public squares and circles where we could enjoy sitting beneath the trees - adjacent to the hustle bustle of the city, yet relaxed to soak in the summer sun and chatting on issues from urban planning (hah!) to Pune's gossip (more like it!).

Henrietta and Michael, both teaching at the University and now friends, were a little surprised that we would find this early closing of shops so bizzare. Well, of course, one restricting factor is the weather in Stockholm, which is 9 months of Winter (cold, rainy, windy and daylight is short) and 3 months of Summer. So perhaps the weather of the 9 months dictates the pattern of the 3 Summer months as well. But then in India, we have so much of adaptability that patterns and streets change every season for festivals and sometime every day to adjust to the changing demands, that I found this odd too that Stockholmers would not change their shop timings in the 3 Summer months when people are out on the streets walking and enjoying till as late as 10 pm in the daylight.

Then Henrietta mentioned the thought that accompanied this 'fettish' as I liked to call it till then, to close the shops early. She said that this is a peoples' initiative to discourage consumerism and encourage social interactions. "When people get off work, they can spend evenings with family & friends or exercise and enjoy outdoor barbecues in the summer time", she added.

With this concept of discouraging consumerism by design, the malls and the shopping streets do not become the public space, but the gardens, the town squares and the waterfronts become more attractive and alluring. And really, I observed that evening, that families were outside on the urban green areas playing Frisbee, walking their dogs, strollers being pushed by parents and even grandparents, all enjoying the outdoors, choosing to enjoy a more 'non consumerist' lifestyle.

Then it struck me. The previous evening, when my wallet was loaded and I was ready to 'shop till I drop', I had found the shops closed, 'forcing' me to take to the streets, enjoy the city for its sounds and smells and experiences. With what little time I had, I realised, I would have spent in enclosed malls and shops, frantically being a 'consumer of goods'. However, Stockholmers had ensured that I make a more responsible decision when in Stockholm and stop consuming! And what I consumed that evening, I have to admit, was a lot of fresh air and what I took away from that were bags full of urban experiences.

Comments

  1. a very fresh perspective and food for thought for us indians....!!...but sadly public spaces are being defined by stale ac air...and artificial lights.....the charm of the gardens, water bodies is now lost...may b we have forgotten thier worth....

    but i still think there is time to change things :)
    i would love to experience the atmosphere in Stockholm sometime :D

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  2. Compare this to the U.S (consumerism haven) where even grocery shops are open 24 hrs 7 days a week!

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  3. I had been to stokholm but this did not occur to me.
    You have not written about the skyline of the city. Thats beautifull worderfully maintaine by the city fathers.

    Rameshkaka

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  4. its an interesting idea to adapt to! consumerism, environment and urban development all in tune!
    kirti

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  5. Anagha - Good article..interesting contrast between the EU and American ways!

    Amit

    ReplyDelete

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