International retail networks and consumer mania

Athens, Thessaloniki and regional towns such as Larissa, Volos, Patras, Kavala and Iraklion have all become venues where retail outlets have entered the real estate market. Although it may seem that these malls are now everywhere, the truth is that it is still virgin territory, comparable only with Eastern European countries. Spain and Portugal long ago developed political and economic strategies to attract new business ventures and, before the end of the Cold War, had made known their intention to join the major networks. Out of necessity, but also out of choice, the historic centers of European cities have pushed these activities to the fringes of the suburbs. Berlin, as a «new» old capital, has been the exception to the rule, not only because it had a no-man’s land in the middle of the reunited city – the Potsdamer Platz – but because there was a conscious decision to promote high-quality architecture and create phantasmagorical consumer experiences in environments designed by major architects. Greece is emerging as an attractive market and Greeks’ mania for consumption is certain to contribute to its expansion. In contrast to what is happening in Eastern Europe or Turkey, Greece has a broad social base on which to transplant the culture of middle class consumption. Despite The Mall in Athens’s northern suburbs, which ushered in a new era in 2005, and the other new retail parks, Greece does not yet have its landmark structure. It is likely that this new social institution will want to be expressed in architecture. In Istanbul, the middle and upper classes have an emblematic building in the 26-floor Kanyon complex, with offices, apartments, plazas, stores (including the British Harvey Nichols) as well as Akmerkez, popular with tourists. Consumer culture has become a barometer for international cities. That is why in the emerging societies of Eastern Europe, every new retail park fills its citizens with a pride that is hard to conceal. In Warsaw, the Arcadia Mall in a depressed part of the city is referred to in local guides as an experience visitors should not miss. It is hard to predict the future, but it seems likely that these new urban destinations are just the beginning.

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