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Rated: E · Essay · Environment · #1958138
Remembering environmental idealism

I’m in Olathe, Kansas for a family wedding. There’s no story in that. However, I witnessed something today that I’ve never seen before and hopefully there is a story in that.

There is a mall within sight of our hotel, so I opted to walk over there and get some much needed exercise after spending the bulk of the day cramped into our car. Meandering across the parking lot I was taken by how devoid it was of parked cars. It’s Friday afternoon and it looks like a church parking lot on Monday morning. Back home all malls are packed and it will only get worse after five PM. Not only was the lot quite empty, but also there were cracks and ruts galore in the asphalt. This may not be too bad for an auto, but for a pedestrian it means watching each step warily. The sidewalks were much the same. It’s obvious the landlord is not keeping up proper maintenance. Now, the worst is over and I can stroll aimlessly thru an air conditioned mall.

As one would expect I spot an unleased storefront. There’s nothing unusual about that in 2013. Most malls have a handful of vacancies. But not this mall; not The Great Mall of the Great Plains. The only thing great about it was the percentage of unoccupied shops.

Not only were the shops without tenants, but the open businesses were largely without customers. I know we’re supposed to be in a recession but this place is as empty as Congress during recess. Alas, I found this enigma inspirational. For an ageing child of the 60’s I found hope here for some of the idealism of my young adulthood that went awry.

Bankers and retailers would look at this property and see despair and diminishing returns then take their investment dollars elsewhere. They are of the same ilk as those who look at a desert and think it’s a wasteland. The reality is that while even though a desert appears to be lifeless, it actually is vibrant with life and potential.

There is such potential even in this suburban desert that once teemed with economic life. Perhaps it’s time to start a reverse Joni Mitchell movement. Most folks are familiar with her great line. “Pave paradise, put up a parking lot.” Wouldn’t it do wonders for the environment if we made a U-turn here? The bulldozers could still work, except now they could break up a parking lot, and then raze a mall. Maybe it’s time to use this parcel for local flora and fauna in lieu of national chain stores. Perhaps they could even close the “tree museum”. Maybe it’s time to “plant paradise, tear up a parking lot.”

Should I ever have reason to return to Olathe, Kansas, hopefully the next time I can get my much needed exercise in paradise, instead of a parking lot.
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