Sri Lanka's emerging mall cities: Urban spaces where modernity and tradition intersect

The evolution of mall cities in Sri Lanka represents a complex and multidimensional transformation that intertwines economic, technological, environmental, and social dimensions. 

Jayani Udeshi Nov 27, 2023
Image
Havelock City Mall

Sri Lanka, navigating its path through development, has observed the emergence of several mall cities, including One Galle Face, Havelock City Mall, and Colombo City Centre. These structures transcend their roles as mere shopping destinations; they symbolize the aspirations of an international mall experience tailored to the Asian context. Each city, with its unique charm, adopts distinct approaches to cater to consumers.

Consider One Galle Face Mall, which strategically omits dedicated parking spaces for motorcycles or three-wheelers, emphasizing an economic appeal aimed at consumers with a more affluent spending style. This approach mirrors the ideas of dependency theory, akin to the perspectives of scholars like Andre Gunder Frank. In contrast, Havelock Mall takes an inclusive stance by providing open access to various vehicle types, reflecting a more egalitarian approach to development.

 

These mall cities serve not only as gateways to luxury items for the affluent but also as accessible spaces for a diverse audience. Interestingly, these spaces are often utilized without a monetary cost, allowing individuals from different economic backgrounds to partake in the facilities. Visitors leverage these areas to capture selfies and videos, constructing and expressing their identities—a form of semiotics conveying a sophisticated lifestyle, often with a touch of satire, echoing the aspirational habits of a higher social class.

Expression and development of culture

Beyond consumer goods, these mall spaces become canvases for artistic expression, featuring wall art, photographic exhibits, and more. These elements contribute to an enriched cultural and aesthetic experience, aligning with the concept of cultural development often discussed in the context of dependency theory.

Havelock City Mall
Havelock City Mall

 

However, amidst the pursuit of achievements within these mall cities, a pertinent concern arises. The allure of these spaces may induce a sense of escapism, creating a perception akin to heaven. Striking a balance between the aspirational lifestyle depicted in these malls and the grounded, realistic lifestyles of the people engaging with them becomes imperative.

Moreover, these mall cities represent architectural symbols of urbanization and modernity in Sri Lanka, reflecting aspects of development theory. The towering structures not only transform the city skyline but also signify a shift in lifestyle and aspirations.

The consumer experience transcends shopping and leisure, incorporating technology like interactive displays and digital installations. This blend of commerce and technology positions these malls as cultural hubs reflecting contemporary trends and contributing to technological development in the region.

One Galle Face Mall
One Galle Face Mall

 

Economic impact and development

Considering the economic impact, these mall cities contribute to employment opportunities and overall economic growth. Beyond the retail sector, the construction, maintenance, and operation of these complexes generate jobs, influencing the livelihoods of many. This economic aspect aligns with discussions on development theory, exploring how economic growth shapes the trajectory of nations.

Environmental concerns, such as energy consumption, waste generation, and traffic congestion, accompany the success of these malls. Addressing these issues necessitates a collective effort from developers and consumers to adopt eco-friendly practices and promote responsible consumption, aligning with sustainable development goals.

Social dynamics and community building

Examining the social dynamics within these mall cities reveals their role in shaping new social norms and blending traditional and modern values—a process integral to social development. The communal spaces, events, and shared experiences foster a sense of community among diverse groups of people.

The evolution of mall cities in Sri Lanka represents a complex and multidimensional transformation that intertwines economic, technological, environmental, and social dimensions. To comprehend their impact, it is imperative to delve beyond the immediate conveniences and consider the broader implications for society and the environment. The perspectives of development and underdevelopment, as discussed by scholars, contribute valuable insights into the intricate dynamics at play within these commercial landscapes. By acknowledging the multifaceted nature of mall city development, Sri Lanka can navigate its path toward sustainable and inclusive urban growth, fostering a balance between progress and the preservation of authentic aspects of life.

(The author is Assistant Lecturer, Department of Political Science and Public Policy, University of Colombo. Views are personal. She can be contacted at jayani@poli.cmb.ac.lk)

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