With some fanfare, the largest shopping mall in Europe has recently opened its doors at Westfield Stratford City. Ahead of the 2012 Olympics and a big push to re-invigorate the surrounding area, Westfield’s hope was to match the creative chutzpah of East London. To quote the shopping centre giant, “Only a shopping district as eclectic and abundant as Westfield Stratford City can serve an area as diverse and exciting as London and the South East.”
Yes, it’s huge, it’s glossy, but for all the hype, it’s also quite predictable. There are no surprises, nothing that makes it feel particularly special. Where’s the petting zoo, the helter skelter, or the rainforest? Given that this is a prime tourist destination at the heart of the Olympic hub, surely it’s a missed opportunity? What the most memorable shopping centres in the world do is create an experience so amazing that shopping is only part of the magic – malls in Dubai and Las Vegas offer ski slopes, theatres, aquariums, even entire theme parks. Shouldn’t Westfield provide just a little bit more fun?
Creating a straightforward shrine to consumerism also seems totally out of synch with the rest of culture. There’s no Farmer’s Market selling fresh produce, no local shops or community spaces to bring people together. There isn’t even a digital network to connect people. It might have over 300 shops, but it feels rather dated.
Westfield has called itself the ‘Gateway to the Olympics ‘and unfortunately a gateway is exactly what it may become – something you simply pass through.