The concept of ‘Identity’ is a common theme in both Audrey Yue and Sharon Zukin’s respective articles Shopping in Livable Cities and Whose Culture? Whose City? Both authors attempt to define the various external factors that can shape identity, which range from shopping to cultural inclinations as discussed in depth in both articles.
Other supervening factors such as the variance of economic capacity, as portrayed by privatization of public spaces and choice of where one does his/her shopping: malls, supermarkets, department stores, or product markets also come to play in the definition of identity.
Lack of comprehensive and holistic measures, which have been put in place with the specific intention of protecting societal identity – those unique or distinctive characteristics that set us apart as individuals in a society, which also direct how we behave or handle different circumstances could result in mayhem.
They can further lead towards generations of social discontent arising from marginalization of minorities who are a direct product leaving out some parties in the process of defining such identity.
According to Zukin, city governments may not have sufficient funding to manage available public spaces. Consequently, these places turn into crime hubs for drug users, rapists and other criminals, and soon lose their recreational appeal to the public for which they were originally intended.
So far, the effective applicable solution to this crisis has been to form a partnership with private institutions, which contribute much of the necessary funds for reclamation and maintenance of the public places. She gives an example of Bryant Park, which was restored to its former glory by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation.
The folly in this ‘solution’ to the problem of funding manifests itself in the quality attached to the restored parks. Mostly, ethnic minority groups are not to found socializing with the dominantly Caucasian population that frequents the park over lunch hour. Moreover, there is a new development in the restored park: surveillance.
Private guards and public police officials remain posted on watch throughout the day, and over nightfall. Now, Zukin’s description of the installation of surveillance on a privatized public property is similar to Yue’s comment on the inclusion of surveillance technologies in postmodern shopping malls and supermarkets. She touches on kleptomania and shoplifting as the causes of the inclusion pointing out how women seem connected to the crimes.
According to Zukin, the new or restored public spots have an implication on gender as well; women who previously shirked these public parks due to insecurity now join their male counterparts for lunch, and prepare some of the buffeted meals and cappuccino that is served in the park.
Yue touches on the public-private nature of shopping showing how managers use the ‘displacement technique’ to ensure sales. Yue’s article is more specific on personal identity. It outlines the concept of shopping as a tool for defining identity.
Individuals can be transformed from one class to another based on where and what they buy. Here, she gives the example of Vivian (Julia Roberts) in the film Pretty woman showing how a simple “black cocktail dress” transforms her image. This is given as an instance where shopping can be seen as “buying an identity.”
According to Yue, shops are both economic and cultural institutions, yet another similarity to Zukin’s cultural theory, “… young people, the homeless, the unemployed and elderly pensioners continue o use shopping malls as meeting places, shelters, and spaces for non-consumptive sociability”.
Where one shops, and what they purchase can pass for a working way of judging their identity; localized, globalized, communal, individual, tasteful, and classy, among others.
Zukin again touches on the connection between privacy and publicity by discussing ‘eating’ in the privatized public parks. When different people gather at the park for lunch, most are virtual strangers meeting and sharing a meal.”Yet now, in the park, eating becomes a public ritual, a way of trusting strangers while maintaining private identities.”
This, according to Zukin is progress in the society, as previously people would eat while walking on the streets, abusing the sanctity of the social event that eating is. However, inasmuch as privatization of public places results in their restoration, it bears the risk of improvement of select public spots at the expense of the rest of the city, which may remain impoverished.
Part of the reason why institutions offer to reclaim sections of the city is for the pride of leaving behind a legacy. However, by so doing, a crucial error occurs, as is evident in the example of Bryant Park.
Some sections of the society remain cut out from enjoying the fruits of this reclamation, mostly ethnic minorities, yet they too form a large part of the history of that society. This segregation is neither ethically, nor morally right, yet it continues to occur within various communities.
It is interesting o note here that even these minority groups suffer from the same disease. When they support some development in a particular place, Zukin uses 125th Street; they label it as ‘theirs’. Consequently, other groups are cut out in these crucial, identity-defining processes.
Yue’s article is more detailed and comprehensive than Zukin’s in terms of development of the main idea. However, both articles discuss seemingly insubstantial societal habits that are critical in the development of an identity.
The idea of privatization, the consumer products as well as the displays one sets up in their shop, and the implications of enlisting security personnel from either public or private security systems are important identity-defining concepts that should not be taken lightly. It is through such minor features of the societal balance that identities are formed and fortified.