Gamla Stan needs a shopping mall

Gamla Stan needs a shopping mall
It's time for Stockholm to brush off the cob-webbed cobblestones of nostalgia and build a state of the art shopping mall in the historic old town, David Bartal argues.

Shopping malls have been getting bad press in the Swedish print and electronic media lately.

Indoor shopping galleries destroy the character of a funky part of town, take business away from local merchants who are already struggling to survive and they strip a historic district of its identity.

No one seems to have a good word to say for these reservoirs of elevator music and mediocre food.

“They kill the soul of a city,” a good friend told me over lunch today.

When far-sighted urban planners recently sought to construct a modern mall below the ground at the Odenplan subway station, local merchants and residents protested loudly and effectively.

Now, some 300 shops in Stockholm's inner city have formed a business network called Viva Ville (who's Ville, one wonders?) to fight back against the blossoming of huge shopping malls on another front, out in the suburbs.

Gigantic new malls in places like Vällingby, Farsta and Kista are supposedly robbing inner city shops of their customers. Members of the Viva Ville network, which include inner-city restaurants, independent boutiques, restaurants and artsy-fartsy shops, plan to counter-attack with hefty discounts.

I don't know what all the fuss is about. Personally, I think there ought to be shopping malls everywhere, as long as they offer abundant free parking. Malls and cheap housing for everybody.

Sadly, there are still parts of the renowned Swedish “open landscape” — parks and green meadows, for example — which for some reason have not yet been converted into affordable high-rise housing.

Similarly, there are large sections of the Swedish capital which do not yet enjoy the myriad benefits of fresh, new shopping malls. I am thinking in particular about the Old Town (Gamla Stan).

With its medieval cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, ancient churches and long history, Gamla Stan is one of the most attractive and popular parts of the capital.

Dozens of coffee shops, clothing and jewelery boutiques, restaurants, souvenir stores and handicraft shops line the pedestrian-only streets. Gamla Stan has everything: everything except some good, old-fashioned competition from chains like H&M, Phone House and Burger King.

Nostalgic souls may protest the very idea of a mall in this historic district. A shopping gallery in Gamla Stan! Impossible! But why should things remain the same until the end of time? To remain a vital and growing urban center, modern cities have to grow and adapt to the needs of a new generation. One-stop shopping is the future.

This leads us to a touchy issue. Where should we build a mega-mall in the crowded Old Town? The solution is obvious.

There is plenty of room for a new shopping mecca in the spacious Royal Palace. Tourists will go wild! They can pick up a pair of Cheap Monday jeans in a Palace boutique, grab a latte at Wayne's Royal Coffee and pay a quick visit to one of three museums on the Palace grounds, including the Tre Kronor Museum that portrays the palace's medieval history and Gustav III's Museum of Antiquities.

It's a sure winner.