"In modern economics, a developing country’s middle class is defined by its ability to consume at levels at or near those of the US, Japan, or Europe. Asia’s new malls are bubbles of modernity, built on vast scales as symbols of this growing class. They are meeting spaces, glossy, air-conditioned indoor parks, where you can ignore the air pollution, poverty, and heat of the real world," explains Nithin Coca.
"These malls have been built on what were once parks. As recently as 1983, the city still had 35% of its land in open, green areas. Today, according to Green Map Jakarta, that number has dropped to an astounding 6%, one of the lowest in the world. "
"When Jakartans go for a walk, they have few options beside the malls. Sidewalks are non-existent, overtaken by motorcycles or vendors, the parks are gone, and getting in and out of the city to the countryside a nightmare. As the urban heat effect and lack of trees make Jakarta both hotter and drier, the malls become a refuge of air-conditioning (from reliable, generator-sourced electricity) for a population increasingly more accustomed to living in a climate-controlled world."
Coca describes the macroeconomic takeaway of Asia's faltering mall boom this way: "The reality that malls and consumerism only cater to a small percentage of the population is becoming more and more apparent. Remember—Asia’s economic growth was built on manufacturing and natural resources. It’s the transition to an American-style consumer economy that is faltering, perhaps because that mode—built in an era of cheap oil and plentiful space—is untenable in today’s world."