Public Comment

Commentary: Albany Shoreline: Private vs. Public Interests

By Michael Marchant
Tuesday October 03, 2006

In the United States, consumerism is becoming a social disease. Billions of dollars is spent annually on advertising campaigns designed to delude people into spending huge sums of money on things they don’t need, many of which are harmful. From cosmetics, to “fashion” products, to household cleaners, to SUVs, people are consuming more and more, and at every turn, ingenious advertisers are coaxing us along. And the never-ending search for the wider TV screen, the bigger car, the most effective anti-aging cream, and the best household disinfectant, has left us distracted from those things that truly matter to us, and less able to affect meaningful change in our lives.  

While opinion polls show that a majority of Americans favor universal healthcare, our current for profit system is in shambles. While a majority of Americans oppose the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the country is plunged into civil war, the death toll mounts, and the likelihood of another attack against the United States increases. And while most Americans support strengthening our public schools and public retirement systems, state and federal governments go about dismantling both. Those who care about democracy should be alarmed by the widening gap between our opinions on vital issues such as health care and war, and the direction in which our elected “leaders” are taking us. 

In other words, we seem to be moving from a society based on citizenship and democracy to one based on consumerism. 

This shift toward consumerism has been enabled by the privatization of our public, or common, spaces. When public space is turned over to private interests, the behaviors and attitudes of the people inhabiting those spaces change. Ever wonder why people hanging out at the mall are not discussing our healthcare crisis? Or the polluted air we breathe? Or violence in our communities? After all, they aren’t prevented from doing so. Well, I think its because those who own the malls have designed them in such a way that at every turn we are deluded into buying something. The last thing mall owners want is for people to be distracted from their designated role in life (namely, as consumers) by paying some attention to those matters that actually concern them.  

It is therefore imperative that we protect and expand our public spaces—those sacred spaces that cannot be penetrated by advertisers—where people are free to think for themselves. 

In Albany, there is an effort underway to protect the shoreline from private development and to expand the Eastshore State Park in the process. About a year ago, Rick Caruso, the Southern California developer hired by Magna Corp to bring a mega-mall (and most likely a casino) to the Albany shoreline, rolled into town intent on winning the approval of Albany residents. But to Caruso’s surprise, Albany residents, with leadership from the Sierra Club and The Citizens for the Albany Shoreline, mobilized against the proposed development, collecting signatures and turning out en masse to City Council meetings to ensure that the Council heard loud and clear from the community on this issue. Eventually, after he was denied special treatment from the City Council, Rick Caruso packed up and left town. 

And I couldn’t have been more pleased. We don’t need more malls. Corporate advertisers don’t need yet another venue from which they can delude us into buying more useless stuff. Instead, we need more public spaces: more parks; more open space, more community centers; and more town hall meetings. It is in these public spaces that we are free to connect with one another and work together to affect real positive change in our lives and communities. 

I appeal to readers to oppose any mall or big commercial development on the Albany Shoreline. Instead, please consider supporting the Citizens for the Albany Shoreline (website by the same name), and supporting Marge Atkinson and Joanne Wile for the Albany City Council, both of whom will continue to fight for open, public space at our shoreline. 


Michael Marchant lives in Albany. 


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