So it’s here, the much anticipated day when the historic Emporium, done over as a state-of-the-art shopping mall, opens to all its much deserved fanfare. By its nature, the Westfield San Francisco Centre rekindles the spirit of commerce that made The City one of the world’s greatest metropolitan centers.
The Examiner couldn’t be happier, not only because the Centre is a short walk from our office (and a great place to wish away deadlines), but because it brings back a sense of capitalist dynamism that had become unfashionable. San Francisco, let’s be candid, was gaining a reputation as a place where the political class made it difficult to do business.
Much of that reputation, of course, is caricature, but a fair amount of it is not. This is not the day to replay debates about health care and restrictive zoning. Rather, it is a moment to celebrate the rejuvenating act of shopping.
Capitalist acts between consenting adults should not be scorned. Even the most well-intentioned interference, usually arising from the envious or the power pursuers among us, can sap the vitality such acts bring to a community.
Throughout history, as students of urban history will tell you, people trading freely created community even before the political planners got into the picture. The grandest old hotels and now the mega-malls springing up in the market-driven economies of the world wouldn’t exist without private means of communication, conveyance and even security.
They take care of such necessities far more efficiently than municipal governments. They do so because the profit motive dictates they look after their patrons’ comforts.
To be sure, the Westfield Centre would be the last to claim for itself some perch in an anarcho-capitalist’s heaven. We’ve come to today’s grand opening only through much cooperation, planning, kibitzing, concession-granting and some might even say favoritism — all courtesy of The City’s government.</p>
To which we say: Wonderful. If the politicians can isolate, observe and learn from the Promethean energy radiating from this new agora in their midst, then maybe they can apply its peaceful, creative principles elsewhere in The City. Maybe they’ll ask themselves, at some unexpected moment, if there’s truly a moral difference between Westfield, that Australia-based conglomerate, and, say, Wal-Mart.
But we dream. In the meantime, looking from Market Street to Broadway, we also welcome the new, apparently permanent, location for the Beat Museum. Like the Westfield Centre, this tribute to that half-century-old movement of individualists will draw tourists.
We’re not sure Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti et al. would like being made into museum relics or otherwise institutionalized. Still, even if their legatees don’t get the connection, we find an agreeable continuum from their freedom to The City’s newfound display of capitalism.