Proceso, the publication of the University of Central America, has some interesting things to say about the proliferation of shopping centers in El Salvador. Here is an excerpt:
The main cities of El Salvador have been invaded by shopping malls. In San Salvador, they have multiplied themselves like fungus; they have become important areas not only for recreation and consumption, but for the massive dissemination of transnational symbolic-cultural ideas. With the shopping malls -- especially with the largest ones -- the urban appearance has been transformed (and it keeps transforming itself) taking quick and gigantic steps; the economic, social, and the cultural life revolves -- or so it seems -- around them. What seems to be overwhelming about them -- the enormous billboards, the bright lights, and the large display windows -- points at a kind of prosperity and to a kind of progress that just recently were considered unattainable and that now are apparently within most peopleÂs reach. What happens is that if the country is seen from what the shopping malls display, everything seems to be prosperity, comfort, luxury and consumption.
In El Salvador of the shopping malls, poverty, exclusion, and marginalization do not exist. Nevertheless, what they offer is a mirage -- of prosperity, progress, development and well-being -- that has nothing to do with reality. The situation is quite different; this is a reality of unemployment, immigration, lack of educational opportunities, and weak public health services. The actual face of El Salvador has nothing to do with the fictitious country that the shopping malls offer. Peculiarly, that fictitious country is devouring the few possibilities that the real country has in order to face its most critical challenges. Thus, the construction of enormous shopping malls -- for example, the ones built in the area of the Espino -- has caused a serious damage to the ecosystem of San Salvador. Water-bearing mantles, flora and fauna were sacrificed for the construction of enormous buildings that, although overwhelming, are economically detrimental. And they are that because they become part of an economic logic that is taking the country to bankruptcy....
They are a world apart: in the outside world, insecurity, heat, and contamination prevail in an environment of chaos and risk. Inside shopping malls, there is security, order, and tranquility. A kind of security that only the consumers can enjoy. It is not the type of security developed for the ordinary citizen. When the shopping centers offer a fictitious public life, what they actually do is to privatize even more the public spaces, that is, to destroy the sense of what is public. To do that is to act against citizenship, because citizenship -- with its rights and obligations -- can only be lived in the public spaces, where the encounter with the others is not regulated by the market, and it is not protected by private security guards.