Shops and their effect on the city street have been a staple topic on our wee blog since it started. After all, the whole JHJ silliness began with a rant against the harshness and selfishness built – literally – into the heart of our city in the shape of Kamppi. (With the help of some dynamite and neoliberal orthodoxy, commuting was turned into enforced shopping).
Shops are now a hot topic in the news. UK headlines: looting and fears of tin-pot justice for those involved. Finnish headlines: better food shops for Helsinki.
Here in Helsinki there’s a lively debate going on about food shops and local services. Everybody seems agreed we need more of them. And as is so often the case, there’s an official strategy about it… Still, supermarket monopolies and regional politics that spawn out-of-town shopping hells mean that the results are probably minority affairs.
Meanwhile there are the struggling specialist shops whom the Poikkea Putiikissa (nip into a shop – my translation) campaign is supposed to help. And then, of course, there are the kinds that the actual economic/political decisions of a neoliberal city government fosters.
The kinds, obviously, that can afford the rents in a place like Kamppi – chains and big players that always appear from behind slick (if often unimaginative) hoardings proclaiming international fantasies. Happiness is drinking champagne (instead of milk) at mealtimes.
To shop is often said to be the defining activity of the contemporary citizen who, as sociologist Zygmunt Bauman notes, has long since become a consumer. No wonder the blogosphere is awash with articulate commentary about what has happened in the UK.
Hard to disagree with the idea that the good person these days is the good consumer. But if you have no income, how do you achieve that? Aspirations alone won’t get you there, particularly if you suffer the continued humiliation of inhabiting a poor British neighbourhood. (With proposals for drastic cuts (in Finnish) in municipal budgets in Finland, a part of me worries that even Finland will see humiliation-by-built-environment in the future).
But when there are others at hand to draw you into the get-the-stuff-for-free frenzy…? The shops that have been most looted have been the ones that sell brands but some of the independents have as well. As Zoe Williams noted that’s when we pay attention. In a cornershop (as the quaint Britishism has it) behind the stuff there are people. Shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, people who try (comp. the Finnish yrittäjä).
I take her point and recommend the article. But I’m sad that the people behind the branded goods can’t be brought into these stories. At the prices some of those brand shops in Kamppi are selling their stuff, you have to suspect it was produced in slave-like conditions.
P.S. Perhaps this Finnish shop, Spring House, which sells ways to turn yourself into a brand product [surely find happiness and success? ed] is the way to go – nothing material there to loot.