The Mall as American Dream

Does America Still Want the American Dream?

Twelve years after work began on a $2 billion entertainment complex in New Jersey, is another giant mall still an appealing vision?

The Atlantic, Oct. 9, 2015

Driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike, past the proverbial smoke stacks and then across a brief interruption of marshland, a massive orange snout looms into view. Around the next bend, you see the cranes: not the marsh kind, but tall yellow-metal arms, five or six of them, perched beside the sprawling body attached to the snout.

The cranes are quiet for now. Their symbolism, however, broadcasts loud and clear. The American Dream mall and entertainment complex at the Meadowlands—the half-built behemoth that Governor Chris Christie called “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey and maybe America,” the mega-project that has lurched from failure to would-be rescue and back again—is finally going to be completed.

In 2017, its developers say, the American Dream will open with “the largest mix of indoor facilities in the world,” according to its slick website, offering millions of visitors “the ultimate family experience.” It will have 400 stores and restaurants, a DreamWorks-themed amusement park and waterpark, an indoor ski slope (that’s the orange snout), an aquarium, mini-golf course, and theater. The 4.8-million-square-foot complex will feature “the world’s first exclusive kosher food hall” and a giant ferris wheel looking onto the New York skyline.

For years, the big question in New Jersey was whether this thing would ever be built. The answer appears to be yes. So the question now is a different one: Does a giant shopping mall represent anyone’s American dream anymore?

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