April 30, 2020
The Kingston, NY Shopping Mall District during the pandemic.
I’d be lying if I said my fascination with walking in places where pedestrians are not exactly welcome began in late 2018 when, on assignment for Curbed, I journeyed on foot to LaGuardia Airport, accompanied by photographer Stanley Greenberg. The truth is that I’ve spent most of my life fascinated by non-places, the portions of the man made environment for which no one has bothered to craft an image, areas that might not even have a designated purpose. But that walk to LaGuardia, and some subsequent research, reinforced my belief that walking, especially in places where one isn’t expected or encouraged to do so, is important.
I began to think that walking, in and of itself, could be viewed as an act of civil disobedience, and that there’s a particular value to walking places where no one anticipated pedestrians or considered their needs. It’s a bit like being a tourist in a country that hasn’t yet opened itself to tourism: exotic and enlightening.
So, oddly but predictably, I was delighted to spend a morning last week in the portion of Kingston, NY that’s devoted to shopping malls. It was time to bring our car to the dealer for servicing. Normally we’d take it to our regular shop in Queens, but we’ve been spending our pandemic upstate. (And, at exact the moment we decided to postpone to oil change, the “check engine” light came on.)
The Kingston dealership’s service department was open, but its plush customer waiting area was closed. So my husband and I dropped the car and set off on foot. Our destination, the Target store, was about a mile and a half away. Google Maps sent us on a meandering route through parking lots and along roads with shoulders (sometimes) but no sidewalks, and up depopulated access ramps.
The parking lots were mostly empty and everything — except for supermarkets and fast food restaurants — was closed. As bleak as New York City looks devoid of human inhabitants, the Kingston Shopping Mall District looks bleaker. It has none of New York’s grandeur to offset the emptiness.
We picked up a few things at Target (including my very first bottle of hand sanitizer) and headed to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts. To get there, we had to traverse a huge expanse of asphalt and follow a winding downhill ramp with no shoulders, and rocks seemingly placed to discourage pedestrians. We then crossed highway 9W at a traffic light apparently placed for the exclusive use of Dunkin’s drive-through customers. (It was definitely not there to help pedestrians.) As we picnicked on the curb dividing the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-in lane from the Vitamin Shoppe parking lot, I contemplated the poignancy of a place that exists solely for convenience, abruptly drained of purpose. My husband, on the other hand, concentrated on the overwhelming eeriness; the Kingston Shopping Mall District, sans shoppers, became a science fiction movie spooling in his head.