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So it turns out people with lots of money don't want to live at the mall

The Globe reports units at the Natick Mall condo complex will be going to auction soon - with starting prices as much as 70% off - as its bankrupt owner tries to raise cash.

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Ah, you beat me to the post.

Does anyone else remember Sarah Schweitzer's instant classic from 2007, "Luxe Life at the Mall"? Yes, that's the article which hailed the "suburban pioneers" and proclaimed that the project was for "buyers who want shopping and luxury but not the hassles and higher prices that usually go with living in the city."

It also reported, in late 2007, that "Since they went on sale in late spring, 15 percent of Nouvelle at Natick's units have been sold." For those keeping score at home, that would be about 32 units. Then, the Globe reported this January that when the complex opened in the Fall of 2008, "with only about 30 of its 215 units spoken for." And, as the building heads for the auction block, the sales tally stands at 37. Charitably, when the spokeswoman spoke to Schweitzer and the reporter credulously swallowed her line of bull, there may actually have been 32 units under contract, and some of the contracts may later have been broken. But net sales have been essentially flat for two entire years.

But the broader point is that the Globe never should have run that disgraceful, hucksterish, manifestly anti-urban article to begin with. It was a desperate attempt at publicity by a stalled, failing project which even at the time was in crisis, unable to move its units. Somehow, the fact that the developers were unable to convince almost anyone to pay high-end prices to live at a mall got twisted into evidence to the contrary - that the next big thing was going to be mall living. Never mind that no one was actually buying the units. And we're two years on, without so much as a post-mortem from the paper. I think it owes us that much. How about a trend story explaining why it's the outer-ring suburbs that have fallen furthest (suggesting that, in a relative sense, it was the suburban units which were expensive during the boom), why mall living isn't all its cracked up to be, and why the hassles and inconveniences of urban life are what most of us think of as its attractions. That's a story I'd like to read.

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The day the "collection" part of the mall opened, boston.com had live reporting about how wonderful the mall now was.

Be careful what you ask for, though. Remember Schweitzer's piece about breeders taking over the South End? Or her more recent piece about the hipsters taking over West Roxbury?

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...but I didn't say I wanted Schweitzer to perform the penance. She's a classic example of a reporter who can't see nuance. Every story she reports is a tale of sharp disjuncture - things used to be one way, and suddenly, they're going to be entirely different. She finds a handful of examples and declares a trend.

The stories I like to read are about conflict and complexity. Nouvelle at Natick was - for me - a fascinating experiment. For decades, the entire appeal of malls and suburbia was the separation of spaces - one neighborhood to live, another to shop, and a third to work - and all of them horizontal and sprawling. When America's largest mall developer suddenly turns around and tries to build a residential tower at the mall, that is indeed evidence of a trend, just not the one that Schweitzer found. She chose to write about people rejecting urbanism; the real story was the uneasy embrace of urbanism. The people moving into Nouvelle at Natick were mostly older, looking to trade their larger suburban homes for a halfway community, not quite willing to go all the way. There's a terrific story there, about how our suburbs are coping with the urban revival, and struggling to evolve new models. But she missed it entirely, by mistaking an interesting failed effort for the next big trend.

Here's what I worry about. In an age of proliferating metrics - when editors can find out precisely how many people read each story, how long they spend on the page, how many times they e-mail it to friends - there's ever-greater pressure to write articles that will generate traffic. Schweitzer is a positive genius at doing this. She can take a small thing - dog parks in Newton, recession diets - and turn it into a polarizing caricature of itself. Her stories almost always provoke strong emotions and long strings of comments, at least in part because they are distorted. But it sells. And I fear we're bound to see a good deal more of it going forward.

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...although I have in the past, and currently work for another (online) big media company, and think this comment is spot on in absolutely every way.

While at the Globe: I witnessed an almost religious furor to chase "trend" stories, often co-opting anecdotal stories from reporters' friends to cobble together said trends.

While at my online big media company: I am partially *responsible* for analyzing and collecting the data about how many people read stories, how many pages turn, how many times it's emailed, etc., and can vouch for the fact that these things absolutely do drive editorial decisions for online media.

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I seem to remember one gentleman quoted who enthused over the "neighborhood feel" and how he loved leaving his apartment and strolling over to the neighborhood bar....But people live in urban areas partly because of the sense of place, which is something that has to develop over time--not artificially created as with a mall.

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when you can shop at home?

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...purchases on the internet! Who says you have to move to NH!

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Bwaahahahahahaaa!

Who in the world thought that paying downtown Boston prices to live above a mall around one of the worst stripmall stretches in the state was a good idea?

Again, Bwaahahahahaaaa!

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The story about the tidal wave of urbanites throwing it all
away to move to Vermont to join the burgeoning Artesinal Cheese
Movement, penned by the same Globe staffer.

It must be tough being a "Wealth Beat Reporter" during hard times
like these, eh?

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I did a sale at the Prudential, and across from me was a little door, people going in and out. It turned out to be a sort of condo lobby, and people lived up in the Prudential somewhere. They were mostly old people, I guess they came down to eat at PF Changs or something.

$160K is a great price for a luxury condo in Natick anytime. I'd invest if I had the money.

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