Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Hill Country Galleria by Emily Jabali

The Hill Country Galleria, opened in 2008, has become a site of attraction for many of the people that inhabit the Lakeway and Westlake area, two very similar suburbs of Austin. People from this area tend to be pretty affluent and are able to have not only the spare time but the cash in order to afford to shop, eat, and enjoy what the Galleria has to offer. From department stores, local shops, a diverse array of eateries, a grocery store, and a movie theatre, the Galleria really has it all. Not to mention Bee Cave City Hall and a public library also sit on the mall grounds. The Galleria blurs the line between a public space and a private one, as well as demonstrates certain cultural practices that can only be found on this side of town.
The different elements I decided to observe at the Galleria were the purses women were carrying and the different ways the hill country rock and limestone were used. I chose to ask 15 different random women what type of purse they had, how much it cost, and if they purchased it for fashion or functionality. From the data I collected, I found out that more than half of the purses were designer brands, ranging between $700-$1,800 in price. The other half of the purses were random brands from a variety of stores. Of these, the prices ranged from $10-$120. From these observations, I have gathered that the women who shop here without a doubt care more about fashion rather than function. They also do not mind spending a significant amount of money on a purse. It is apparent that the women from this area are in a different mind set than the women in other areas of Austin. In regards to the hill country rock and limestone, it was utilized in a multitude of different ways and is definitely the focal point of the mall from an architectural standpoint. Not only is it used for the main construction of the mall, but it is also used as a sidewalk, as potters for trees and plants, as miniature monuments that sit on an open lawn within the mall, and in a variety of other ways.
The Hill Country Galleria is the perfect example of a private space appearing to be a public space. The Galleria is a non- government owned mall, which in reality is private, although it appears like a public space because it is a common area. Malls are not public space. They are private spaces that are in modern society being perceived as public spaces. There is a dilemma between the private ownership policies and how one can use the space.  There are no fees to get into the Galleria, and you don’t have to buy anything to enjoy what the space has to offer. People just go to the Galleria to get outside and take a walk with their family. As observed, there are many different seating areas made of the classic hill country rock and limestone. These seating areas vary from benches to chairs, some in the shade near landscaping and some not. Additionally, there is a water fountain that shoots water from the ground where children can play, especially on hot summer days. These different leisurely activities can be enjoyed without having to use any other service the Galleria has to offer.
As discussed in class, there are different ways people are expected to behave in public and private spaces throughout the United States. It is often understood that people are expected to maintain their privacy while amongst others or while in a crowd. In both a public and private space, there are explicit and implicit rules that must be followed. For example, the law upholds rules banning drug use, drinking, and indecent exposure. Another rule, specific to the Galleria, is that costumers of the mall are not allowed to park in the parking garage intended for the apartments located behind the mall. Perhaps it is best to describe the Hill Country Galleria as a privately owned public space. This is a result of urban redevelopment.
Additionally, the Galleria demonstrates certain cultural performances that one would only find in this area of town. First of all, the times I was there, I mostly observed the mall being used by Caucasians. It is almost impossible to encounter any Hispanics or African Americans. What I gathered from my observations is that the people that visit the mall are mostly white women and children. High school and middle school students from the Eanes and Lakeway school districts have, over the years, made the Galleria their “hang out.” It has become a place where children can go off on their own and take part in certain activities while parents can do the same, as well as supervise. With the galleria, parents are now able to run errands while their children hang out with friends. It is, in a way, a one-stop shop for many families. According to Margaret Kohn, “industry watchers report that the average visit to a ‘leisure time destination’ (a mall with sophisticated design elements, restaurants, and movie theaters) lasted four hours as compared to just one hour at a conventional mall” (Kohn, Margaret: 256). Another cultural practice that I observed is that, in addition to the parking spots along the sidewalks of the mall, there is a large parking lot behind the stores where people can park. In the hotter months, beginning in May and ending in September, or when it is raining, the Galleria offers free rides, from your car to the stores, on a large golf cart. This is a luxury that cannot be found at other outdoor malls.
I would say that the Galleria is not a completely democratic space. It is democratic in the sense that there are no fees to get in, and no matter where in the city you come from, you can go to the Galleria. However, other than benches and a water fountain, the mall has nothing to offer someone from a lower income family. Most of the shops are expensive, as well as the restaurants. The only neutral things that are sold are movie tickets at the Cinemark. Furthermore, the Galleria is not a close distance from central Austin, and it takes a lot of time and gas just to walk around an outdoor mall. The location of the mall decreases its desirability for lower income families because it is not realistic for people from other areas of the city to ever frequent the Galleria. Even people from Davenport, a neighborhood in Westlake, have to travel a pretty significant amount just to get to the galleria. By being so far out, the mall, in a way, excludes people of a different class or different area from ever visiting the Galleria.
In essence, the Hill Country Galleria is a private space that appears as if it were a public space. The primary visitors of the mall are from only two areas, Lakeway and Westlake. People from these neighborhoods tend to be on the wealthier side, which permits them to be able to shop at the higher end stores that are in the mall. If one were to look 10 years into the past, the Hill Country Galleria wouldn’t exist, nor would hardly any of the developments in that area. The Galleria and its surroundings are very new, which signifies that these suburbs of Austin have not only been growing in size, but in appeal. More and more people want to live in nice neighborhoods, put their kids in the best schools, and frequent the best places. However, in reality, the majority of the population is not in the financial position to do so. One thing is for certain, what one would mostly encounter at the Hill Country Galleria is white, rich people.

"78738." American FactFinder - Community Facts. United States Census Bureau, 2010. Web. 11 July 2013. <>.
Gregory, Derek, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt, Michael Watts, and Sarah Whatmore. The Dictionary of Human Geography. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.
Kohn, Margaret. "The Mauling of Public Space." Course Pack/Brave New Neighborhoods. Austin: University Co-operative Society, 2013. 253-65. Print.
Smyrl, Vivian Elizabeth. "BEE CAVE, TX." Drupal. Texas State Historical Association, n.d. Web. 11 July 2013. <>.