I was reading an article in Salon.com about a reporter visiting South Africa for the World Cup, and found this description of Soweto:
Old photos of Soweto show tracts of tiny, rectangular, one-story brick dwellings with bald lawns of worn-down grass. The government built successive developments of identical houses; if you said the name of your neighborhood, it would be easy to guess the layout of your home. There was rarely electricity or indoor plumbing; there were few parks, few streetlights, no shopping malls.
With that last sentence, I knew the author was American. It’s the expectation of shopping malls that gives it away.
The oldest true shopping mall in Lisboa opened in 1985. So an “old photo” of Lisboa would show no shopping malls, just like Soweto. I suspect old photos of most European, Latin American and Asian cities would show a lack of shopping malls, because malls are an American export.
I live in a much smaller city than either Lisboa or Soweto, having a population of around 21,000 people — but I came here from an even smaller American city, population 10,000. Yet that American city had more streetlights, more traffic signals, and several strip malls. I’m happy to say my adoptive home has no strip malls whatsoever, and we have to drive quite a way to access a shopping mall. May it stay thus for many years to come.