Please note I am not a rabid anti-capitalist as this rant may denote but I happen to dislike subarbia, further more I do enjoy playing devils advocate so one may never know what my views truly are.
You might as well be anywhere, maybe that’s why it is commonly called “anywhere USA”. The street is as wide as a freeway, hey it happens to be divided too, 6-8 lanes depending on how active the sprawl in your area is- of asphalt surrounded by the Lords of consumerism. Huge monotonous buildings crowd your view, as if they were trying to block out the sun with their brightly lit signs and vast expanses of asphalt beckoning the weary driver to take a brake from the dizzying pace of suburbia and stop in too gaze at numerous shelves of things they neither want nor need. Every store starts off the same, a huge steel and cinderblock shell, huge steel rafters marking where the shelves may be put extending from floor to ceiling, chock full of the latest in designer furniture, electronics or huge bottles of Heinz mustard. The red brick patterns denoting cross walks try to convey the feeling of a village setting. Look over there I can see the village green in the middle of the road, an island featuring grass and trees divides one highway from the other, and every once in a while provides a u-turn lane for those desperate enough to cross the expanse and try their hand at the stores on the other side of the road.
Gas stations with 30 pumps and all night car washes with huge signs featuring a sale on coke 6 packs welcomes the empty tanked commuters inside for a chance to add a pants size or two. Shopping carts riddle the parking lots like the lone survivors of the “get to the closest spot to the store” frenzy. All the drivers intent on getting somewhere, anywhere first race to every light, only to be nowhere ahead of those they were racing. Horns are blaring, luxury SUV’s are swerving trying to get home to the confines of their homes on a local cull de sac. The occasional open window reveals life behind the cocoons of steel that race like ants to their molehills. Music is blaring from a large truck on fancy wheels, as the driver is unseen behind the tint of his windows, the bass shakes the sides of his neighbors while they mutter racial slurs under their breaths.
The side of the road is lettered with garbage, hubcaps, Pepsi bottles and fast food wrappers. These symbols of our sprawling culture are lined up neatly awaiting the occasional prison workforce to once again make room for more trash and free advertising for the companies that line up once again like toy soldiers waiting to be discarded of. The only living thing it seems is the occasional pigeon or seagull munching on some cookies that fell out of someone’s hand as they were talking on the phone and opening their car door at once, their cookies or candy bar falling gracefully to the floor followed by a few loud expletives, and then the screeching tires of their automobile as they once again left the peace of the parking lot to join the race again. As if by magic or code words screamed in the form of expletives the birds reign in immediately, consuming the fallen baked goods to mere crumbs as these beings swoop down from a power line nest to show life to this concrete jungle of depressing, soulless, lifeless consumers. Even the grass denoting the village green looks dead, or fake maybe, just this splotch of green trying to cover up the simple fact that suburbia is lifeless.
And so the nicely placed old fashioned lampposts, red brick cross walks, grassy splotches and nice flags celebrating the 100th anniversary of Anywhere USA are comical in fact, and utterly fake. People once moved here for peace and quiet trying to escape the industrial, coal choked cities, at one point they would have found farms and a few streets featuring grand old ante bellum homes, then everyone wanted in, then everyone came and all was good because there were still trees and the downtown stayed downtown. But then something happened, people got lazy and wanted downtown to be uptown hence the retail strip commonly known as the large thoroughfare featuring instant oil change places, large 24 hour gas stations featuring more lights then some cities, Wal Mart, Linens and Things, Family Dollar, Best Buy, Target, local grocery store chain and so on. Like a nuclear holocaust for small business, local quality and mom and pops- they went the way of the Caribou should drilling take place in ANWR. Yes they died, while the chains and stores resembling Communist prisons in Siberia were being built and the occupiers were receiving tax breaks and incentive to pollute the water supply, and kill thousands of trees with 100 acre parking lots, the small butcher shop owned by your old buddy Joe was deemed not sufficient enough for the local area and bought via eminent domain according to the local court system and money hungry area politicians. Then the downtown was boarded up like so many cities such as Cleveland, Buffalo, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Detroit. All these cities all of the sudden experienced the worst case scenario for cities sprawl without growth, oh and they suffered, ruined businesses packed up and left and so did local tax dollars, property tax fell as the estate market flopped. The downtowns looked like present day Iraq and were only used by crack whores, skateboarders and the mayors office.
But some may say a renascence is happening, some may say you are wrong cities are on the rise. Just look at Providence, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Just look at how many establishments are reclaiming downtown as their mainstay. Now let me ask you, how many of those establishments have to do with drunken frat boys trying to get laid on Saturday night, now let me ask you how many folks shop at small non chain bookstores that do not confine your reading to whatever happens to be on the New York Times bestseller list that week, and how many of you patronize the independent grocer hiring local employees and actually spending the earnings in the local market rather then sending it down to our buddies at Bentonville Arkansas. How many of you venture downtown to do other things then score drugs or get boozed up at your local branch of Jillian’s. Granted Providence RI has seen great resurgence in the popularity of its downtown due to its bringing suburbia downtown, indeed a 200 something store mall of materialism and eateries ahs brought life back into its architecturally distinct urban area. Other stores moved in and eventually people began the move back to downtown.
Some downtowns feature more of what was supposed to lure those making the move in the first place. Trees, grass and green areas. How many times must one travel to the urban sprawl of New Jersey, or Illinois to realize that many folks raze their entire property to build massive mansions featuring pillars to try and give that Romanesque feeling yet never seem to. These tree holocausts as I will call them tear up all the old growth sometimes of thousands of acres only to be replaced by nicely manicured bushes and skinny little three year old trees that need to be supported by stakes. Furthermore the local park is more of a large grassy field with several baseball diamonds and possibly a fountain. Gone are the huge old birches and maples and tracts of wild growth that once called these “nice” suburban streets home, gone is the character of these places that made people sigh when they saw their 5 acre “lot” in the first place. A look at the older cities reveals the exact opposite. Take Central Park in NYC for example, this park set aside 840 acres of land to be preserved in the 1860’s granted much landscaping was done by our dear old friend and famous park architect Olmstead, but the old growths were left, the bushes were not exchanged for easily modified ones that suit the needs of people who think of plants as aesthetic features to be constantly modified like wardrobes or cars. There is more green space in many cities compared to the suburbia/retail/strip mall/box store/concrete expanses of lifelessness and monotony.