Mess We Have Made
An excerpt from
the new book Cities Back From the Edge, published by John Wiley and Sons.
Roberta Gratz and Norman Mintz
nation's built landscape no longer differentiates
places. The "look of anywhere" prevails. If people don't know and
feel where they are, they don't know who they are. A plastic road
culture has replaced individual identity of place. The "crudscape,"
as environmental designer Ed McMahon calls it, has spread across the country
like kudzu (the rampant Southern vine that kills everything it covers),
strangling everything natural, indigenous, and historic. An enormous
dissatisfaction with the character, or lack of character, of our cities
and town grows.
personality, and place are inextricably
Your city, your town, your community is where you come from. It has
identity and character. Like the work you do, it is part of who you
are. It helps define you. When strangers meet, one of the first questions
they ask of each other is usually "Where do you live"?
of a friend reported this story. Two young
were sitting together on a train ride from New York City to Albany, New
York. One was from New Jersey, the other from Saratoga Springs, a
treasure of a place in northern New York that was saved years ago from
demolition and redevelopment by ardent historic preservationists.
Saratoga Springs functions as a well-rounded
and a magnet for new growth. The New Jersey woman asked the Saratoga
Springs woman where she was from. The Saratoga woman answered.
The New Jersey woman had never
of Saratoga Springs. Seeking a better description of the location,
she asked, "What is your mall?" "What?" replied the Saratoga woman, not
yet understanding the query. "What mall are you near?" clarified
the New Jersey woman. When the Saratoga resident named a mall less
than an hour from her home, the New Jersey woman knew exactly
that was. Can a mall really substitute for an
malling of America has so homogenized us, so franchised our places of work,
residence, and leisure, and so separated our daily functions from each
other that there are fewer and fewer places in downtown America and in
the rural countryside where people can connect as individuals, as neighbor,
as different people with an unchallenged capacity to develop a civic concern
for each other regardless of differences. Suspicion and fear of "them"
race, nationality, or minority distinction is the local "them") has replaced
familiarity and comfort among neighbors. Isolated homogeneous enclaves
have replaced connected or adjacent heterogeneous communities. Local
stores owned by familiar members of a community have been replaced by anonymous
corporate entities that drain resources from that local economy.
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