Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Introducing the "New Urbanist" shopping mall

JUST FOUND THIS while Ixquicking (that's my new term for Googling) "Faux New Urbanism."
In a misguided attempt to inject some classical urban charm into the North Conway, New Hampshire location of Lowe’s, someone thought is would be a good idea to build-in a pretty hilarious row of fake second-story windows on their otherwise completely suburban box-store.

But how about the "New Urbanist" suburban shopping mall? This one in Burr Ridge, Ill. (not far from where I live) is the reason I was Ixquicking "Faux New Urbanism" to begin with.

The nostalgically named Burr Ridge Village Center boasts a "vibrant main-street setting." (They don't mention it's built right next to an interstate highway.) And yes, the buildings do attempt to mimic the homes-over-storefront look of real classic town centers. But instead of the variety of a real town (like Homewood, IL* , a rail-centered south suburb of Chicago), where on a typical block you might have a gas station, a corner grocery store, local mom-and-pop coffee shops, taverns, pizzerias and ice cream parlors, local banks, civic buildings, and locally owned hardware stores, every store in these fake company towns is a shiny clone of a national chain.

Rather than living quarters for shopkeepers and other normal people, the "apartments" above the Banana Republic and Starbucks in the Burr Ridge Village Center are high-end condos. In short, it's a mall disguised as a small town.

No doubt a candidate for "localwashing": "Shop Local! All your favorite hometown shops here — from Starbucks to The Gap!"

*I couldn't find any good photos of downtown Homewood, but thanks to Google and the U.S. government's scary satellite technology, you can just go to Google Maps  punch in "Ridge and Dixie, Homewood, IL" into the address bar, zoom all the way in, and you'll get the street view in downtown Homewood. You can zip up and down the streets to your heart''s delight.

Or try Hinsdale, Burr Ridge's neighbor to the south, also with the advantage of commuter rail. For Hinsdale, punch in "Garfield and Chicago, Hinsdale, IL."


pen2sword said...

Hah! There is one of these near where I live. Everyone calls it Fakeworld. And then there is a REALLY SCARY Fakeworld near Columbus. Get this: phone booths. Just plain creepy.
However, I also take these Fakeworlds as a good sign. It means that the masses are looking for little walkable neighborhoods and town squares; now if only we could give them the real thing.

the author said...

Hey M&M, or pen2sword,

Fakeworld sounds like some kind of period movie set ...

Yes, livable, walkable neighborhoods would be nice. These places do, of course, already exist, and many of them are begging for people to move into them. Unfortunately many of these places (older towns, city centers) also blighted and run-down, or simply have no economy to support people. Some of the most potentially people-friendly and comfortable places to live are ghost towns. We could reverse things, with widespread education as to the causes (which are known), and a concerted effort to change it.

Also, we have been captive to dumb (or diabolical) planning fashions for so many decades that have encouraged separating life from work and recreation and civic activity. Again, in many sprawlburb communities, the only discernible centers are the gargantuan consolidated school buildings. (One may chalk it up to stupidity alone, or one may surmise, as I do, more sinister motives closely linked to the alienating, family- and community-weakening purposes which were acknowledged to have motivated the founders of government schooling.)

Equally ruinous has been other stupid and/or evil policies -- chiefly tax policies -- and subsidy of car culture at all levels of govt, further incentivizing anti-human development patterns. See Kunstler essay on how taxation helps create the geography of nowhere.

pen2sword said...

Yeah, maybe for Superman or something. He needs a place to change, right?
Anti-human. That is a good way of describing it... And I must say that you and my dad would get along very well. He, too, thinks that things are more likely "diabolical" than stupid. (It's almost a little creepy. He will say something that I think, "oh, even for Dad, that is really out there." And then two days later I see something that proves him right.)

The essay you sent me to pretty much describes Cleveland, and our house. (Sadly.) I'll have to read it a few times to completely absorb it, but it's very interesting, so thanks. I was also struck by a phrase used toward the end: "the spiritual impoverishment of suburbia". Exactly!

But I'm not too cynical. Firstly because I have a choice, and I will firmly choose not to live in some soul-killing development. Secondly because I have recently seen two very livable cities near Cleve, which are on what I hope is the forefront of even more positive changes of this nature coming to other cities.