Saturday, April 26, 2008

Selling Out for Sameness

How many streetlights do you count?

I have no idea how many streetlights there are in this photo, but I know there are enough to light up the night sky for miles around. Now, how many feet of sidewalk do you see in this photo? Bike lanes? Charming family-owned restaurants? Uniquely memorable street corners?

Well, I think you get the point. Sprawl is a problem that plagues many parts of the US, including Columbus, OH (this particular picture). Only after living in New England for the past 13 years do I realize just how much I appreciate the diversified transportation options, uniqueness of space, and locally-owned businesses found in this region of the country.

When I go back and visit parts of the country like those in the picture above, I am deeply saddened (and sickened) as I see the people of this great country trading in the heart and soul of their communities for commercialization and sameness. Obviously, this did not happen overnight--no one would have stood for that. Nevertheless, it seems that many people have decided that they'd rather eat OK food that tastes the same in California or Ohio than find the best meal ever after trying a few local places.

I'm not sure if these attitudes are simply generational, but it is my hope that they are changing. I know it sounds trite but ,"Variety is the spice of life."

Further, since when should it be easier to drive to the corner store than it is to walk? Columbus, OH has excellent roads, but without a car, you can't get anywhere (buses don't count). In my mind, that is a failed transportation system. I made the mistake of attempting to go for a run around the area in that picture, and all got was a heap of frustration and a piece of glass in my shoe (fortunately, no cuts). In order to stay fit, people have to get in their car and drive to a park or gym. What a waste! It's no wonder us Americans have an obesity problem; our communities cater to obesity (pun intended).

The development in that picture has been built within the past few years, and it is still under construction in places. The people designing/approving/building it know better, but the culture seems to allow corners to be cut when it comes to transportation options and livability. Why are we shooting ourselves in the foot?

Thankfully, there seems to be smart development spreading. So there is hope.

Where do you think we are headed? What's it like in your neck of the woods?

1 comment:

foolery said...

Well, I live in a rural area, not within any town limits and governed by a small, slimly funded county. We have no streetlights, no curbs, no sewers, sidewalks, bike paths or public transportation of any kind.

That said, I am in California, where there must be as many building requirements as in any place on Earth. The town where I work is working hard to be bike-friendly (but this does require a lot of curbs, streetlights, etc. for safety). Several years ago the last of the train tracks were completely torn out of the center of the city and made into bike paths.

The two largest cities in extreme Northern California (Chico and Redding) have very active campaigns to revitalize the downtown shopping districts. So, while you're right that urban sprawl is (and has long been) a problem, there are many people in my area who are fighting it. A common theme up here is "NO WAY SAN JOSE," referring to Silicon Valley's unrestrained, dysfunctional and ugly urban sprawl.

Maybe more people just need good and bad examples close at hand.

Sorry! Too much coffee. Great topic -- cheers!