Visual police

Having got back from the Midwest after our Christmas break I can sort of empathise with this great New York Times article on the bland, cookie-cutter aesthetic of much of the US’s towns. And I like the idea of an organization that you can go to if you’re a planner, and you don’t like the state of things.

“To the left, the Wendy’s, like a gingerbread house from a child’s nightmare. To the right, the Burger King, like a highway restroom that sells hamburgers. And everywhere, the billboards and neon, the strip malls and parking lots, urging us to look here, here, no here, drive up, drive thru and, remember, drive safely.”

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Having said that, there are many areas that are old and interesting. They don’t HAVE to be old to be interesting, but from my experience most are. We stayed in Neosho, Missouri, whose town square is historic and interesting, with small antique shops and plenty of parking. It’s clearly seen better days, and most residents clearly prefer to head for the WalMart on the outskirts of town, where the environment gets more like the one described in the article above. But Neosho is seeing its own signs of redevelopment, as is nearby Joplin. There’s hope that people would rather have that history and maybe even the pleasure of walking from one small shop to another.

We live near Staines, a town which I’ve tended to mistrust. It’s never seemed like a particularly healthy, cultural or friendly town. But I have to admire the way the shopping area has been renewed. They’ve successfully co-located some large stores (a big Tescos, PC World and so on) within walking distance of the high street. They were lucky to have the space. A lot of towns don’t. And what they’ve ended up with is the best of both worlds. A big shopping experience that encourages you to walk and experience the small shopping experience on the high street. It feels quite vibrant. For Staines.