Monday, August 15, 2005

this is my vision of hell

New River Township is, for the moment, the edge of beyond.
Richard Patterson for The New York Times

Its square mile of tightly packed homes is the outer crest of Tampa's residential swell, four miles from the nearest grocery store and 30 minutes from the nearest major mall. Just down the road, beyond some orange groves, cattle graze languorously amid the insect hum of a sun-baked field, and only a few mobile home parks and a roadside stand selling tiki huts interrupt the vast sea of pine, palmetto and dense thatch.

I know the description is supposed to spark some sort of pastoralist nostalgia, and the times is celebrating the newfound "diversity" of the exurbs, but isolation and lack of commercial amenities makes my skin crawl. I always thought DUMBO was too isolated from civilization. I chose my apartment in LA because I didn't have to drive to buy a quart of milk. C grew up in a development like this - new condos constructed every week, plenty of surrounding wilderness to play in, kids rode their bikes to their friend's home. I just can't imagine it. my mother used to send me out for groceries and it involved a 30 sec walk. same for the dry cleaners, pharmacy, hair salon, pizza place and (because it was flushing, after all), authentic chinese restaurant with maybe one other family of gwai lo in a banquet hall of asians.

I moved to LA exactly two years ago. I flew out the morning after the east coast black out - most of queens still had no power, including JFK. (props to jetblue - the only airline actually operating that day). the night before, I took a walk with my mother in my old neighborhood in total darkness, with just a small flashlight to guide us. as we walked, the diversity of languages around us bespoke the diversity of their neighbors. I knew we had a lot of chinese neighbors - there were tons of local businesses to support that community. but I also heard spanish, hebrew, arabic,korean, and some south asian dialects. everyone was sitting on their stoop since it was too hot to stay inside. I had no idea just how diverse the neighborhood had become. I think I read once that queens is the most diverse place on earth - there are more nationalities and ethnicities there than anywhere else. take that london.

I'm just about to finish jane jacob's book Death and Life of Great American Cities (finally - I was yet again sidetracked by the fat new sept issues - fall clothes! fall ads! fall housewares! - I kid you not. damn those magazines and their seductive siren call I have no choice but to heed). in light of that book, and the many others that emphasis the importance of diversity of uses, coupled with the obvious oil crisis we're now in, that companies are still pouring money into developments like the one the nytimes describes. I don't care how "entreprenuerial" residents there are. they still have to drive 45 min to pick up a bag of cheetos and a case of schlitz. bad, bad planning.


At 11:58 AM, Blogger Tim said...

I like to brag that my commute is about twenty feet. I get out of bed and walk to my desk. Unfortunately, this plan does not make anyone money so there isn't a big lobbying effort going on for commuting a la natural.

Walking to work has got to be a big part of the solution. The infrastructure is already in place, cities are tightening up instead of sprawling (despite Disneys efforts in Florida)

I look forward to the time when one will be looked down on for doing something so selfish and twentieth century (or second millenium) as drive from the suburbs to work in the city.


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