Then came -- and it's still coming -- our sad lust for gated communities. Somewhere between 5 and 10 million American households are now locked behind some sort of fence or wall, something requiring a security pass code and a swipe card and a disgruntled security guard and a weird sense that you have sold part of your soul in exchange for a thin veneer of security and cleanliness.
Gated communities are a sign. They are part of our devolution toward ... I'm not sure what. Communal self-loathing? Quivering mistrust of the universe? Fear of anything beyond our own driveway? Someone should write a book. Or two.
But now there is a new mutation. There is a burgeoning trend, a bizarre and nefarious hybrid lifestyle movement wherein the upscale urban living experience is being completely and utterly subsumed by and folded into the larger context of the consumer experience. It is frightening and beautiful and, in the age of co-branded, co-opted everything, makes perfectly terrifying sense.
Witness, for just one example, the hip, ultramodern outdoor mall in San Jose called Santana Row. Enormous. Five or six full city blocks (558,000 square feet), all contiguous and all carefully preplanned to look like some sort of idyllic "natural" Euro-American village, with benches and grassy areas and trees, all carefully placed but not a single stitch of it evolving organically, fluidly, as a real community develops. Oh my no. That would be, you know, crazy.
Santana Row. It combines all the best/worst/most cliched aspects of the American nouveau rich-wannabe yuppie life into one massive sprawling skillfully designed orgiastically moneyed complex: 70 shops, 20 restaurants, six movie screens, five spas, a four-star hotel, mini-gardens, courtyards, terraces, nice lighting, scented clouds, imported Guatemalan midget slaves, liquid Prozac in the drinking fountains, soul-numbing music, nose jobs and Botox like a requirement, snooty oddly asexual hottie blondes like a rash. It is positively lovely. (Wanna see? Here, take a swell video tour.)
But here is the most amazing part: The entire complex is overlaid with more than 500 pricey housing units, whereby you can actually dump 500K to $2 million of your tech-job money on a very precious and only modestly claustrophobic 1,000-square-foot box and actually live directly in the mall, staring out your giant loft window at either the mall parking lot or the interior of the massive shopping plaza itself (your choice) and casually watch the shoppers 15 feet beneath you across the courtyard meander through, say, the Tommy Bahama store. Joy.
They have done it. They have actually managed to seamlessly fuse life with commerce, eliminate the line separating home and shop, individual and commodity. You no longer live miles down the road from Restoration Hardware. You live above it. You no longer leave your home nestled in your cozy quirky neighborhood to go to the park or go to yoga or go to Pottery Barn to pick up some flatware. You walk out your front door and you are already in the store.
It is the final collapsing of the two tenuous American identities: discrete individual and mass consumer. Why gaze out your window at a raw city view or a tranquil nature view or even just the scarred brick wall of the funky old 1922 apartment building across the street? Better to open the window and breathe deep the inky scent of raw American cash flow, stare down at people spending their paychecks at Cole Haan and Best Buy and Sunglass Hut. Nirvana!
The "rest of the story" is an excellent read. You can find it here.
It seems that our own little Pineapple Square has aimed a bit low when they tried to remake downtown Sarasota into an upscale urban-consumer experience. We are stuck with only a couple blocks, no movie screens and hardly any talk of "imported Guatemalan midget slaves, liquid Prozac in the drinking fountains" and the like. Not to worry though, I'm sure we will learn how to get by with what we have.
After all it is comforting to know that Mr Simon and company were in talks with CVS, trying to bring this storied drug chain to Pineapple Square. The missing link for a complete downtown experience, you know. It's like, who wouldn't want to plunk down $500k to live in a 1000 sq ft box above a drugstore? Sarasota's own version of nirvana.
Watch out California, here we come!