Saturday, May 06, 2006

Nirvana: Living Above Your Drugstore

Oh my, there is some wickedly good writing out there on the web. Consider this excerpt:

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!


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. I hate the homogenization on America. You can go to CA, NY, NC or AZ and be subject to the same trends sweeping across the nation. Chains taking over the mom and pops of the country. Downtowns are the "next place" and that is where the masses are moving...this fact is inevitable.

Sadly, your approach to educating the masses is offensive. You seem to use manipulation to scare the masses with wildly off the wall opinions in your writing. You are probably the reason our leaders stop listening to your are a bully with words and your opinions are to extreme.

Keep in mind...I 100% agree with what you say with you. However, because of the way you write and your extreme opinions I will not listen to what you say. I will never be able to publicly back you. Your reasoning is correct but the way you talk polarizes people instead of unifies people. Good luck with your efforts because you are going to loose in the long run which is sad because the underlying message in what you are saying is true.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually not as against this as one might think I'd be personally. We need to get back to mixed land-use urban living centers. This may be the 21st century "adjustment" to a basic formula that otherwise works. True, that you have to pay for it pretty steeply is as elitist as it sounds in this initial example, but if it works it won't be long before people figure that similar mid-grade communities might be profitable too. When that happens a REAL return to urban living might take hold. Not that any of this is to dismiss the idea of down towns re-emerging. They are, but only through political conflict which is slowing it down. If profiteers discover and reap the market of people who will pay to live securely and within convenient access to shops (read: walking-access, not with a car), maybe their "total focus" version of these normally government/private ventures will move much faster.

Anonymous said...

A drug store downtown is an absolute necessity, if you consider the changing demographics; average age is going way UP. Basically, Sarasota's version of Nirvana will be tweaked to make our seniors happy. Our local economy is serviced based(medical, real estate, financial), not traditionally the highest paid occupations. Younger people and families will not be able to afford Pineapple Square.

I live downtown, in a newer development. At around 1800 s.f., our units are decently sized. There are no families with children here. No young professionals either. Average age is north of the mid 50's.

All this talk about exciting urban renewal in the downtown core is nonsense. The word urban implies a mix; of people, scenes, incomes, etc. What is really going down, has more to do with ossification than renewal. Sun City Central if you will...

Also, Florida already has it's own version of the shopping/living experience. It is in West Palm Beach, called City Place. I have been there; a great place to shop but I would not want to live there.