Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A strip mall with a view

Like many rural suburban U.S. towns, mine—at its core—is a tangle of strip malls coalescing around a center. Surrounding that is a cat's cradle of wooded dirt roads dotted with 19th century farmhouses and cottages, and paved roads lined with 20th century capes and raised ranches. Fused to these are sparkling subdivisions named Dogwood Bridge Acres and Cedar Circle Woods, more than a few of which will soon devolve into Sub-Prime Mortgage Meadows and Foreclosure Sunset Farms (bringing the rest us down with them, thank you so much).

The center of our town is marked by a 100-foot flagpole, erected in 1876. Sidewalks lead in four directions from the pole. The sidewalks remind me of Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. At age six or so, I remember thinking: what a funny and absurd notion--a sidewalk, ending? Sidewalks don't end! The Earth is round!

They end in my town. They pick up again, anemically, at various points in the Commercial District. But they don't lead anywhere in particular (I don't count the banks, nail salons, or the CVS). People feel sorry for pedestrians here. Look at that guy! Why is he walking? Should we call it in? Maybe he's stranded.

Even in my car, I sometimes feel stranded. Yet, I've grown accustomed to this life. It's comfortable. The truth is that when I visit my home city, I often can't wait to get back. What does that say about the suburbs? About me? Hm.


John said...

A book that changed the way I look at our built environment is THE GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHERE by James Howard Kunstler - - I highly recommend it ( as well as the follow-up, HOME FROM NOWHERE). You'll yellow-highlight that book half to death if you're like me. Turns out there are very sad and often mundane reasons that the sidewalks end.

Liz Stone Abraham said...

I actually went yesterday to find that book at the library. They don't have it, so I might have to drop cash for it. At least I'll be able to mark it up, then. Thanks for the tip.

John said...

Trust me: Some books are books you have to OWN because you'll go back to them over and over again. GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHERE is one you have to own.

Money well spent - it was one of the first books I re-bought after the Great Flood.