Saturday, March 12, 2011

ain't got no soul

To paraphrase a rock and roll song, a part of a city I visited recently ain't got no soul.
I'm sure the big box strip malls really didn't stretch on for miles in every direction, it just seemed that way. Every national brand of big box retailer was there. What wasn't there was any kind of visual appeal or sense of place. It really was just a monotony of parking lots, six-lane roads and big boxes that all looked alike. The exact opposite of a special place. I'll take our quirky town anytime.

I'm not a purist. I do sometimes shop at the big box stores in Gaylord or Petoskey or Traverse City for things we cannot get from our local retailers. But there they don't appear to go on for miles and miles. Even in the suburbs of big cities, they don't seem quite as monotonous as it did in this particular town. Then I thought 'maybe it's a sacrifice area.'

What I mean by a sacrifice area is an area turned over to a particular use and that use is concentrated in that area to keep it just in one spot. For example, dirt bikes are not appropriate every where in the forest. There are those who think they are not appropriate anywhere in the forest, but dirt bike users pay taxes and rather than close them out entirely -- or worse, driving them to practice their activities surreptitiously -- perhaps we can find a spot in the forest in which dirt bikes are tolerable. By saying to the dirt bike users 'here's somewhere you can pursue your sport, please do it there but only there,' maybe we can bring dirt bikers into the fold of recognized stakeholders that abide by the decision making process.

People (including me, sometimes) shop at big box stores. Should we have a sacrifice area to that pursuit?, I don't think so. Let's work with the big box interests to somehow work them into a place. There are stories of even the biggest of the big boxes or the most bland of the blandest national fast food chains being worked into the local scene. They're not doing us a favor by locating their store in our community. We're doing them a favor of working with them so that they can come to our community and make money.

My visit to this remaining un-named town was not completey without merit. Nestled in amongst the big boxes was a local Mexican restaurant. For all I love about where I live, access to Mexican restaurants isn't part of it. I had excellent, inexpensive tacos carne asada in a restaurant that wasn't done up to look like a Mexican restaurant. It was a Mexican restaurant.

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