My Biggest Peeve

This is Meridian. It’s Bellingham’s ugly, crappy “strip mall” hell. Unfortunately, I work in an office park in this area. I hate it. I honestly believe this car-centric, wasteful, ugly, shitty form of development is a harbinger of the end of America. There are very few places in the United States that are not infected with this kind of idiotic and grotesque commercial nightmare. One of my favorite writers, James Howard Kunstler, refers to it as a “technosis externality clusterfuck”. Here’s his talk at TED in 2004:

James Howard Kunstler Dissects Suburbia

I agree with every thing said in that video. Kunstler may be a loose cannon, but on this subject (Peak Oil and the the End of Suburbia) he is right on. What’s so frustrating is that almost everyone agrees that this is Not Good. Only an aesthetically bankrupt moron could look at suburbia and strip malls and say “This is good. I like this. I want this.” Yes, there are many such morons. But they are easily outnumbered by the Americans who say “I hate this shit, too. But it’s overwhelming. Where else will I live? Where else will I shop?”

They have valid points. In the last 50 years, corporate superpowers have raped the American landscape. There is almost nowhere left to hide. No cookie-cutter development is too blank, no strip mall too hideous, no civic center too brutal. The Greed-heads have descended like locusts and converted all of America from a community-minded group of Main Streets into a fearful swath of isolated brains crammed into a sprawling surburban same-scape.

Now, Bellingham is lucky. We have two “Main Streets”: our downtown core and the Fairhaven district. They were built prior to WWII, when civic design was driven by a desire to make neighborhoods walkable and attractive. They were built on a human scale where people could live, work, shop and recreate within walking distance or a short trip on public transportation (in Bellingham, it used to be trolley cars).

Fairhaven in Fall

Fairhaven in Fall

Fairhaven has become a magnet for locals and tourists. All the businesses are locally owned. Franchises and corporate giants are verboten. Historic buildings butt up against reasonably attractive condominiums. Isn’t it telling that places that eschew corporate retail become destinations? Don’t you think we deserve better than the soulless garbage heap at the top of this post? Why do we put up with this? Where is the outrage when another scumbag developer waltzes into town to take a dump on our city, profit handsomely, then leave?

This may all become moot. When Saudi Arabia eventually lets the world know that its production has peaked, our car-centric infrastructure will very suddenly become an albatross around our necks. All those millions of square miles of tidy suburban developments (and their adjoining lifeless strip malls) will become the most undesirable places to live. The big question will be: can we retrofit this unsustainable sprawl, or should we just plow it under? When gasoline becomes $20 a gallon, these questions will become very real indeed.

Kunstler summed up suburbia very well: It’s the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

We in Bellingham are lucky. We’re comparatively compact. We even have a usable shipping port (which is about to be retrofitted into a marina to support all those luxury yachts that no one will want when Peak Oil finally sets in).  We are surrounded by good arable land. We have plenty of rainfall. Our electricity is 100% renewable hydro. We have some suburban sprawl, but it’s not big enough or far enough to be unservicable when cars become useless.  We are lucky.

Ever been to Phoenix?

Technosis Externality Clusterfuck.

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2 Responses to My Biggest Peeve

  1. Tillman says:

    No doubt. When all the editorial effort a developer can muster is to change “Another Fucking Albertson’s” to “Another Albertson’s”, these are dire circumstances, indeed.

  2. Dodd says:

    I don’t know dude, I make it to fairhaven infrequently, and every time I’m there it seems to look more and more like one of these outdoor malls that’s springing up about the place.

    Frankly, I remember the days when Fairhaven was not a place nice people went. As it gravitates towards being an upscale shopping community, I’m less and less likely to want to spend time there to be honest. It seems inevitable, given it’s adjacency to one of the wealthier communities in the county.

    Also, don’t forget the Fountain district. It’s one of the original whatcom county anchor towns that was rolled in together with Bellingham and Fairhaven to create what is now known as “Bellingham”. It’s not exactly a dead community either, there a couple decent restaurants there and a couple worthy shops. In a way, Fountain district is most dramatically victimized by the franchise ghetto flourishing just a couple miles up the road.

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