Sunday, March 4, 2007

Our town, version 2.000

There is a passage in the profile of Orlando in this month's National Geographic that stopped me dead. T.D. Allman writes:

All over Orlando you see the forces at work that are changing America from Fairbanks to Little Rock. This, truly, is a 21st-century paradigm: It is growth built on consumption, not production; a society founded not on natural resources, but upon the dissipation of capital accumulated elsewhere; a place of infinite possibilities, somehow held together, to the extent that it is held together at all, by a shared recognition of highway signs, brand names, TV shows, and personalities, rather than any shared history. Nowhere else is the juxtaposition of what America actually is and the conventional idea of what America should be more vivid and revealing.

Welcome to theme-park nation.

This resonated with me because I see hints of Allman's dark vision here in the small town of Williamburg. Colonial Williamsburg, for instance, has expanded its for-profit side with a newly-opened spa in what used to be the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and broken ground on an executive health center. On one hand, I welcome these amenities; on the other, I'm not clear on their connection to the heritage that CW was established to restore and protect.

We've also got two so-called New Urbanism communities under construction -- New Town and High Street. I'm sure you've seen one near you; they are those outdoor shopping malls that you can move into. On one hand, I'm glad to see all the new stores and restaurants; on the other, these developments are so patently commercial that to call them 'communities' seems worse than phony.

Is Allman's paradigm coming here? Is it coming to a town near you, too?

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