Why should my town look like every other town?

I’ve always disliked homogenized milk. There’s no cream on top. Dwight Young, in Preservation Magazine, laments the loss of distinctive and historic local names, stores, cafes, and hotels as chains sweep through homogenizing the country so that “everyplace gradually turns into anyplace.” The disappearance of local cream is a great loss.

In his article “Name Dropping” in the magazine’s September/October issue, Young speaks of the “homegrown flavor” that’s now long gone from Plainview, Texas where he grew up. He misses Bryan’s Food and West’s Pharmacy. When I return to Tallahassee, Florida where I grew up, I no longer find the Florida Theater or Leon Federal Savings & Loan or Duval’s IGA Grocery. While I accept change as a constant, I wonder if we’re often in too much of a hurry to replace the old with the new.

Sure, we can be part of what “everyone’s talking about” online when McDonald’s replaces the “Seven Steers” with its comforting, you-know-what-you’re-getting food no matter where you are. But the food really isn’t better, is it? Goodness knows, the streamlined, cookie-cutter architecture from everywhere else really isn’t the real Plainview or the real Tallahassee.

Towns with pro-active historic preservation commissions have, at least, been able to mandate that when the chains move in, they must move in to local architecture. No, it’s usually not the adaptive re-use of an old building, but the new that is built is made to appropriately fit in with the old that remains.

Anything else is, as Atlanta’s late historian Franklin Garrett often said, “municipal vandalism.” He ought to know, for Atlanta is famous for vandalizing its heritage.

Young is, I think, realistic when he writes that “we can’t resurrect all the long-gone institutions we once knew, but we can certainly cherish the ones that are left. Heeding the familiar admonition to ‘buy local’ is good for the soul as well as the economy.” To keep the cream, you might have to pay a bit more, but a greater percentage of the dollars you spend stays in town and helps local businessmen and local families.

And that’s better in so many ways than having to say goodbye to the Florida Theater, Rich’s Department Store and West’s Pharmacy.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of the new comedy thriller “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.” Read a free sample from the Vanilla Heart Publishing sampler at Smashwords.

2 thoughts on “Why should my town look like every other town?

  1. Personally I think that the “cookie-cutter” mentality is simply a manifestation of our species’ fear of being alone. Therefore it is applied nearly everywhere.

    1. I guess when people pull into an unknown town after a long day of traveling, they feel safer with Holiday Inn and Wendys than with Bob’s Motel and Mainstreet Diner. Hardly any adventure in that.


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