Thursday, April 8, 2010

Historical Downtowns

After yesterday's post about California sprawl, blackdog commented that "I'm sure that at one time, maybe 60 or 70 years ago, those California towns had distinct neighborhoods too, but they were engulfed by the sprawl."

As we were leaving Fairfield, we found the historical downtown. It has this thing called "character," or at least used to. Being the seat of the county, it had the usual looming government buildings that designers create and councils approve, for whatever reasons they approve such things. Taste, apparently, is not one of the valued criteria, nor is concern about how damned forbidding the buildings are.

But if one blocks out the giant cement structures with a (large) hand and looks at the few blocks that surround them, one can indeed see the signs of a city that had a main street with shops and offices. Like downtown Redmond or one of any hundreds of towns you care to name, the place had, at one time, a center.

It's dirty and shabby now. One sees martial-arts studios, mattress shops, uninspired low-end restaurants, a jeweller, a couple beauty parlors specializing in hairstyles long out of fashion, furniture stores with orange and green plaid sofas, and other businesses targeting the lower income end of the economic spectrum; and, of course, plenty of law offices because of the proximity of the county courthouse.

It's a depressing reminder of how unbridled sprawl, shopping malls, strip malls, and chain stores can strip away a community's character and its center along with its money.

But there it was: the sad remains of what could be, today, a charming downtown.

Due to greed and crap planning, it was allowed to wither and die. The only thing keeping that downtown from being bulldozed and another shit mall from being banged up is the money the county government spends in it. That's just enough to keep the patient on life support, with a bit of a pulse, but not enough for it to become conscious. The soul has departed.

Along with anyone who cares.

Blackdog is right: buried inside every metastasized, cancerous stucco and asphalt southwest city I've ever lived in, one can find the original main street and the buildings that were once the downtown, its heart.

Here in Bend, the downtown is still intact and retains vitality. The shopping malls on the north end are regrettable, sure, but they are out of town and center of population has not been allowed to surround them. The northwest side is a disaster, certainly: a prime example of what has been shown not to work, over and over again (see any sprawl in California); and while 3rd Street is ugly, it's pretty much what one expects along a busy highway. There has to be a place for strip clubs, supermarkets, gas stations, and convenience stores, after all. The Old Mill isn't ugly, though I find it very, very boring.

I dunno, these are my opinions only. As a newbie I'm probably not even allowed to have opinions, in the minds of many. But after this last visit to California's vast wastelands of stupendously thoughtless out of control development, I just feel that if one lives in a town that hasn't yet had the life crushed out of it under the boot of profit, there is still hope.

Well, the battery is running down on this laptop so I'm just gonna post this without proofing it.


  1. "There has to be a place for strip clubs, supermarkets, gas stations, and convenience stores, after all."

    Yes, and Bend needs MORE STRIP CLUBS!

    We used to have two, but one burned down.

  2. A city with no strip clubs is no city at all. A city with but a single club is hardly better.

    Something Must Be Done. Competition leads to choice, which benefits the consumer. Monopoly, on the other hand, fosters indifference and mediocrity.

    Are you against indifference and mediocrity? Well -- ARE YOU?

    It's time for concerned citizens to make their voices heard in this crucial matter.

    Join us for a candlelight vigil downtown this coming Friday evening and demand MORE TITTY BARS!


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