Posted on February 19, 2015
Much of modern American commercial architecture is a study in faceless anonymity once you remove the trademark pasted on the front. Some might say it is a blight upon the landscape.
But look again and see how the light hits the surface, the details of decay, the geometric composition of shapes and colors. One can find interest and beauty amid the blight, all of which says something about who we are.
Posted on December 29, 2014
A new enclosed shopping mall has been built here in Sarasota. All over the country malls are struggling, being re-purposed or abandoned. But here a new one just opened. It is big. It is new. It is filled with things from other places.
They call it “University Town Center”. It is near University Parkway, and in the center of a very large parking lot, so perhaps that counts. There are some other big-box stores and their parking lots nearby, but no real town. This is the suburban fringe.
At the grand entrance just past the valet parking, one is dwarfed by the glass “foyer” containing a water feature and a group of indoor palm “trees”. High expectations for an upscale experience are tempered only by the dressed up, but ordinary, chain restaurants flanking either side.
Whether or not the mall will be a financial success remains to be seen. However, it is unlikely to ever serve as an authentic “town center”. Very little about it is authentic, from the conditioned and freshened air, to the indoor palms, the furniture that discourages rather than encourages interaction, and the piped in music and other sounds designed to create the illusion of excitement and anticipation. It is a monument to creating and fulfilling desires for things — not for creating any sense of community.
With only a few exceptions, the stores and the goods being sold here are the same as in dozens or even thousands of other locations across the country. Nothing, not even the air is authentically from this place. It doesn’t even smell like Florida. One could be anywhere.
But the parking lot was full and people were shopping. This mall is an artifact of our time. The sameness of corporate-led consumerism is becoming a defining characteristic of American life in the 21st century. But will there be a groundswell of those who eventually turn away from the siren song in search of the personal, the authentic, and community?
Posted on November 18, 2014
Posted on October 9, 2014
Fort Desoto sits on Mullet Key, guarding the entrance to Tampa Bay in Florida. Mullet Key and several other low lying keys are now Fort Desoto County Park visited for its fishing, camping, and miles of sandy beaches, in addition to its history.
The fort itself was built in response to the Spanish American War of 1898 to defend Tampa Bay from intruders. While the war ended in 1898, the fort was not completed until 1906. It never really served its military purpose, sitting largely unused throughout World War I. Several of its large mortars were even disassembled and shipped to San Diego in 1917.
The Fort’s remains stand amid the natural beauty of the seashore and these uninhabited islands. They are a reminder that more than a century ago the fear of war and invasion led to great waste — just as it does today.
Posted on September 15, 2014
The Salvation Army has built a new building in an older part of town. It is large with a rather blank and bland facade — looking like a light industrial building with a steeple.
The Salvation Army bills it as a worship center. They are clear that it is not where they provide desperately needed services to their poor and homeless clients. That is in a different part of town. Wandering around, I saw these two doors and wondered if either of them were the “pearly gates” one hears so much about. Surely one of these churches must have them.
Posted on August 5, 2014
Do you ever think about the thousands of ships sailing the sea? The visuals from these two small container ports — and a bit of the ocean in between them — are as interesting as the statistics about this hidden industry.
For example, did you know that there are over 100,000 ships plying the oceans of the world carrying nearly everything we consume — much of it in “boxes” or containers? While only 6,000 of those ships are container vessels, some of them are so large they can each carry up to 15,000 twenty foot containers, the equivalent of 746 million bananas!
With revenues of many billions of dollars, this industry is mostly hidden, international in scope, in some ways without nationality or rules, and a significant cause of particulate air pollution and pollution of the seas. You can read about these facts and more and gain your own impressions of modern day shipping in Ninety Percent of Everything, by Rose George. She says she hopes her book can help cure our “sea blindness.”
Whether you read the book or not, don’t be blind to the sea, and to the people who bring your stuff to you from the far corners of the earth. Shipping is an integral part of the modern, global economy.
Posted on July 9, 2014
Palm Avenue is one of the more attractive streets in downtown Sarasota. It is lined with art galleries, boutiques and restaurants, palm trees (many of which will soon be removed), historic buildings (some of which will be removed to make way for another high rise for the affluent), and even a large verdant grassy patch (soon to be dug up and covered over with a hotel).
Even after these changes, Palm Avenue will still be attractive — and probably even more comfortable for some. But it will also be different, and so will the rest of the city. With every change, the benefits of the change are trumpeted — and the losses and questions papered over with glossy brochures. These “Perspectives on Palm Avenue” ask whether we are building the kind of city we want.