Bad Buildings are like Bad Food

In a pair of posts last week, I mentioned the need for good architecture and raised questions about building quality at the LDS Church’s Missionary Training Center. At the same time, Sarah Goodyear at The Atlantic Cities came up with a great metaphor for the kind of low quality buildings that characterize much of America’s built environment: junk food.

Goodyear writes that the typical big box store “aspires to nothing and achieves it,” and mentions how many developments are designed to basically disappear:

The idea that something as huge as a Costco, say, or a Walmart, could disappear is laughable. But it does. Like enormous, sheepish monsters crouching in plain sight, these stores erase themselves from our perception even as we look at them. And they blot out huge swaths of space around them at the same time. Try to describe the features of the area immediately around the last big-box store you visited. Can’t remember what it looked like? Me neither. It’s hard to recall the individual nuances of a left-turn lane, or a shopping-cart corral.

The article is accompanied by a photo of a bland strip mall that could easily be in Provo or thousands of other American cities.

Goodyear also writes that despite progress toward making better places, the quantity of these types of developments are overwhelming and destructive:

These are the empty calories of place and space, filling us up, crowding out the more “nutritious” places where we can interact pleasantly with other humans, enjoy the shade of a tree, or walk along a street. We consume these places without thinking, like potato chips in front of the television, and it is no coincidence that they help to make us fat.

The issues brought up in the article by Goodyear — which are recurring themes on this blog and in numerous publications — are a big deal. But unlike obesity and junk food — or any number of other problems — community members and civic leaders virtually never talk about how to directly solve the multitude of problems created by bad existing development.

Maybe it’s time to change that.

This sort of cheap development is massively flawed. As a result, civic leaders and community members shouldn’t be asking how to fill these spaces up with tenants, they should be asking how to solve the problem of having them in the first place.

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1 Comment

Filed under building, construction, Development

One response to “Bad Buildings are like Bad Food

  1. In Melbourne, Australia, the local government has spent the last ten years inexorably expanding the suburban fringe. Melbourne is now one of the largest, and least dense cities in the world. One of the (many) major downsides of this is that the outer suburbs are poorly served by public infrastructure – no public transport, no local shops, no shopping villages. The only way to get to the milk bar, or the post office, or the newsagent is to drive to the nearest big-box shopping store. Though I would love to see studies between average BMIs in inner and outer suburbs, I can already guess the answer.

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