Archives for posts with tag: community

It was incredibly sad, at least for me, when Borders announced that they were going under.

This might seem somewhat ironic, or at least hypocritical, coming from an urban planner of my bent.  In countless papers and debates, I’ve argued (along with many of my colleagues) against the influx of big-box stores into our cities and communities.  No question that when a larger store comes into the picture, it edges out the smaller ones.  When stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble came into the picture, and began spreading out across the country, it definitely became an uphill climb for local bookstores.  As smaller, local stores slowly closed their doors as business went to where the books were cheap and flowed with abundance, we planners and community advocates shook our fists and whined to our city councils.

However, now that a store like Borders is closed, and Blockbuster is slimming down incredibly, I’ve looked back at my patterns of movement and patronage, and realized the big loss involved here.  Sure, I’d rather go to a local book store than a big box one; the same goes for renting movies, and buying coffee.  But in today’s globalized economy, where we expect all the options to be laid out before us, those might be the best we can get, at least for a time.

What it comes down to is WHY these stores are forced to close:  the rage of internet shopping.

I have so many happy memories of running out to Blockbuster with my friends, whether it was at the beginning of a sleepover, all us gals in our PJs, or the beginning of a long night of movie marathons with the fam.  The same goes for Borders- often, after going out for dinner, my family would stop by the local Borders and browse books for an hour or so, usually buying a least a couple.

It simply isn’t the same when you’re downloading a movie onto your laptop, or ordering a book online.  There is really something to be said for the tactile experience of picking up books and flipping through them, feeling the weight of the words you could be enjoying at home.  Whether is was to relax, browse the clearance section, or feed my need for new literature, going to the bookstore, no matter what size it was or who owned it, was a treat.  Same goes for renting movies.

The loss of these store to the internet business is just one more way our internet-obessed society is staying more introverted and home-ridden than ever before.  Since when did kids need to be reminded to go out and play?  How many people have you casually talked to about the latest Stephen King novel, or which comedy flick they’d recommend?  Those casual conversations, the bumping of shoulders with anyone and everyone, obviously doesn’t happen on the internet, where the comments flow like angry rivers because not being face to face, no one is accountable for what they say or do.

I realize its a stretch to call Borders and Blockbuster a third place- and thats not quite what I’m arguing for anyway.  But the lack of these familiar businesses in my neighborhood definitely has resulted in a loss for my community.  Having those physical places to go, interact, and shop is vitally important to the health of a neighborhood.

On the other hand, I’m visiting my local library a lot more.  But thats a story for another day.

When I went to the national APA conference in New Orleans 2 years ago, I went to a session on what was new in LA.  One of the things they spoke about was how Twitter had revolutionized the food truck industry in LA.  And it wasn’t just food trucks in general- it was gourmet food trucks, of all kinds.  No longer was the presence of a  food truck only indicative of a movie set or tons of tasty tacos.  You could get kobe beef, gelato, and Indian food!

I thought it sounded interesting at the time, not only as a person who enjoys a variety of food on the go, but from a planning perspective as well.  The ideas of taking restaurants outside of their solid locations, of which may not be known to much of the general public, and roaming them throughout the city, is great!  In a city as large and diversified as LA, theres really no better way to take your business and spread it around to new audiences.  I’m sure that for the City of LA, its provided new planning issues, such as where are they allowed to park, permitting, etc- but I’d like to think its worth it.

Even better are the new food truck gatherings happening.  Its one thing to see on Facebook or Twitter that your favorite organic hotdogs are coming your way, but when you know they’ll be joined by dessert, lemonade, and something for all of your friends, its even better!  I recently went to one in my neighborhood, and its amazing the amount and diversity of people who come out.  Parked along a major street, 30+ food trucks provided dinner for my group last Friday night.  With some local businesses staying open later to attract the food truck diners, small tables and chairs set up, and music playing from most of the trucks themselves, its become a local event in itself.

Maybe it was the happiness of a belly full of tasty locally made food, but being at the weekly food truck gathering has made me think about what these sorts of events mean to a community.  We don’t have the same kinds of events or live the kinds of lives that brought people in a community together that we used to.  While we obviously still go out and do things, so much of what we do gets us in the car and far away from where we live.  Okay, so Farmers Markets are becoming popular, and those are great- but they attract one kind of crowd, and I feel that these food truck gatherings attract a slightly different one, which is important.  Because like Ray Oldenburg said, we need third place:  a place that isn’t work, and isn’t home.  Its like the local pub, as opposed to the swanky bar we get dressed up to go to.  People need casual places where they can be themselves but also socialize and relax.  Its the kind of thing thats stuck around better in older parts of cities, especially in Europe (think of Parisian cafes and English pubs).  Its something we’re lacking in suburban America.  These food truck gatherings, though, may be a start to something in that direction.  It will be interesting to see how they grow and change how we interact with our communities, and if the stick around long enough to become a permanent thing.  I hope they do.