Thursday, August 2, 2007

Anywhere, U.S.A.

Catching up on things after vacation we noticed an admirable posting on Burner Trouble discussing what, at least in one important aspect, has to do with community aesthetics. As an example, Burner Trouble singles out the new Cheesecake Factory in Pittsford.

Burner's photo of the place was a little fuzzy and, besides, you really have to see a building in context to evaluate any criticism of it fairly. So we made a swing by on our way to Victor the other day, just to get a look. Our take is that BT got it right. Beyond that our take is: tacky, tacky, tacky.

Across the street there's a Wendy's, but not the Wendy's we're accustomed to seeing. Brick-faced, with a modest sign, it's an example of the obvious effort the Town's officials must have devoted, at least up to now, to maintaining a certain visual quality control over their main commercial corridor. Ditto regarding the McDonald's not too far away. In general, just from the look of things it seems that the Town of Pittsford went to some trouble to integrate new commercial construction, even big-boxes like Rite-Aid, Petco, Barnes & Noble and the big Wegman's, in a way that at least strove for a look and feel in keeping with the general aesthetic of the town. Within the limits of what can be done, it looks like they succeeded. But that Wegman's went up about 10 years ago. Looking at Cheesecake Factory, the town government either has changed its tune or was asleep at the switch on this one.
(It's outside Pittsford's Village, so it's the Town officials who are responsible.)

Communities that look nice, or in other ways have a pleasant and comfortable feel about them, are communities that above all have held on to their individuality. That's what makes them interesting. There's something different about each. And as Pittsford has proven, like so many other places (think of almost anywhere in Vermont, for example), there's nothing necessarily incompatible between retaining a town's character and having your chain stores and restaurants and chain whatever. The difference is in how it's done -- how the buildings are integrated into the visual fabric of the place.

The new Cheesecake Factory fits into this stretch of Monroe Avenue like a showgirl into a nunnery. Did the town government even try? There are two good reasons why they should have.

First, because they now have a big, bad, gaudy outpost of Anywhere, USA in what is otherwise, even for a commercial strip, a place of character. Is the new CF just a one-time slip-up? Or is it the forward brigade of the soulless, homogenized sameness that's driven local character out of so much of America?

Secondly, because maybe the Republicans, who have dominated Pittsford town government for so long, have given the Democrats, who have been lusting after Pittsford for a while now, an issue to get their foot in the door. P-town's Republican website boasts that the Town's many years of unbroken Republican government have made Pittsford "the lovely community it is today." To which Pittsford's Democrats can now respond: "Not lately, you haven't!"


Itchy said...

I disagree that it's anywhere, USA. You can't really make the argument that it's generic strip-mall architecture.

What is it, anyways? Vegas Moorish? I'm baffled by it. Which is probably a good thing. Yes, it's tremendously gaudy, but still... at least it's different, and (for the area) unique.

Itchy said...

BTW I blogged it, too: