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5/30 Mono-culture and unique cities

As [personal profile] ravurian pointed out when I sent it to him in the UK this afternoon, this picture might have been taken almost anywhere in the world.

A view of an IKEA store across a stretch of wetlands, from inside a commuter light rail train

I think mono-culture like this is problematic, but I've also been thinking a lot about how cities are like individual species within the genus Urbs (or Metropolis? Or Civitas?). Maybe a sameness is setting in around the edges, but I don't see it penetrating to the core or stripping cities of their unique characters anytime soon.

The uniqueness of a city isn't just in its iconic skyline or monument or bridge, either. Paris isn't Parisian because of the Eiffel Tower. It's more like, Paris is the only city in the world that could have extruded the Eiffel Tower in its midst.

Geography and climate are certainly a big part of the story: the city on the skinny island that needed skyscrapers and elevators to keep thriving expresses that same dense, humming Manhattan-ness in everything--and according to histories I've read, has done so almost since its inception. It is what it is, all the way down.

I know this is also true of my hometown. From the outside, Portland may look ridiculously self-parodying, but if it weren't basically like that, Fred and Carrie would lack material for "Portlandia." The little city built on mud and tree-stumps under gray skies, by people who couldn't be bothered with the Gold Rush...I mean, that's us. Working, but not all that hard-working, you know? Why get fancy when you're just going to track the mud in?

I've watched Portland remake itself completely since my childhood, and it always seems to make itself into Portland. No matter how much it changes, it never becomes San Francisco or Seattle or Vancouver--IKEA notwithstanding.

We don't have an Eiffel Tower, but as long as there's a guy downtown dressed as Darth Vader riding a unicycle while playing flaming bagpipes, I'm not too worried about the big box stores.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.



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