Let me be honest here, this place makes me feel like shit. But in my defense, it was designed to. Other than selling me some absolute garbage that I 100% do not need, its other purpose is to me people feel like shit, and it was doing its job like a seasoned pro. Mile upon mile of 6 lane road, filled with a never ending barrage of t-shirt shops, all-you-can-eat buffets, vape HQs and dildo discounters.
I am not sure how I ended up in this place. What terrible decisions had I made to bring me to this Mecca of American decline? What karmic injustice had I exacted that was awful enough to land me here? No one, not even me, should have to suffer this runway of broken dreams.
Why? Why would anyone approve this? Why is this allowed? Who is in charge? Who saw the proposals and was like, “9 more miles of single story, concrete strip mall disposable crap? UM… YES, that is exactly what this community craves.”
Look, I’m a capitalist, I am all for people making a buck however they choose. As long as it doesn’t harm anyone, go ahead and get that money. The problem though, is a lack of restraint, a lack control on behalf of local officials. They forget they have a say in what happens in their town. They have forgotten they have a role to play in the shape of their community. Local officials have become so addicted to the economic development drug, that they think any score is still a score. Any hit still gives them that rush they seek.
Developers can build garbage if allowed. Entrepreneurs can open up all the Dollar Trees and dildo shops they want. I support all vices. That is not the issue, it’s the fact that no one is pushing back. Local commissions and elected officials are charged with improving their community and they are abdicating that responsibility.
Local officials have become job junkies. Investment addicts. They would steal two Dollar Generals right out of their mother’s purse if she turned her back for a minute. Nothing matters like getting another hit of employment. Any investment, no matter how detrimental, will still provide that sweet sweet satisfaction.
This economic development at-all-cost way of governing is wrecking our landscape and decimating the places our grandparents talked about. It is wreaking havoc on our towns and more so, on our own well-being. It is destroying the fabric of community that took so long to weave. It is making us all feel disposable. Like worthless consumers that don’t deserve anything nice in our lives. The landscape screams “you are worthless, now shut the fuck-up and buy another clever t-shirt to help ease the suffering of being stranded in this architectural abortion.”
In our decades-long economic development addiction, we lost sight of some things. Standards matter, aesthetics are important, our surroundings shapes how we feel, people deserve to feel proud, and dignity doesn’t come cheap. In allowing absolutely anything to get built, we have taken a sledge hammer to pride, dignity, and beauty. No longer is there any sense of value, but instead, a glorification of cheap.
Did you ever notice you find all the trashiest people in the trashiest places? Do trashy people gravitate towards trashy places? Of course. Probably a good reason not to allow those places to get built or maybe a decent argument for maintenance. But, something else happens, something we have to consider, something we need to pay a ton of attention to. Trashy places transform normal people, into trashy people. “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us” said Winston Churchill. In other words, spend your days surrounded by ugliness and you will eventually feel ugly. Welcome to the Dollar General affect.
Dollar General is not a sign of community decline, it is the cause of it. This is no different than Wal-Mart World and the paycheck palace. Listen, and this is a point you need to burn into your civic brain and hold onto for all your days, these businesses are not seeking out shitty places. They are not targeting impoverished communities. They will go anywhere. They are targeting your low standards. They are hoping you are an “any investment” addict, willing to let them in. You need a couple bucks? Just leave the door unlocked so the thief can slip-in during the night and give you a cut after he leaves the pawn shop.
We once prayed at the alter of quality living, but now we blindly worship our economic development gods and they require absolute devotion. They tell us, beauty is frivolous, standards are anti-business, concern for community is tantamount to socialism. They are relentless in their messaging and their reign will not stop until we all have our own private parking garage.
As an environment begins to consist of predominately cheap and meaningless business and buildings, the people in those environments will begin to feel cheap and meaningless. They will adapt. They have to adapt. Either adapt or leave, those are the only choices. One can’t spend all their days surrounded by crap, yet somehow feel dignified and proud. It doesn’t work like that. People don’t work like that.
You ever run into that weird thing were people talk shit on their hometown? Where locals ask, why would you move here? When community members try and tear one another down for trying to do something better. You know what that is? That is the painful struggle of locals trying to square their own self-image with the place they call home. No one wants to feel bad about themselves, yet your place is a reflection of you. Where you live suggests something about who you are. People that live in nice places don’t have to struggle with this internal conflict. Their self-image is bolstered by their surroundings. They can be proud of their address.
All those people that live in towns that have succumbed to investment addiction, they have to deal with the internal conflict of living in a place that they believe is beneath them. They are right. They want to feel proud, but their surroundings won’t let them. They want to feel good about themselves, but the appearance of their town gets in the way. People living in no-standards towns have to find a way to distance themselves from the place they call home. They can’t move, so they have to preserve their own self worth by disassociating themselves in other ways. “if I am aware my town is beneath me, then I also am aware I am better than this place.” It is a desire to not be associated with a place that brings you shame. A self preservation tactic to help justify your locale. It is a sad fucked up self-help dance people must perform to square their own worth in a place that provides none.
It’s not that people don’t want nice things, they do. They are desperate for nice things. Desperate for beauty, Desperate to feel proud of something. Longing to experience a sense of dignity. Every single person wants nice things, but their surroundings have repeatedly told them this, in the most clear way possible, over and over and over again, they don’t deserve it.
I am in a place that makes me feel like shit. I don’t want to feel like shit. I opt not to whenever possible. Nobody wants to feel like shit, yet local commissions keep approving projects that ensure everyone feels like shit. Maybe you don’t want me as a resident, that’s fine, I get it. Maybe you don’t want me as a visitor, sure, whatever, go off man. But your community wants SOME visitors and your community requires SOME residents. Your community should want visitors to enjoy themselves. Your city should want residents to be happy. Your municipality probably has a desire to make people feel an attachment to their town and possibly experience a swelling sense of pride for their place. As long as your officials, boards and commissions keep approving projects that continue to make their town worse, you can just put those dreams aside. Welcome to Shit town, we’re so glad you’re stuck here.