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"SeaWorld bespeaks the essence of Orlando, a place whose specialty is detaching experience from context, extracting form from substance, and then selling tickets to it."
March 2, 2007 12:10 PM   Subscribe

"All over Orlando you see forces at work that are changing America from Fairbanks to Little Rock. This, truly, is a 21st-century paradigm: It is growth built on consumption, not production; a society founded not on natural resources, but upon the dissipation of capital accumulated elsewhere; a place of infinite possibilities, somehow held together, to the extent it is held together at all, by a shared recognition of highway signs, brand names, TV shows, and personalities, rather than any shared history. Nowhere else is the juxtaposition of what America actually is and the conventional idea of what America should be more vivid and revealing."

"Welcome to the theme-park nation." [more inside]
posted by wander (61 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't forget to check out the article's accompanying Photo Gallery and Map.

From the most recent issue of National Geographic. It's worth picking up as well for an excellent article on Elephants and Ivory (worth an FPP in itself) and some purty pictures of Sharks and Supernovas (which goes along well with today's space theme).

Disclaimer: I don't work for National Geographic (although I wouldn't mind).

Another interesting article from last month's issue, which I felt was a little too short to have a single link post to:

Francis Collins: The Scientist As Believer, a discussion between Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Project, and John Horgan.
posted by wander at 12:11 PM on March 2, 2007


This was a great read. Thanks.
posted by boo_radley at 12:20 PM on March 2, 2007


My god this is a creepy image. Half my brain says it's some post-apocalyptic landscape, and the other half recognizes it for what it is: the future usurpation of yet more green space.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 12:23 PM on March 2, 2007


This is pretty strong stuff for NatGeo, likely to tick off some nontrivial percentage of their readership even if all it's doing is calling things what they are. Color me impressed.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:27 PM on March 2, 2007


My god this is a creepy image.

Wow..a house for 236K! I'll take two and a half!
posted by spicynuts at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2007


From the caption to this photo:

Residents of the surrounding community of Winter Park fought the construction of a highway through the middle of their town—and won.

Seems to me you live in Orlando, you may as well let them build the highway. Though I always love to hear the paeans to nature from those living in brand-new tract houses.
posted by kgasmart at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2007


I hate Florida. I hate Florida with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. It's a sweltering, muggy, swamp-covered, mosquito-infested hellhole. Ponce de León went there looking for the Fountain of Youth, and he didn't find it. This should have served as proof that there is no reason for any human being to go to Florida ever.

Nice article!
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:35 PM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's just my perception or an actual shift, but National Geographic seems to have gotten a lot more confrontational over the past three years.
posted by lekvar at 12:36 PM on March 2, 2007


Interesting read. As an Orlando resident I am trying hard not to take umbrage to a lot of this writer's words. It seems he chose to stake out a bio piece on the city of Orlando for his wars against modernization, commercialization, indeed of the heartless soul of suburbia (while giving me a new word to learn, 'exurbia'). It almost feels like the city itself was an afterthought to his mission.

While I have travelled up and down the SE Coast witnessing the brands and the signs and the urban sprawl, I question why he implies Orlando to seemingly represent the heart of it.

Yes, the city grew too fast. For instance, the majority of Central Florida's expressways are TOLL roads. This always floors people, it floored me. They're toll roads because Orlando said 'Holy [expletive]! Look at all the traffic! We need roads now and we don't have money to pay for it!'. Yes, I can point to a number of real estate developers raping the as of yet undeveloped land to push the housing out farther, farther, in order to keep the costs "cheap" while their profits remain high.

But he misses milestones. Epcot, for example, didn't fail because Disney pushed a sanitized version of the future. Walt Disney's vision for Epcot, in actuality, was a mega-Celebration. Disney was one of the original 'planned community' type folks, the type to build these little quasi suburban empires. He could have talked about this, but instead he lambasts the theme park concept which appears to be his villiain in this tale. An argument against the sanitized super planned community would be the better target here. Sea World is third, maybe fourth, in popularity down here. It is an Anhseucher Busch advertisement with dolphins. I'm scratching my head how he feels the irony of a salt water park 50 miles from salt water is as large as he seems to think it is.

Orlando was a small farming town, more or less, before Walter Elias Disney came in and decided to take up a lot of land and build a theme park. It's a simplistic view, but it mostly fits. It spurrned the economic growth that allowed the city to build. What has happened after is a teenager city that has had an awfully rapid succession of growth spurts. A University (UCF) that has gone from 15,000 students to 45,000 students in about 10 years. It's definitely a study in what fast paced growth can do to a city. I'm excited to see what urban planning we can manage to keep balance in the city through the next 50.

Anyhoo. Thanks for the link, I have to digest some more and think about it, but these were my immediate reactions to the article
posted by cavalier at 12:38 PM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


"it transforms scrub and swamp into a characterless conurbation of congested freeways and parking lots."

Phrases like this always strike me the same way as people talking about accents: "I don't have an accent. People from other places have accents". America's strip-shopping center, megachurch, parking lot aesthetic may be ugly and horrible, but it's positively dripping with character. Just because it's not exotic and foreign to you doesn't make it characterless.

"Orlando's bright lights are not the garish displays of Las Vegas or the proud power logos of New York. Instead, Orlando glimmers with the familiar signage of franchise America"

So Vegas's advertising is cool, because it's for casinos, and New York's is cool, because it's for Sony and Microsoft and whatnot, but Orlando's isn't, because it's for food and hotels?
posted by Bugbread at 12:38 PM on March 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


We're gonna get what we deserve.
posted by keswick at 12:40 PM on March 2, 2007


And I missed a connecting sentence, dang it. I meant to draw the Epcot targeting to Celebration, but it got lost halfway. Celebration is a fascinating target, the idea of a place where hwne you "buy" your house you're not allowed to paint it any color you want -- only a few select colors, after you have submitted for and recieved approval.
posted by cavalier at 12:41 PM on March 2, 2007


America's strip-shopping center, megachurch, parking lot aesthetic may be ugly and horrible, but it's positively dripping with character.

Really? What character is that? If I accept your argument at all, I'd have to say it's the same character over and over and over again. You could blind fold most people, ship them a thousand miles away to another town's strip mall, pull off the blind fold and they'd think they hadn't moved.
posted by spicynuts at 12:43 PM on March 2, 2007


Looks good to me. I am drinking my 5th martini. Everything looks good to me. What happened to the nude young girls in Africa that the magazine used to have? who needs pictures of houses and that kind of thing
posted by Postroad at 12:45 PM on March 2, 2007


"Welcome to the theme-park nation."

NO SHIT, SHERLOCK.
posted by solistrato at 12:45 PM on March 2, 2007


"Debate students at Orlando's Cypress Creek High speak six languages besides English—Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, Mandarin, Japanese, and Creole. As immigrants pass up gateway cities like Miami for better schools and affordable homes, suburbs are no longer homogenous enclaves."

Just because the students are multi-ethnic, does not remove the 'homgenous enclave' descriptor from exsuburbia.
posted by ninjew at 12:46 PM on March 2, 2007


Whats really stark is the 'glitter and gleam' of Orlando and Kissimmee, and the rural poverty of the deep south which surrounds it within a few miles.
posted by sfts2 at 12:47 PM on March 2, 2007


Disney's planned community -- Celebration. [article and slideshow].

Celebration: The Story of a Town

The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney's New Town

Walt Disney and the Quest for Community.
posted by ericb at 12:52 PM on March 2, 2007


NG should stick to pretty nature photos. If I want essays on the downfall of America, I can read The Atlantic Monthly.
posted by smackfu at 12:53 PM on March 2, 2007


I keep imagining Hunter S. Thompson reading the fpp's main paragraph.
posted by IronLizard at 12:54 PM on March 2, 2007


Is there nothing left to explore in the world?

All NG ever covers any more is fetal alcohol syndrome, elephants, sharks, and the human condition of people living in various zip codes in the US.
posted by parmanparman at 12:55 PM on March 2, 2007


Walt Disney's vision for Epcot, in actuality, was a mega-Celebration

Exactly.

EPCOT = Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
posted by ericb at 12:58 PM on March 2, 2007


Baudrillard.
posted by voltairemodern at 1:03 PM on March 2, 2007


I think that people are still having growing pains from the industrial revolution in a lot of different ways. One of them is the fact that people don't stay put any more. Used to be people were born in village x, they lived their entire lives in village x, and then they died there. That is no longer the case, and we all take it for granted, but we don't realize that not doing that is only a relatively recent thing. I don't think we as people have determined how to make that work for us effectively. I am not saying that things were better when that was the case, but people had a connection to their homes then. They were also surrounded by their extended families. I think that leads people to act better. If you don't know anyone around you, you can act like an asshole all you want, because no one is around to tell you to stop being an asshole. Or no one whose opinion you care about. You don't have to take care of your community because you don't have any connection to them, and if things get too bad then you can just move.

My grandparents have a cabin in Franklin, North Carolina which is the town next to a pretty big mountain resort town called Highlands. Everyone in that area hates Floridians. Hates them with a passion. But I don't think that the people that they hate are really Floridians. They are yankees that moved down to Florida for the warm weather and then they get there and realize that it is too hot for them, so they vacation in Highlands (or places like it) during the summer. These people are awful too. Loud, boorish, completely oblivious to anyone around them. It is horrible walking down the street in Highlands. I mean, maybe that is just the way yankees are. However, I would like to think that there are some people up north that aren't so bad. You just encourage the bad ones to move down here. They probably weren't gems back home, but when they move down south they can act any way they please because what do they care what these slack-jawed yokels think of them. They have no connection to this place or to these people, so they can act however they please. They suffer no consequences from their actions. This leads them to be utterly insufferable and to create communities that no one would really want to live in.

So, I think that we as human beings are in the infancy of being able to move about freely. I don't think that we have figured out how to do it effectively in a way that minimizes the harm we do to ourselves and the places that we move to or move away from. It will in all likelihood get worse before it gets better. I hope that at some point we will figure out how to manage the freedom of being able to choose where we live in a way that doesn't lead to such negative repercussions. Until we do, can all you yankees please stay up there?
posted by ND¢ at 1:04 PM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I had a hard time in posting this, and was having a lot of difficulties in how to frame it. The paragraph I chose was the article at its most cynic (but at the same time was a very good summary), and the reason that I liked the article was because it had a balanced feeling to it (at least from the perspective I was looking at it from). It definitely tilted more towards having a little disdain for modern america, but I didn't feel it was outright condemnation, and I felt the article's intent was more as a warning or caution, with glimmerings of hope. I just wasn't sure how to frame the article in a few short words so that people would at least give it a chance, but I suppose that's something that can only be affected to a very small extent before it's totally out of my control. I suppose that's why I analyzed how to frame it so much. I guess that it also helps that I definitely agree with the author's view more than I disagree, though.

I did disagree with the tone that America is culturally barren, however. America, to me, as an idea, still exists. He even hints at it in the article. America exists in the cities, the small communities of immigrants trying to find a new life. America exists in the small towns, the neighborhood diners, the dingy music clubs that will never get a mention in the press. America exists where people aren't scared of the government, where people don't watch the news to be told what to think, where people create real relationships, real communities, where they create, work together, truly live, without qualifications. Where people find their spirituality with what works for them, not just what they grew up with. I hope that doesn't come across as cheesy, and it isn't conveyed as well as I'd like it to be, but to me America still exists. It's just hard to see sometimes, and can be easy to overlook.
posted by wander at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2007 [6 favorites]


It's weird. The only time I've ever seen any interesting large animals in the wild – a bald eagle – was on the outskirts of Orlando.

I tend to find praises of suburbia "positively dripping with character" as one-dimensional as when people rail against its blandness. Admittedly, the article heads in that direction for the first half, but then it comes away with something about organic change vs. planning that is kind of interesting.
posted by furiousthought at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2007


Reporting from spring training. Next up: the New York Yankees vs. the Highlands Slack-Jawed Yokels.
posted by ericb at 1:09 PM on March 2, 2007


i wonder if boingboing will post this, they love all things disney
posted by sponge at 1:10 PM on March 2, 2007


Monorail! Monorail! Monoraaaaail!
posted by Smedleyman at 1:15 PM on March 2, 2007


I went off to find America once. Me and my pal Billy. But I got shot in the face.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2007


America's strip-shopping center, megachurch, parking lot aesthetic may be ugly and horrible, but it's positively dripping with character. Just because it's not exotic and foreign to you doesn't make it characterless.

"Mon cheri, zis somare, we shood go to Florida; zey have zee most beautiful streep malls in zee world!"
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2007


Really? What character is that?

How would I answer that question? What character does Barcelona have? What character does a small Chinese town have?

"You could blind fold most people, ship them a thousand miles away to another town's strip mall, pull off the blind fold and they'd think they hadn't moved."

True. But you could plunk someone from another culture down, and it would feel massively different. People describe Japanese cities as having "character" (ugly as sin though they are), but Japanese cities all look alike as well. So the question, then, isn't whether there is any character, but whether it's unique or not? I posit that you can have character and yet not be unique. Small, old-style German towns have character, despite the fact that they are similar to other small, old-style German towns. Using the uniqueness factor to define character, there are probably only 2 or 3 cities in the world that have "character".

"I tend to find praises of suburbia "positively dripping with character" as one-dimensional as when people rail against its blandness."

So do I. That's why I didn't praise suburbia as positively dripping with character. The Shinjuku area of Tokyo? Drips with character. Yakuza hanging out on street corners, brothels left and right, bright neon, loud, garish. It's a movie director's dream. And it's a fucking pit. Saying something has character isn't praise. Pretty much every place has character, but people who are inured to it never notice it. It's like accents: saying that someone has an accent doesn't mean that they speak in some sort of lilting, beautiful dulcet tones. They could have the most harsh, nasal, ear-grinding way of speaking. That doesn't mean that they don't have an accent.
posted by Bugbread at 1:19 PM on March 2, 2007


"Mon cheri, zis somare, we shood go to Florida; zey have zee most beautiful streep malls in zee world!"

Again, I never said it was beautiful. I never even said it was good. "Character" isn't synonymous with "good".
posted by Bugbread at 1:20 PM on March 2, 2007


Terminal Verbosity: lolz.
posted by everichon at 1:25 PM on March 2, 2007


There was a weird tilt-shift to some of the gallery that gave certain pictures a surreal, plastic look. Kinda neat. Wonder if it was purposeful considering the article.
posted by FunkyHelix at 1:29 PM on March 2, 2007


On the one hand, I agree with Faint of Butt that Florida is one of the most awful places I've ever had to spend a significant amount of time in. (My paternal grandmother retired to a mobile-home subdivision built on reclaimed swamp near Fort Lauderdale.)

On the other hand, I learned too late that some of the funkiest devotional music in America was being made every Sunday in the churches out by the big flea markets where we used to go to buy 4-for-10-bucks t-shirts and knock-off electronics.

This doesn't redeem the theme-park wastes entirely, to my mind - it's more a testament to the fact that the human spirit cannot be totally extinguished by soulless landscape alone.

For a fictional take on Florida's job as the sort of final frontier of several strains of quiet desperation, I highly recommend Continental Drift by Russell Banks. One of the angriest novels I've ever read.
posted by gompa at 1:35 PM on March 2, 2007


As is typical for National Geographic, the photography was excellent. I really liked the use of large format; it gave the oversaturation and narrow depth of field that gave the subject matter the appearance of being a scale model in some developer's showroom. Much more artistic and editorial than the usual fare from NG.

As for the article itself, I don't think I can honestly comment on whether it was good or not because I am strongly biased. I absolutely loathe suburbia, and with it the absurd idea that everywhere you go, it is only reasonable to take 4000 pounds of metal and plastic with you. The most ridiculous thing in that article was the church that had to time its sermons as to avoid traffic jams in its parking lot. What a fucking farce.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:45 PM on March 2, 2007


As someone who spent last weekend in Orlando, I can say that this sounds about right. I drove the I-4, international drive, even south Orange Blossom. It was typical consumer America. I remember having the realization that all Orlando was about was tourism.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed Magic Kingdom, and I too saw a multitude of wildlife within and outside the park (gators, bald eagles, and other strange birds aplently).

But then again I got stomach flu and missed Epcot, so yeah, screw Florida! [/snark]
posted by Big_B at 1:45 PM on March 2, 2007


"Welcome to the theme-park nation."

NO SHIT, SHERLOCK.


Actually, I'm surprised no one's mentioned Robert Venturi's Learning from Las Vegas in this thread. I read that book in Architechtural History class 20 years ago and shrugged. "It's another incarnation of pop culture," I or one of my friends doubtlessly commented. But then, I went to Las Vegas for the first time ever, last Fall...

Now, I'm not an Architecture-hero star-f^cker, but there was a lesson there that went partially unremarked by my then Art History prof -- Las Vegas culture is that of the Mall, the continous, self-contained indoor shopping area, the lack of a need to go outdoors, ever. I pretty much took that for granted - an ivy tower kind of 'for granted', but it really hit home when I came home to DC and saw aspects of \\\lv in new shopping developments in Silver Spring, not to mention old stan-bys like White Fling, Tyson's Corner shopping center and numerous other suburban malls that I never visit because I'm still a city kid.

Fact is, the invasion has already happened and the aliens have already been here for some time. Now they're terraforming our cities.
posted by vhsiv at 1:45 PM on March 2, 2007


If you had to list things about Florida that seriously need fixing, you would find nearly all of them in Orlando.

I hate Florida. I hate Florida with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. It's a sweltering, muggy, swamp-covered, mosquito-infested hellhole. Ponce de León went there looking for the Fountain of Youth, and he didn't find it. This should have served as proof that there is no reason for any human being to go to Florida ever.

Oh, come on. You live in Baltimore.

And Yankees can be quite insufferable in Florida too.
posted by oaf at 1:57 PM on March 2, 2007


This site gives an idea of what Central Florida will look like in the future if trends continue. And as much as I'd like to hope otherwise, I'm sure they will.

The real estate boom here has been particularly telling. The median home price has doubled in 5 years. Lots of transplants from up north. I work with people who drive 60 miles to get here. It's been hard to find an apartment to rent since they've all been going condo (though that is quickly changing).

Interesting article.
posted by kableh at 2:10 PM on March 2, 2007


nd¢: I understand what you are saying here, but it is based on false premises. If you look at the big picture of human history, the period where we have been living in semi-permanent communities for several generations is a very recent development. The vast majority of human society has been quite mobile for most of our existence, picking up their meager belongings and moving to new places in response to pressures related to food, water, climate, other populations, etc. Permanent residence has been but a brief experiment in humanity's history, and while it does seem like the rule rather than the exception, it is actually the other way around. It has been the dominant mode for most of the world over the last few centuries, so naturally we have all but forgotten our migrant past. Given that, I think many of your insights are actually correct, but it's important to remember that we actually need to relearn how to live in a mobile society rather than starting from scratch.
posted by SBMike at 2:12 PM on March 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


One thing I've been wondering about ever since I saw a talk by James Howard Kunstler, the author of The Long Emergency, is, how are things going to change once gas is USD$20/gallon? It's not clear that the exurbs of the world will still be around.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:16 PM on March 2, 2007


I don't know if it's just my perception or an actual shift, but National Geographic seems to have gotten a lot more confrontational over the past three years.

lekvar: Noted that myself around end of 2004. Opened that November NatGeo. On the cover was the question "Was Darwin Wrong?" I turned to the article, and there, there on the page, in the middle of the page, away from everything else on the page, in parentheses, capital letters, quotated, 200 point type, kerned just so, knocked out of the most excellentest background photo, read the following word:

"No."

Renewed my subscription.
posted by hal9k at 2:17 PM on March 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ok, so since everyone is disagreeing with me, I'm going to make the logical assumption that it's not that everyone is an idiot and I'm not, but that my definition of "character" is wrong. Sorry. I dunno what term I should use, though. "Aesthetic feeling"? "Flavour"? "Tone / atmosphere"? Regardless, I guess I'm not in disagreement with the author, then, I was just misinterpreting him/her based on my misunderstanding of what the word meant.
posted by Bugbread at 2:19 PM on March 2, 2007


Faint of Butt once said:
I hate Florida. I hate Florida with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. It's a sweltering, muggy, swamp-covered, mosquito-infested hellhole. Ponce de León went there looking for the Fountain of Youth, and he didn't find it. This should have served as proof that there is no reason for any human being to go to Florida ever.

Can I be your friend? (No, I'm from Georgia, so nobody better chime in with: "You're from Indiana, though!" stuff)
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 2:30 PM on March 2, 2007


Eco.
posted by No Robots at 2:55 PM on March 2, 2007


cavalier: Celebration is a fascinating target, the idea of a place where hwne you "buy" your house you're not allowed to paint it any color you want -- only a few select colors, after you have submitted for and recieved approval.

Hm. Until recently I lived in a 100-year old house in an official "historic district". I could select my paint color, but God help me if I wanted to make sensible energy-efficient or environmentally friendly modifications to my home. No new windows or doors allowed.

Now I live in a "master-planned" community. It's cleaner, safer, more energy-efficient, full of green space and even a nature preserve, and a closer shorter commute to the big city. I think I've made a better choice now.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:56 PM on March 2, 2007


Bugbread, have some character. I think I tend to agree with you, though I like the definition that says quality: a characteristic property that defines the apparent individual nature of something; "each town has a quality all its own"; "the radical character of our demands"

I don't want to say that suburban strip centers in general have an "individual nature." But, driving around suburban San Antonio this afternoon I sure can tell the difference between a strip center in a "nice" and wealthier suburb and a strip center in an older "not-so-nice" suburb. And both of these are qualitatively different from the strip centers in master-planned communities, which have more regulations on signage, street elevations, etc, etc. The master-planned communities might be the residential expression of a theme-park -- but at least they're not ugly.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:23 PM on March 2, 2007


thanks for this, great article. The amazing thing is the McMansion monstrocity craze has been exported to Australia. Here in Melbourne we have suburbs being developed 'in the country', where people are building 5 bedroom houses, almost touching their neighbours on both sides, no yard and no eves (because no room). Of course, it means that they have to super aircondition the houses in summer and super heat the houses in winter due to poor design.
posted by gnomesb at 3:25 PM on March 2, 2007


To me the money quote was from the Orlando native who once was a bat-out-of-hell booster and now an advocate for more controlled growth. She said, "just because we've ruined 90 percent of everything doesn't mean we can't do wonderful things with the remaining ten percent."
posted by bukvich at 3:31 PM on March 2, 2007


I'm going to make the logical assumption that it's not that everyone is an idiot and I'm not, but that my definition of "character" is wrong.

Saying something has character isn't praise. Pretty much every place has character, but people who are inured to it never notice it.


It's not that your definition of character is wrong, I don't think, but now you're making a very very small point... I don't think you'll find many detractors of suburbia disagreeing with you on this level. Now we're more into "what is the character of suburbia?" "bland as they say?" "no good for anyone? good for someone?" and that's... mostly where we started.
posted by furiousthought at 3:38 PM on March 2, 2007


furiousthought writes "I don't think you'll find many detractors of suburbia disagreeing with you on this level. Now we're...mostly where we started."

Right. That's the problem with the definition I was using: because it didn't match the definition the detractors were using, it seemed like we were in disagreement. Now that I realize that my definition didn't match, I realize that we weren't in disagreement. It was a mistakenly perceived disagreement where there wasn't one in the first place. My bad.
posted by Bugbread at 4:07 PM on March 2, 2007


bugbread - I don't what you are talking about with regard to Japanese cities. Can you seriously say you don't see a difference in character between Shibuya and Asakusa, or between Akihabara and Aoyama? They may all have Lawsons and Starbucks and ramen joints, but they are worlds apart in character. And Kyoto's character is quite different than Tokyo's, even if there are superficial visual similarities.

You made an analogy to accents before - the strip mall's character is like the accent of a newscaster - not strongly identifiable to anywhere. You know it's American, but that's about it.

If someone ever found a strip mall that had the accent of a 15-year-old Shibuya girl dressed in a Winnie-the-Pooh suit, I'd love to go shop there.
posted by bashos_frog at 6:50 PM on March 2, 2007


I don't particularly enjoy Orlando, I avoid it at all costs really. I've been to Disney World under five times, and I've lived here all of my life. My family has lived in Central Florida for four generations.

What always surprises me is when people poo-poo new housing developments and McMansions. I'm not a fan of the McMansion, but I have to ask, where are all of these people supposed to live? Not everyone has a charming walkup or 100-year-old Saltbox to retreat to.

Terminal Verbosity, I'm surprised that you're shocked at this image. This is typical for the Southeastern United States. Unfortunately there aren't enough houses in "charming old communities" to go around. Especially since people from the North are moving to the South in droves.

But somehow Florida is a hellhole because people from all over the US decided to move in and make it what it is today. I don't begrudge the newcomers. It makes life more interesting, but it's sad for me to see so much change. I live in a beach community in Central Florida, and I've seen so many changes, so much destruction of land and nature for the sake of condominiums for snow-birds.

Whats really stark is the 'glitter and gleam' of Orlando and Kissimmee, and the rural poverty of the deep south which surrounds it within a few miles.

posted by sfts2 at 3:47 PM EST on March 2

Oh Jesus, can we be more dramatic? Have you seen Kissimmee? It's neither glittery or gleamy. And newsflash, there's poverty all over the United States. You could make that statement about anywhere in the US.

Interesting article. Thanks for the post.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:53 PM on March 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Excellent article, thanks wander.

It's so well written that I had to check the author's name: T.D. Allman:

Another of his books, Miami: City of the Future, is considered the definitive work on the subject. He is also the author of Rogue State and Finding Florida.

Obviously, he not an outsider in Florida.
posted by bru at 8:42 PM on March 2, 2007


Faint of Butt, etc: Please, I beg you. Go on talk shows, post it in realtor forums, tell your neighbors and co-workers, shout it from quaint urban rooftops: "there is no reason for any human being to go to Florida ever."

Seriously, please. The state is full. Please divert all moving vans to Georgia. That's the new "in" place. It's just like Maryland without the snow. Your grandparents will love it!

I'd go on, but as I am living in rural poverty I must go fire up the General Lee to charge my laptop battery.
posted by ?! at 10:17 PM on March 2, 2007


Unfortunately there aren't enough houses in "charming old communities" to go around.

True enough. But we shouldn't make the alternative so monumentally ugly. Also, that Celebration town built by Disney gives me the willies. I'd always be thinking 'Are these my neighbors or just someone disney hired to play my neighbors??' Maybe they'd even hire actors to commit the occasional crime to keep everybody on their toes.
posted by jonmc at 3:45 AM on March 3, 2007


bashos_frog writes "Can you seriously say you don't see a difference in character between Shibuya and Asakusa, or between Akihabara and Aoyama?"

Yes, I can, but I can also see a difference between the strip shopping centers of the Westheimer area of Houston, the Galleria area, the Rice University are, and the Bellaire/Bissonnet/Beechnut areas of Houston. They're extremely similar, but not identical. And Shibuya, Asakusa, Akiba, and Aoyama are extremely similar, but not identical. And what makes them different isn't so much some sort of different architectural style, but the types of stores in them, how well the area is upkept, how crowded it is, the type of advertising in the street, etc., which is the same in Houston.

But, ironically, while I can tell Shibuya from Asakusa, if I know one of the pictures is of Shibuya and one is from Asakusa, I couldn't tell you the difference between, say, a back street in Ueno and a back street in Kitakyushu. There are minor variations in areas within any given city in Japan, but pretty much every other city has their own identical minor variations: the old, crowded, somewhat run-down section. The wide-avenued, lined-by-trees section with big store fronts. The love hotel section. All across Japan, the same selection is repeated. And the same is true in America. In Houston, there is a small selection of different types of strip shopping centers. They can be told apart. But you can't tell the difference between the run-down-white-trash strip shopping center in one city in America and the next, or between the slightly-prosperous-gourmet shop area. Or the "unnecessary palm trees and white lights expensive clothing and jewelry" area. The variations are micro-scale, and repeated on the macro-scale.

bashos_frog writes "You made an analogy to accents before - the strip mall's character is like the accent of a newscaster - not strongly identifiable to anywhere. You know it's American, but that's about it."

And if you take a random photograph of a street in Japan, all you can tell is that it's in Japan, but that's about it. Sure, take a picture of 109, and you know it's Shibuya. Take a picture with Kiyomizu-dera in it, and you know it's Kyoto. But take a picture of a back street of an industrial area, or of a youth fashion area, or of a snack bar area, of Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka, and they're indistinguishable, unless you've lived in one of the areas long enough to know the particular store shapes, street layout, and the like (in which case this is true for every city in the world).
posted by Bugbread at 5:10 AM on March 3, 2007


Plus, to be fair, comparing Tokyo and Kyoto and saying "Japanese cities therefore have character, while US cities don't" is unfair, because the corresponding American cities would be, say, New York City and San Francisco, which I'd say people are pretty damn able to tell apart; in fact, even without a Golden Gate Bridge or Statue of Liberty in view, people could probably tell apart a generic San Fran street and New York street better than a generic Tokyo street and a generic Kyoto street.

And, random anecdote: When my wife first visited Houston, she remarked on how hard it was to get any bearings, because everywhere she went looked the exact same. The second time she visited, she started being able to tell the differences between areas. When my parents first visited Tokyo, they remarked on how hard it was to get any bearings, because everywhere they went looked the exact same. The second time they visited, they started being able to tell the differences between areas.
posted by Bugbread at 5:28 AM on March 3, 2007


Thanks to everyone that contributed to the thread. I really enjoyed the discussion on the texture of places, on humanity's adjustment to modern life, and the opinions of those that are living, or have lived in Florida. Good discussion is one of the main reasons I keep coming here.

bukvich:
I had a lot of mixed feelings about that quote. I felt that it was at the same time depressing but with hope, a burst of determination tinged with hints of futility. It is one of those quotes that is difficult to discern the true nature of without having more context, without being there to hear the tone and see the facial expression. It is a good quote, though, and it was one of the ones that was singled out in large, bold font in the print edition. More than anything, though, it was nice to see someone in a planning position realize the error of their ways, and taking measures to try to remedy what they could while preventing the problem from continuing.

hal9k: I remember that issue! I, too, was intrigued by the question on the cover. I remember smiling when I turned to the article. I forgot about it, until now. Thanks for sharing.

Also, I don't know if anyone will come back to read this, but after I made that comment on America as an idea, I felt like I should clear a couple things up. I wrote it more quickly than I should have. I was writing a bit loose when I wrote that comment, and when I re-read it I realized a lot of the modifiers and tenses could, and did, mean different things at the same time, both where and when, present and future and past. When I said that America's a place where people aren't afraid of their government, I was thinking about the idea of terrorism/fear and the overdose that has occured here for the past six years. I was trying to say how people shouldn't live in fear. The thing is, the first thing that popped into my head of when I thought "terrorism" was the U.S. Government. I don't want to be misinterpreted as saying that I don't think people should be scared of the government now, that they should be oblivious to it, or that they should just ignore it. Between the two, I'm far more scared of the government than I am of terrorists, and I think that people should be worried about the current state of their government. America, as an idea, to me, is where people don't live in fear, but they also make sure the government works for them. It's where people aren't scared of terrorists, or the government.

Maybe what I was trying to say is that America, as an idea, is more of a state of mind, than an actual place. Perhaps it's that way for every country's identity.
posted by wander at 9:53 PM on March 4, 2007


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