"How can America remain America if this is all there is to it?"

Those were the words of Scenic America’s Kevin Fry in a slideshow from the New York Times that accompanied a Dan Barry column just before Christmas.

NYT Slideshow

(New York Times photograph by Angel Franco. Click image to view the slideshow)

“Once you’ve lost your connection to your place you have no reason to care about it anymore. It’s not a surprise that American life and culture feels so disconnected now…we feel so alienated because the places in which we life force us to be alienated from them, and from the people around us.”

“Why would I care about what happens to here since I don’t feel connected to it…and I was never asked whether this is the way I wanted to live in the first place? It was just imposed on people without them thinking that they have an alternative.”


The best news of all though, is that we DO have an alternative. In today’s era of rising gas and energy prices, the dive of the (mostly exurban) housing market, there is a chance like never before to turn these forgettable strips of asphalt, concrete, and signage into real places we can all be proud of. Places re-formed to meet the growing demand for convenient, accessible, walkable neighborhoods with a variety of housing and transportation choices — as dictated by the demographic shift to a nation of predominantly empty-nesters, unmarrieds, and never-marrieds.

And as today’s younger generations increasingly make relocation decisions based more on “place” and the unique things that well-designed places have to offer, it’s a way for cities and communities to remain competitive in a changing economy.

From Dan Barry’s column:

Laurel has an active historical society that strives to retain the small city’s sense of place, as well as an active city planner, Karl Brendle, who has led efforts to cut down on road-sign clutter and encourage the redevelopment of uninviting commercial properties. Given this, the Laurel Shopping Center would seem a prime candidate for, shall we say, a re-imagining. And so, gazing through the dusk and light mist, Mr. Fry and Mr. Cownover begin fantasizing about what they would do with the property.

Since there is certainly enough land, they say, create a town center. Mix in some housing — even a post office — among the stores and restaurants. Build streets. Plant trees. Re-arrange the parking. Most of all, engage Laurel residents in defining the fundamental character of their community and ensuring that it is reflected in the environment they build.