Monday, August 25, 2008
What sort of walkable “downtown” do Americans like? The answer may inform what types of projects that governments foster and approve, in an area when vitalization of the city is the mantra of urban land use law.
Here’s an anecdote from a recent visit to Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Mammoth is a resort town in the eastern Sierra, favored by Angelenos for skiing and summer hiking. It is a fairly new resort and holds little of the history or sense of community of an established city such as Aspen, Col. Because of its recent success, however, Mammoth’s developers have rapidly built the usual upscale commercial developments of a resort town –- European bakeries, fancy cafes, and “high end” clothing stores, often in fairly dense strips. Where do visitors (and residents) walk on Friday night? Not along the established streets, but within the wholly planned “Village at Mammoth,” which offers food, ice cream, and piped in music in a fully controlled environment. Visitors appear to like the wide "streets" without cars (although one can park underground just steps away), the visual appeal of the prefectly maintained cute architecture and stores, and the sense of complete security and control that a planned “village” provides. Urbanists may disparage such “fake” towns, but the typical American –- or at least the typical visitor to Mammoth –- likes it.