Anywhere America

One thing I’ve noticed more in my travels this year is that fundamentally, American big cities have more in common than they are unique.

As I was eating lunch at Whole Foods today, I pondered the above scene out my window and realized, except for the palm trees (and even that is common to many U.S. cities), I could be looking at Anywhere, America: similar vehicles, recognizable retail places, large developments wiping out unique stores and hotels, etc. Granted I could have walked three blocks to where I took the beach picture shared yesterday, and clearly that wasn’t Anywhere, America. But it does feel like our population centers are rapidly morphing into consistent, rubber-stamped developments of corporate and retail conglomerates.

Remembering travels over past decades, before the advent of big box stores and rubber stamped brands across America, each city seemed to have a more distinctive feel with unique representations of local retail and culture. Not any more it seems. Understood that fundamental capitalism and the need of many to become unusably rich drove local businesses, restaurants, and retail out of downtown areas. Places where preservation of architecturally historical buildings exists like Boston, Chicago, etc., have at least protected those unique icons, but for how long?

I have to confess having a pet peeve about the rapid extinction of local coffee shops in big cities. Having spent a lot of time in these, I remember enjoying many with their local cultural or artistic vibes. It’s been sad to visit New York City, as an example, over the years and witness the elimination of such places. True to our capitalistic addiction, they’ve been replaced by the now ubiquitous Starbucks. Did it really make sense to wipe out a local coffee shop so an intersection could have two Starbucks diagonally opposite? Saw that multiple times on my most recent trip. And for the record, although it takes extra effort, you can search and find some local NYC coffee shops, at least for now.

I guess this post comes off as old-fart whining for the good old days, but with the proliferation of Wal-Marts and the continued embedding and growing dominance of the Amazon empire, how long will any uniqueness remain in our signature cities? How long before we start taking down historical buildings, replacing them with high-rise condos complete with street-level unaffordable retail space? And I, for one, wouldn’t bet against seeing a Starbucks there before the first well-heeled tenants move in.