So far, from daily interactions in a new town planned meticulously to be the very, very best of live-work-play, the following observations are made:
- A boy about two-and-a-half, crying, with his father crouched in front of him, their noses inches away. Dad was exhorting his son to “get over it” football-coach style. I stayed in the car, rather than getting out, going over, picking him up and hugging him (the son, not the father, who needed a kick) which took just about all I had.
- A pair of stoplights at Corrine and Bennett where you drive into this pretty new town, stoplights that are less than 100 feet apart, where pedestrians and frustrated drivers compete for time between multiple, ill-synchronized lights. This, in an era when traffic engineering is supposed to be better than ever.
- Narrow streets choked with parked cars, because homeowners prefer to park on the street rather than use their elaborately planned alleys.
- A woman, forced to wait while another driver parallel-parked, who leaned on her horn, screaming and giving obscene gestures, red-faced and shaking with anger over the monstrous waste of her precious time.
- A city policeman, soberly handing out tickets at various street corners to drivers who do not stop at stop signs correctly, slowing the rhythm of traffic, oblivious to the other dozens of traffic infractions such as speeding that occur in this nice little town.
- Little patches of grass that are not anyone’s territory, but exist in neither the public nor private space, perennially covered with dog shit because owners do not pick it up (since it is everyone’s yard, rather than someone’s yard).
- Commercial buildings less than ten years old but looking a hundred, due to moisture intrusion that results from hasty and poor construction.
- Massive apartment construction at a time when the rental bubble has already burst, undoubtedly bringing the town its first slum.
- A well-publicized fracas at the grocery store, the scene of a brand new way to publicly shame someone: for not putting your shopping cart away properly.
This inventory of diminishment is only partial. These bits stand out, and are among many more that occurred. Entering this new town, I find my demeanor changing, my face hardening a bit, my gaze becoming narrower to shift quickly away from the meanness, the impoverishment of soul, and the general malaise that seems to have gripped this glittering, shiny place.
Form, instead of bringing people together and making a civic unity, has the opposite effect. Either the people who choose to live here tend to be a certain way; or living here drives people into this type of behavior. It is a fascinating study on one level; discouraging on another.
Form, so important in the eyes of a few, has resulted in a fetish of style that eschews real authenticity. The relentless, bland stucco, cracking and fading in the sun, resembles more and more a seedy Caribbean town than a new American one. The buildings weakly echo more elegant structures elsewhere, structures that were originally built, in an earlier era, out of stone.
No stone, however, graces any part of this town. The next closest kin, precast concrete, peppers a few structures; some good, honest brick veneer appears on others. Would that the architecture were a little more genuine, and have some kick to it, at least the town would have something to react to. As it is, the town looks like it was carved out of a giant antacid tablet.
It is only about eleven years old, a pre-teen that is not worthy of comparison to older places with more soul. These times are especially hard for towns, not just because of social justice issues like wealth discrepancies. This town was built with way too many storefronts, just when retail space has become nearly obsolete. Pity it for coming into being, just when its reason for being has become mostly obsolete.
With a difficult future for all cities ahead, our city must seek beauty and abundance in new places that were not dreamt of in the days of yore. New towns, with their special codes, rigorous community associations, and image-consciousness are disadvantaged in this competitive and cutthroat era of survival. We wish them well and hope that some soul is birthed somewhere here soon, to combat the wicked, acidic rancor that seeps from this insipid place.
As Saint Augustine said, “Take care of your body as if you are going to live forever; take care of your soul as if you are going to die tomorrow.” The same might be applied to cities. I hope that everyone who reads this adds a little goodwill into Baldwin Park, and gives it some soul, for this reason.