urbanite take

A Chicagoan opines on land use, transportation and the walkable city

This charming city square is hiding something

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Cafe seating and all!

Isn’t this a good example of a cute, multistory, mixed-use square with outdoor seating in a plaza? Storefronts come right up to the street, and while the midday sun may be discouraging customers from lingering, there aren’t any parking strips or car traffic barring  pedestrians.

This is, in fact, the corner of a strip mall in suburban Los Angeles.

I am in southern California visiting my parents for the week, and we went out for lunch in a shopping center near Colima and Fullerton roads in Rowland Heights, about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles in the Puente Hills of the southern San Gabriel Valley*. When I spotted this façades in the corner of the strip mall, I knew I had to take a picture.

It’s actually just half a “square” in the corner of a strip mall

The stores on the ground floor are real, and in some cases are actually rather deep. But everything above the front floor is just a fake front, rather like the Leinster Gardens fake fronts in London: but in this case these fake floors are purely decorative and don’t hide anything utilitarian like an Underground line.

This isn’t anything new, of course. The various Disney incarnations of Main Street employ this stratagem all the time; in fact, it’s my understanding that the fake building façades on Main Street utilize forced perspective to look taller. Still, there’s something a little bit sad when in every day real life.

I won’t go so far as to draw any deep conclusions about latent desires for urbanism or mixed-use developmens in the area. Many area residents are Asian-American immigrants for whom the American Dream is a suburban house and yard, comparing favorably with the crowded metropolises of Asia or run-down central city Los Angeles neighborhoods. But that is another post entirely (and not one I’m sure I’m qualified to write). I’ll just say that at the very least, even if it’s in a purely aesthetically architectural sense, there seems to be some desire for at least the look of a middle-range, low-rise urban cityscape.

*Born and raised in California, I don’t think my preference for melodious Spanish place names will ever leave me. There are many things I love about New England and the Northeast, but the plain-sounding English and Dutch toponyms are not one of them. (The Midwest’s Indian names à la Waukesha, Menomonee, Milwaukee, I at least find more interesting.)

Written by Andrew ACG

May 23, 2012 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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