Friday, December 12, 2003

Suburban Specialization

Back when I was in middle school in the late 70s, the malls came to New Jersey. At first it was Paramus Park. Later Riverside Square, the Bergen Mall, and Garden State Plaza sprung up along Route 17 in Paramus.

14 year olds and malls. Need I say more? When our parents couldn't drop us off there, we would take the bus. Hell, we would have walked there. We were teenagers wacked out on funnel cake and cheese fries following around boys and spending our babysitting money on Cappezios and designer barrettes. Our idol -- Phoebe Cates back when she modeled for Seventeen magazine. Roaming around those citadels of consumption we got our first taste of adult freedom.

The opening of the malls had even more profound affect on the neighboring towns in New Jersey. It devastated them. Prior to the malls (PM), each town had places to buy shoes and pots and yarn. I bought my corduroy Levis and clogs from the Tenafly Department Store. After the mall (AM), these places closed up. In some towns, no stores opened up. The windows were boarded up and the signs taken down. Supermarkets and newspaper shops were all that remained. Even in affluent towns, the downtown became depressing and forgotten.

Lately, I've been noticing a revitalization of the New Jersey suburbs. They are reinventing themselves by specializing. One town attracts restaurants. Another high end shoe and bag stores. Another wedding boutiques. Another high end home supplies. It seems to be working.

I'm an old cornball about the idea of community. If I was planning suburbs, every street would have a sidewalk with an easy walk into town. There would be a coffee shop, a small book store, a pharmacy, a supermarket, a butcher. There would lots of friendly chatter with neighbors as you went about your business. How's the work going, Clyde? The wife and kids? Hot enough for you?

The adaptation of the Jersey suburbs isn't furthering my communitarian paradise. For that, I would have to go to the food court at the mall.

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