Monday, April 21, 2008

specimin #1

Seattle is covered with town homes. I've lived in my current house for a few years and during that time three clusters of town houses and a small condo complex have gone up within the part of the city visible from my windows. There's another cluster being built as we speak. Each cluster has 6 or so identical town houses done in the prevailing style--beige pseudo-craftsman with blank white plastic-framed windows and crappy siding that is supposed to look like wood but doesn't.

I really don't see the point of living in a house if you don't get a yard, but I'm not necessarily opposed to the concept of town homes. That said, I loathe nearly every single one I see. I have thought hard about why.....
  • It's not the snobbery of the upper class---I'm a renter and I certainly don't make enough money to buy a pseudo craftsman piece of crap.
  • It's not an envy thing either--I don't have any driving desire to own a town home or lead a yuppie lifestyle. (In fact, I fear it wholeheartedly.)
Call me shallow, but in the end it comes down to aesthetics. I'm sure it's possible to build a nice looking town home, but the ones I see around town usually don't qualify. You can't slap some fake shingles onto the side of a building and tell me it isn't built on the same philosophy as a strip mall---minimum cost for maximum profit. They offer all of the amenities of an apartment and an aesthetic offense that equals a modern apartment building. The distinct disadvantage is that they don't house nearly as many people.

Poverty and I were walking home from our neighbors extended happy hour last Friday. We stopped at the gas station for a bottle of wine and as we were walking past the newest construction zone, Poverty grabbed my hand and suggested we explore.

I've spent some time lurking in construction zones at night with bottles of wine (what else does one do when underage). They always give me a gleeful romantic feeling---padding up dark stairways that smell of sawdust and rain.

I still enjoyed the smell of sawdust and rain, but this time I felt like I was undercover, looking for answers.

I looked at the plywood walls and the frames that had sprung up in just days and imagined the layers of drywall and plaster that will soon cover them, followed by the final touches--a flat screen TV, cheesy Target picture frames trapping smiling couples, obligatory art. I looked at my own house across the street with its kindly windows and missing shingles, its overgrown yard and bedraggled American flag, and I wondered how it would look to the people that will live in the insufferable and soulless plywood box.

I then began imagining how many town homes you could fit on our giant corner lot. One, two, three, four, five, six., seven...I came to the final answer to my question--I loathe these town homes because they threaten me. I imagine them eating up the city, swallowing the shabbiness, the bedraggled, the seediness, and then marching on in the name of progress, white-frame windows gleaming.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Requim #1

Despite my sycophantic love for The Big Lebowski, I'm not much of a bowler. I always thought I should be. Unfortunately, like most activities involving balls (other than sex), bowling intimidates me. That said, I do like bowling alleys, and I am pretty sad to hear that Sunset Bowl closed its doors after 51 years of business.

You may be wondering why I like bowling alleys if I don't like bowling, and my #1 answer is that they are not giant hideous condo developments that mar the landscape and serve no useful purpose to anyone other than their wealthy residents. My #2 (composite) answer is that there is always a good mix of people at bowling alleys, bowling is a good excuse to drink cheap beer, and I certainly prefer the aesthetics to that of the ball-less yuppie bistro that will undoubtedly replace Sunset bowl.

I used to be able to say that I was conveniently located next to Sunset bowl, but now I will have to say that I am conveniently located next to a giant condominium. This will be useless as a landmark, seeing as how Ballard is full of giant condominiums. Speaking of which, I saw a really excellent bumper stick on 1-5 the other day. Hippie parents and a tenure at Evergreen killed my love for bumper stickers, but this one is a real exception: Ballard Welcomes Our New Condo Overlords. As I suspected, it's from Archie's. I'd put that on the van.

But I digress....I missed the closing night at Sunset because I was out of town. I ran into my friend Thirsty on the bus and he filled me in. Evidently he had to bowl in his socks. The guy behind the counter said everyone was just walking out with their bowling shoes. When I asked him about it, Thirsty conceded that the guy's tone was 'vaguely pissed off'.

The last time I had seen Thirsty, previous to our bus run-in, was at Sunset. It was on the same expedition that I noticed that Sunset employed a hunchback and a punk albino, both quite efficient. I remember thinking that I was unlikely to find a hunchback and a punk albino employed in the bland 'retail spaces' that will undoubtedly replace Sunset Bowl.

Sunset wouldn't have won any beauty contests either, but it had character, heart, and soul. They write songs about that shit.

Manifesto #1

I don't have a problem with urban density per sé. I love Chicago and New York and a number of other cities that are teeming to the gills with life. Seattle is growing. The population of our country continues to increase. We need to adjust to that. I am concerned about the environment, and I realize that increasing urban density is a step in the right direction in terms of reducing our emissions.

I do have a problem with banality, with soullessness, with vacuous yuppie bullshit. I have a problem with many of the condominiums and town homes that are popping up across Seattle at an alarming rate, displacing houses and businesses that once contributed to my city's flavor. It is a problem to me that the retail space available in these new condo developments is incredibly expensive, ensuring that it becomes filled with upscale salons, boutiques, and bistros, or, more frequently, corporate atrocities like Starbucks and Taco del Mar. It is a problem to me that these developments manage to be tacky and pretentious at the same time, and that in another 20 years they will look much, much crappier than they do now.

Seriously, what the hell is up with the 90's color schemes for the bigger developments? Can anyone around here build something that does not have white frame windows? Is it possible to build a town home that is not a beige pseudo-craftsman piece of shit? Can we get a little originality, or maybe some respect for the neighborhood? I want to know.

Ok, I'm ranting now. My goal with this blog is to highlight individual developments and write requiems for the institutions they are replacing. One at a time. I am writing this blog because I am angry and sad, and I don't know what to do about it. I hate protests, I hate meetings, and developers scare me. So I'm going to hide in a dark room and blog about this until I feel better. I will try to include pictures, and, when the occasion merits it (and it usually does), humor.

My next post will be devoted to the demise of Sunset bowl. Stay tuned for more ranting.