Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Small Town Hassles And Scandals

Spring. Parry Sound, Coast Guard Station. A modern statement, rather at odds with the old town and the beaches. Trees were planted on the Waubuno Beach side, but they're still not big enough to screen an architect's lack of imagination. Here at least there was a need for a modern facility and it serves Georgian Bay and its ships and boats well. But functionalism can get out of hand. One aesthetic mistake leads to another. Like in the New York subways where the stations and trains, never pretty, were vandalized by graffiti artists and remarkably the more damage the more crime. It took an astute commissioner of the Transit Authority to figure out the connection based on an academic paper on a new theory of urban decay. Vandals plant seeds of lawlessness, when they deface an environment, the Broken Window Theory. If you don't fix it, that signals no one cares and it's alright to break another one and another. Whole neighborhoods go up in flames thanks to neglect, but first because they're often an eyesore to begin with and an easy target for distressed people. Quick cleaning and repainting, replacing even cracked windows in the subway system actually reduced crime considerably. But it's an uphill battle. Same goes for our big and small towns. What happened to them anyway? These charming towns we remember. Was there a war? Concrete parking lots covering nasty craters from all the shelling? A nice neighborhood crushed by a Seniors Rec Center and concrete condos. Condos in the country? A giant ugly hospital sold for a song to a big city developer who turns it into a slightly uglier retread for a condo complex. This make any sense? Sure. We needed the rec center, depressing though it is, and we need more condos because there's a housing shortage and prices are high and I suppose this will keep them high. A lot of prime land available too, and nothing gets done. The only place for kids to go, the ones who throw rocks, is the hockey rink and church bingo. So they get into trouble or leave town, just like in the movies. Is there some sort of anything goes business and politics in bed together, or in a small town, a game of Monopoly where a few high rollers call the shots? Looks like it anyway.

Spring. Parry Sound, Seguin Bridge and Tower Hill. Why not a charming bridge over an idyllic river? Everyone can draw up a long list of eyesores and missed opportunities for any town. In a small town you can't miss them. They're everywhere. Not much discussion or input on anything in most of them, just like in big city alienation. With big city thinking applied to small towns, from malls to strip malls, to dumb ugly buildings, people get the idea that's all you're going to get. The reminders are everywhere. A minor hassle like no real downtown which big city visitors love and the locals now miss. There was one until the malls came. Shopping, apart from the basics, is an exercise in futility. Try to find any shoe that fits at any price. One shoe store in town and plastic leather everywhere else. A nice friendly coffee shop? Closest thing open is at the mall food court or the Drive Thru. The old town newspapers used to be concerned. Not so much now. They've been bought up, imagine, by media giants. Their local flavor is the local advertising. What they splash on page one is Council Agrees To Hike Parking and Water Main On South Street Needs Repairs. Inside on page 3, some harmless gossip everybody knows anyway masquerading as human interest stories, and sensational articles like Fall Is The Time For Canning. Anyway, who do you know who does canning? In Parry Sound it's Crofter's, the jam factory. Good jam too, organic. Even mango. It's not that warm here, if you're looking for a mango tree. Globalization, from California. Though, what the local rags are good at is flooding the towns with flyers and free guides and magazines that give you 5th graders' reports on all the fun tourists and locals can have, with hardly a word of useful or honest information, but plenty of wall-to-wall paid advertising. No wonder that cottage lakeside life in the Muskokas is the big thing and many small towns are treading water or slowly going under.

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