Several years ago I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of this sign outside a restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire:Does this ironically (or at least unintentionally) reinforce snobbish European stereotypes of uncouth Americans? More planners than I can count always reference European cities when trying to find a model for the look and feel to which American cities should aspire. But one thing the US can always claim—which most European countries cannot—is quantity: an abundance of land, natural resources, and so forth. Perhaps there is an inverse relationship between ambiance and abundance, so that, when there is an almost endless supply of land, the users have far less incentive in articulating it. Does America, the birthplace of mass production and fordism, get the settlement patterns that urbanists condemn because it has so rarely confronted scarcity? Obviously this comes into play, even if it is largely unconscious. But to say that America’s cultural contribution is quantity at the expense of quality or ambiance is an assertion that depends on a hierarchy of taste: i.e., what constitutes “culture” or “character”. Taste culture is an obsession of mine, which will likely find its way into multiple later postings.
And here’s another charmer of a strip mall in New Hampshire, only a few hundred feet from the Massachusetts border, which apparently embodies all of the negative stereotypes Massachusetts residents have of New Hampshire:Yes, that means porn, pawnshops, lowbrow reading (comics), and do-it-yourself fireworks. And there was a gun shop just down the street. Essentially they are selling everything that is highly restricted or taxed—if not outright forbidden—in Massachusetts. I guess this demonstrates what vulgarians the folks in the Granite State are compared to their smug Bostonian friends to the south. Frankly, the fact that they can consolidate such smutty hedonism in one shopping plaza makes me like the folks in New Hampshire that much more. (No doubt the reason these stores are so close to the border is that their biggest client base are the poor deprived folks in Massachusetts.) This photo also demonstrates yet again how a hierarchy of taste can creep into seemingly innocent stereotypes of various US states. Personally I found Portsmouth one of the most picturesque small cities I’d seen. Remarkable ambiance, if you will. My only regret in regards to this post is that I didn’t pop my head into the Metro restaurant—no doubt I would not have left hungry.