Can city life be exported to the suburbs?

Jonathan O’Connell, reporting for the Washington Post on “town centers”, the latest rage in retail development:

By the end of 2011, there were 398 such city replicas — town center or “lifestyle center” projects — in the United States, most of them built in suburbs, in exurbs or on farmland alongside a highway. Since the 1960s, developers had promoted suburban shopping centers as safe, clean escapes from crowded cities. But with urban living back in vogue since the late 1990s, developers are trying to create it outside city limits.

These sort of places give me the creeps. It’s not just the faux urban feel they exude—it’s because they’re privately owned, right down to the streets, sidewalks, and parks. Want to put together a new farmer’s market? Better go through the PR department. Want to organize a protest or other gathering? Good luck. And you can’t vote to change it, either. To me, downtown should be the center of a community, not another line in a corporate balance sheet.

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