Edward Hopper’s Rockford

14 thoughts on “Edward Hopper’s Rockford”

  1. Thanks for taking photos of the banality and talking about it in stark terms, Johnny. I remember, after “winning” a grassroots battle to keep big box stores out of a particularly beautiful boulevard that led out of our town, watching in horror as, instead, over the course of a decade, we cut down the trees and replaced them with one free-standing strip mall after another, and, of course, a service road. This is winning under prescriptive zoning, and it is every bit as bad as losing.

    These are the things I do to help turn the tide now: I call the places as I see them — revolting.
    I champion farms and open spaces as vastly more valuable on every level to the steaming turd properties you show; I insist that arts and culture be considered on equal footing to economic development; I walk to shop and shop locally despite better “deals” further out; I got myself on the planning commission and vote no, with my rationale stated in as beautiful and philosophic terms as I can muster, despite pressure to vote yes; I’m hosting an Incremental Development Alliance day in our town; I spread the Strong Towns message. I share your blog.

    I think we have to continue to get people to see these awful built spaces as the soul-crushing vinylclad shitshows that they are. That is job one. Stop building more. Land and a stable climate are our most precious resources; getting people to adore them and restore them is the challenge before us.

    Step two: Unleash bulldozers, farmers, artists and creatives to start reforming the ones we have.

  2. Abandoned gas stations are particularly nasty because they often have contaminated soil, so cleaning it up for any reconstruction use requires substantial investment.

  3. Even the Romans used to bitch about this. Their main roads in and out of town were long strips of low rent businesses and ugly family shrines. It isn’t just automobiles. It has something to do with transportation and real estate.

    1. I’ll be following up on Rockford with future posts.

      On the outskirts of highly productive and dynamic Roman towns and cities were a penumbra of cheap crap. Fair enough. What I’m observing all across North America is a relentless landscape of cheap crap punctuated, occasionally, by a few morsels of productive medium quality urbanism. Spot the difference?

      1. The National Automobile Slum.

        Johnny is right. North America is almost unique in how horrible its cities are. In the core neighborhoods and “downtown”.

        One of the worst examples is Midland, Texas. On all the lists of wealth and job growth, yet the City itself is so…bleak. A few blank walled office towers, parking lots, and ugly buildings. And there are so many American towns that literally make one despair about American culture. (h/t the great George Carling monolog.)

        He is a crank, but Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month was always eye opening.

        1. I wouldn’t write Kunstler off as a crank – he has a lot of good insight and opinions, although at times he is a bit dramatic. He was my first exposure to anything related to urban planning/design/peak oil/etc. and he’s very effective at pulling in new people.

  4. I think Greg has the solution. In a few places, biki is right (as you have featured on this very blog).

    Zone for some corridors to re-urbanize but recognize that many will not.

  5. Some of this is a natural consequence of zoning and land use regulation, especially of the ones that limit “car related” (selling, servicing, etc.) businesses to a particular zoning classification. Normally such classifications exist along major arterials…which is why we all drive by someplace that looks like your pictures on a daily basis.

    The thing is, once a land use “requires” nearly 100% lot paving, future land uses will be of the same kind and character. So yes…fresh paving and painting is about what we’ll get for “improvement” when one scratch-and-dent used car lot closes and the property owner is looking for another operator.

    A lot depends on the state’s land use laws, too. In my state, it is impossible to down-zone without grandfathering in any legal existing use. So strips of these ugly but necessary uses just sit and decline/devolve over time. Old gas stations become buy-here-pay-here lots, tire/wheel shops, check cashing places, and drive-up discount tobacco shops.

    1. Of course, as the economy stagnates for most people (automation, off-shoring, ogliopolization) we will see more and more of this kind of stuff. Poor people use discount check cashing places and discount tobacco shops (does anyone but the poor smoke anymore?).

      I spent two years in Knoxville, TN. which, like Rockford, has some solid bones downtown and in a few pockets by the river. But, I still remember Clinton Pike, though. Miles and miles of cheap used car dealers, every one of them festooned with gaudy strings of tinsel. Miles and Miles!

  6. I was formerly on a greenbelt committee of our city of 100,000 in a plains state. As part of our duties, we looked at every proposed re-zoning to see if a greenbelt, walking path, or some such could be included or suggested. A very nice acreage (fewer than 10 acres) that was a very small farm came through our committee. The tiny farm had been purchased by an auto dealer to turn into a mega-auto lot. It made me sad, but the fact was that the small farm sat right on the interstate at a major exit into our city and was surrounded by other commercial businesses and a mobile home park. Under city policy, there was no reason to deny the re-zoning and little reason to suggest a walking path. (Avoiding this fate would have taken turning back the clock to re-zoning decisions made 30 years earlier.) One commissioner was adamant that this was a bad move. I said, “This is right by the interstate and surrounded by other commercial property. Where would you have us put an auto dealership?” He responded: “On the moon.” I have always loved that response and think of it often when I see similar development. At least the auto dealer put in a dog park at his business.

  7. Believe me, I think about this stuff all the time. Just look at any American city on Google Maps, or any city in China, or increasingly even Europe, and the horrifying scale becomes overwhelming. It can get depressing really quickly.

    1. Italian suburbs seem particularly awful. I had an Italian-made racing bike (Sarto) and I was curious where it was made. Definitely not in an old stone workshop, I can tell you! Italian industrial parks may be worse!

  8. Whenever I see crappy industrial buildings in low value real estate areas, I always wonder and fantasize about the possibility for artists to take over and breath new funky life into the area. This tiny eastern Washington town, Tieton, caught the eye and imagination of an arty mover and shaker from Seattle and he turned it into a little burgeoning artistic “village”: http://www.mightytieton.com/

    Of course, it takes a rather rare artist with the means and the time and charisma to pull that off…

  9. I like the sofa on the “porch” of the scratch and dent auto lot. Comfort first.

    Just let the banal landscape be banal? Ignore it and stop spending money on the road.

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