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shopping

I drove to the south end of Santa Maria today, to go to PetsMart. I wanted bulk seed for wild birds. I found it. I found it in a big new big-box shopping center, one of so many I don't know how we support them. I was thinking about that. With a Wal-Mart and Staples and Best Buy and PetsMart around every corner, with the number of shopping centers growing much faster than the population, something has to give. What's it going to be? On my way into the center I had to enter a left turn lane from Betteravia, and although the lane was long, my car was peeking out at the end. A new left-turn pocket into a fairly new center and it wasn't long enough. It's scary to me to think about how we are increasing our use of vehicles, thereby requiring more, wider roads, more, longer left-turn pockets, more parking spaces.

The answer isn't "the new urbanism". It isn't "smart growth", although a version of that is being practiced in SLO, where an older shopping center is gradually giving way to a new one, each building being torn down and replaced. Keeping the shopping confined, in other words, to the same area. That's a help. The square-footage of retail space per person in this country has increased astronomically in the last twenty or thirty years, and even more over the past fifty. We can't keep paying that much, spending the same amount in ever-increasing numbers of stores. So what's going to give? What's going to happen? When I look at these places I see people everywhere, money pouring through the registers. We haven't reached a breaking point yet. When will we? WHy haven't we? I suspect we haven't because we are going farther and farther into debt.

Sometimes I wonder if I am coming down with some kind of panic syndrome, some kind of "worry about the world and forget my own life" thing.

Why did I go there, though? I went there because I want to feed the wild birds but don't want to break my bank doing it. I wanted cheaper, bigger bags of bird seed. I got them. I can go on feeding my little free aviary, enjoying them, listening to them, reveling in my closeness to nature...and at what cost...?

I also feel some pull to these places. On the way home I thought about stopping at K-Mart or Trader Joe's or Marshall's - because they're there. Because they are there and they are calling me in. I'm a sucker, and so many of us are suckers. I managed to pull myself away and get home, having spent $30 on bird seed and cat food and having spent another three bucks on cheap Chinese food from a chain, and another three bucks on a latte at a non-chain.

The non-chain coffee place is decked out like coffee places everywhere now. It offers comfortable chairs, tables, old-world furniture and curtains, a place that can lull one into thinking it isn't inside a chain bigbox shopping center. But it is there. I drank my latte from a real cup, not disposable, so I could lull myself into thinking this is a place where I can get away from the world. I don't know where to place that feeling.

I don't know what to do with my opposing feelings about wanting and hating. I feel partially responsible for this kind of growth, knowing, as a planner, that if we don't let the big boxes in people will go elsewhere for them. Can we pretend we are in another era for long? How will this particular era end? I wish I had a clue.

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