The tragedy of Owings Mills [Letter]

I've been reading "A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction" by Christopher Alexander. This is a mighty must-have-doorstopper for anyone interested in New Urbanism and the vocabulary of spaces that a person would actually want to live in.

It was published in 1977, so architects, designers and city planners have had almost 40 years to soak in the intelligence of constructing buildings and developing public spaces that feel humane. That have the correct scale, multi-use, pedestrian friendly, with "permeable membranes" between shopping and socializing — the goal is to grow civic life.

But then there's the redevelopment of Owings Mills in Baltimore County.

Though the city fathers say Owings Mills is going to have a renaissance with the new Wegmans coming in, and will be modeled after Hunt Valley where the other Baltimore County Wegmans is, to have a renaissance you need to do more than recreate Hunt Valley.

Hunt Valley — and I apologize to all who believe there is a there there — is so creepy, so inorganic village, so "fabricated," that to me it's like aliens said, "Shop here with the piped in music, and then get in your car and go home, Earth Scum."

To be a destination and a community you need street life. We know this. Think Old Europe. You need sidewalks. Trees. Hubs, not rectangles. Buildings with windows. Sidewalk cafes. Interaction. Circulation. Multi-use. We need window boxes. Not more big box stores. Though, of course I am excited about Wegmans' selection of fresh fish. I too can be bought.

But this price is too high. How about a park on the moonscape of the old Solo Cup factory instead of a yet another Reisterstown Road mini mall? Because these suburban landscapes of which Baltimore County has too many are soul-sucking. Do you think I am being too dramatic? Too hysterical? I refuse to continue to be a passive consumer of spaces built for commerce, or cars, and not for — well — people. Forget the fish.

I wish I were half as pointed as James Howard Kunstler in his TED talk, "The Ghastly Tragedy of The Suburbs," who put it simply, "these habitats induce anxiety."

Elizabeth Bastos

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