Some years ago, we were passing through Fresno on the way home and wanted Thai for dinner. It was long enough ago that we may have looked in the phone book or somesuch rather than checking Google. So we got an address, and I said "Oh, I know exactly where that is, at the intersection with a Wal*Mart and a Starbucks". Charlene laughed, and told me how to get there, and... sure enough.
We're currently on an emergency trip down in the Fresno area for some Charlene family issues, staying across from the Kaiser hospital. This morning we tried to go find another EV charger that was close to a park, but Electrify America failed to electrify us, so we went back to the River Park mall to use the charger there. While we waited, we walked around cookie cutter "brew pubs" (except these days nobody bothers brewing any more, so it's more Sysco's "brewpub" menu package), places serving deep friend fusion concept food (reminiscent of nothing so much as Bird's), the "diner" which smells like funnel cake, and the obligatory Cost Plus, H&M, and Macy's.
The "Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids" next to the extremely bland looking tattoo removal shop kinda summed up the experience. Yes, the mall is scattering wide sidewalks and stores through the parking in ways that aren't quite the same as the acres of asphalt and attempts to build the next TGI Friday's franchise, but somehow it feels the same.
No culture of its own.
We've been thinking about this a lot in terms of Petaluma, and the attempts to retain a sense of downtown, so we drove over to downtown Clovis. "Gateway to the Sierras(sic)". Antique stores, upscale clothing boutiques selling "pumpkin spice" themed fall merchandise, yet another "Aveda" selling salon (or whatever sort of establishment it is that sells Aveda), lots of real estate offices. They, like the River Park mall, had some sort of vendor set-up event going on, food trucks with generators making the place smell like unburned gasoline, but no sense of unique place. Just another set of parking spots and bicyclists relegated to the sidewalks.
We escaped as a retired couple sang The Judd's "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout The Good Old Days)", a paean to a bigoted past that never really existed.
Somewhere in there I realized that in our discussions about the future of Petaluma, this is a future that terrifies most of us. Nobody *wants* to see Petaluma become indistinguishable from any other Central Valley stop, the view from the freeway being the backs of Target and the frozen yoghurt joint and the strip mall, the acres of parking surrounding the shops and restaurants where, even if you don't recognize the specific brand, you know exactly what they're serving.
Even though it feels like that's exactly what the last two decades have been pushing Petaluma towards.
I'm still working out how this informs my own visions of how we can build a better Petaluma, but it's definitely reinforcing to me that bolting a misguided nostalgia for a time that never was on to suburban sprawl ain't it.