It’s probably too much to hope that anyone would ever think of “growth” as a process of making things smaller. Although, if you follow the world of personal electronics, that’s exactly what has happened. Every new item that expands the market — with the exception of TV screens – keeps getting smaller and smaller. However, a lot of the people that own the hippest, smallest MP3 players and mobile phones are also the people who own the biggest refrigerators and stoves… neatly tucked into the biggest houses on the block.Which brings me to what’s bugging me right now: Santa Monica needs to be zapped with a shrink ray. When they first dug the hole on the corner of Main Street and Marine for that monstrosity that now blocks out the sun, I had a sinking feeling that what was to come would be oversized. It’s only now that the façade of the building is taking shape that I realize it’s also going to be laughably ugly. At some point in the late 90s, an architectural fad kicked in which big box construction czars believed that you could disguise the aesthetic disaster of a building too big for its site simply by putting fake surfaces and flags all over the outside of it. Included is some bizarre notion that yellow and orange paint means “Southwest” and worse, that pretty colors make everything okay. A good example of this goofy camouflage might be the exteriors of the large retail spaces on Wilshire just east of Bundy. That construction pretends to be attractive, while further insisting that the gluing on of banners and electric store logos somehow makes the whole thing stimulating or even “exciting.” But in reality, the mish-mash comes off as a kind of late 20th century architectural skin cancer. To which one might properly respond, “Fine. You try making a grocery store look nice.” And if we were really getting into this after a few bottles of wine, someone might shout, “Hey, they tried making retail interesting. It’s called the Westside Pavilion. How’s that working for you?”Santa Monica fought Target, and there was a properly indignant response to the proposed towers at the current location of Santa Monica Place. But last week I was driving home from work and I noticed that there are more and more big houses in our area. There’s some kind of property-line-to-property-line Moby Dick being built on Fourth Street just south of Rose. It compliments the surrounding neighborhood much the way King Kong enhanced New York in the recent film. Main Street in Santa Monica is being eaten by giants at more than one location, especially the thing going in where the old Boulangerie was. If the houses and the charming retail areas become the Land of the Giants, I’m asking you: Where will the actual charming Santa Monica be? In our memories?Which is worse: A gated community of elitist wealth like Bel Air or an open community of wealth like Santa Monica with ugly sun-blocking three story condos on Main Street? Don’t we see ourselves as less silly and retrograde snotty than Bel Air? Okay, so we’re going to let greed chew up rent control and the affordable housing that makes us a more interesting community. Then let’s at least not allow the embarrassing Humvee mentality to infect the very brick and mortar of our city. Or I will go down in the basement and start working on my shrink ray. This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz1) Bush is asking for an additional $70 billion for (a) the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (b) Cheney’s pacemaker batteries. (c) party favors at “Lame Duckapalooza!”2) France has begun deporting (a) anyone making wine in a box. (b) leaders in last fall’s rioting. (c) the inventor of “Brie Whiz.”3) A top Medicare official concedes that (a) the new drug plan is too complicated. (b) Sudoku puzzles are too complicated. (c) “My Name is Earl” is too complicated.Answer Key1) (a) “Armor? Okay, $80 billion…”2) (b) “We’ll trade you for Jerry Lewis.”3) (a) “Our new plan: The Pill Lottery!”
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