In contemplating the observation that less growth is a growing idea here in Santa Monica, I found myself wondering aloud not only about towns and cities, such as our own, but possibly any enterprise: One that is cautious in extending its reach and grasp in the interest of maintaining some standard or level of quality… say, of life.
Examples can be hard to come by. Spam, I guess, is basically the same meat product in the same tin can that it was years ago. They haven’t expanded to roadside McSpam’s drive-throughs or a dozen other flavors, each one moving further and further from the original wonderful taste of Spam.
Yet another thing that occasionally impacts me as a musician is the expansion of musical instrument brands; the placing of respected guitar brand names on instruments that are made “off shore.” Mexico, Korea, China of course; you can walk into a music store and fall in love with a guitar before you start poking your nose in it to discover its country of origin.
When it comes to rock n’ roll, many will tell you that only Yankee-made axes are worthy of consideration. Certainly for my money (literally), the Martin acoustic guitars made off shore are not as worthy as the units created in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. But they are cheaper, and standards have been applied.
I own two Chinese-built electrics, one each bearing the names Fender and Epiphone. They allow me to fantasize that I actually know how to play lead guitar, yet avoid the embarrassing cliché of being a middle-aged doofus who owns instruments above his ability.
The newest electric, the Epiphone, is a Les Paul-like smaller size; it’s no Les Paul yet I like it. Because it makes guitar noises and cost 89 bucks.
As these instrument companies set about expanding or keeping their heads above water by means of creating “official” branded knock-offs, they provided some pleasure to budget-conscious consumers, they brought in some income for the company, and they did spread the brand. But the original core of quality associated with the brand drifted further and further away.
Go into a hardware store and buy a General Electric anything, then check the small type to see where it was built. Maybe because GE has turned its attention to energy production and railroad engines and weapons, the light bulbs and the wall switches went overseas. Maybe you’re good with the branded knock-offs, or maybe you’re not.
So, how would you feel about a knock-off Santa Monica?
It would look and feel just enough like your impression of what the real Santa Monica was, enough so you wouldn’t forget where you were. But like the copycat guitars, it would never be quite the real thing; lesser and never as good.
When our city buys into a mentality of ‘expanding our brand’, if you will, with more growth, development, traffic, and building height I hear the out-of-tune twang of a copy guitar.
Recent events such as killing the Hines project and the cautious citizen-involved review of Bergamot development provide encouraging signs that we might finally be coming to an understanding: That you can’t simultaneously have a thing, such as a nice cake, and then eat it as well… by way of building more things on it.
Late last year City officials said that more than 30 projects that were at various stages in the pipeline could add nearly 300 million square feet in new residential, office and retail space. But where is the space to add that “space?”
Travel with me through the pages of a book we have in our home that shows views of Santa Monica and Venice back in the 1930’s. The beach ran all the way up to 4th street. Everything we enjoy now, such as Main Street… all that was built-in over time.
If you were someone back in the day that held that what Santa Monica was in that time involved this enormous beach… well, that got appropriated and everybody got a smaller Chinese guitar beach they could rock out on.
Sometimes money is a restless giant lizard. Instead of the traditional monster’s tendency to crush what’s already in place, think of a hybrid Godzilla that somehow builds new buildings and then crams them into any existing space it can find. It might appear less terrifying as it approached, but you might be just as depressed by what it left in its wake. Lately, we’ve been more resilient against the giant lizard. Maybe that makes for a less exciting movie of life here, if you will. But then, we kind of like our ‘movie’ that way. We’re ‘indy’, not blockbuster.