31 May 2010

wtf is a Downers Grove?

for a 2-day training seminar, I recently found myself in the suburban hell known as Downers Grove, IL. (as the joke at work went, "I can't recall the name, something like Upper's Meadow").

Chicago is one of those cities that, given a feature limiting its expansion (specifically, a giant lake), has grown on a hub and spoke system. this has given rise to a number of communities that sprang up along railroad stops. though it's not exactly my style, downtowns like Arlington Heights have a certain charm to them, especially given a fairly-recent rejuvenation of pedestrian and bike traffic in some suburbs centered around the trainstop. Keeping with my example, one can detrain in Arlington Heights and have quick walking access to a number of new shops, restaurants, and condos, in a semi-dense area with a mixture of new construction, rehab, and new-cum-olde.

this makes it all the more distressing to end up in a Downers Grove. maybe there's a nice downtown i just didn't come across (and let's not pretend that all of Arlington Heights is pedestrian/bicycle friendly), but what I did see is a travesty: networks of high-capacity expressways and thoroughfares, small clusters of mini-skyscrapers adorned with company names (Microsoft, SAP), with all other areas filled in by malls, stripmalls, box stores, parking lots, and only one neighborhood that i happened to stumble into (read as: i got lost).

had i been plopped down into this area without context, i would have had a very difficult time naming it as a Chicago suburb, or even taking an educated guess on which state I was in. my first guess probably would have been southern California.

stuck in traffic on Butterfield Road, headed to meet some co-workers for dinner (in a stripmall, naturally), I surveyed the stores and read off the chains: Chili's, Best Buy, Toys R Us, etc etc. Like catalog shopping that you get to do in person, and all the parking lots are connected. And that's what Butterfield felt like to me, with its 6 lanes, not including the double-turn lanes, and lights designed to funnel traffic in and out of parking lots: just a way of shuttling you between the places where you make the money and where to stop off to spend the money.

certainly, there must be more to DG than what i saw, because the alternative is that the 50,000 some people who live there find comfort in all their box stores.

happily, it's a convenient 1 hour and 20 minutes from where i live (unless there's a Cubs game, then add 40 minutes to my return trip), and kind of in the middle of friggin' nowhere. Even the flown-in trainer had to rent a car, as DG is nowhere near an airport or downtown Chicago, both of which I can reasonably access from my house without a car.

though i understand the reasons how a place like DG came to be, including the homeowner's desire to "get away from the city", the village's desire to attract commerce, and the corporations desire for tax breaks and their logo on their own building, i am stunned that anyone would wake up, take a serious look at what's out their window, and proclaim, "yes, this is what i've always wanted."

i'm really trying to put aside my own biases and imagine myself as someone who would want to live in place like Downers Grove. and i'm failing.


JustJoeP said...

"filled in my malls" - are you a land baron now? ;-)

zim said...

oops! fixed...