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Traffic on F St.

October 25, 2005

It’s good to be back. I can’t quite say that I dread going to southeast Denver; rather, I seem to have a morbid fascination with it. It is the scene of my worst nightmare. It is the worst of everything suburban.

You know the litany: wide roads choked with traffic, miles of cookie-cutter houses, chains of chain stores; big box emporiums; nary a sidewalk to be found.

I go there, and then I get angry about it. After many decades of building this way, we have apparently learned nothing. If you don’t know exactly where you’re going in such “neighborhoods,” you get no help from the design of things.

Roads curve uselessly; lighting glares needlessly. Cars lurch across lanes through incomprehensible intersections.

Yes, I like Salida. The traditional parts are excellent: street grid, alleyways, small lots, sidewalks, downtown.

So why did I leave it for corporate suburbia, even for a few days? For a library conference at the Denver Tech Center Marriott Hotel.

I found it ironic that the inside of the hotel was designed with exactly the small town look and feel that the surrounding area lacked.

It had a long main corridor paved in stone. This corridor was like a Main Street. Hallways were side streets to other conference rooms and services. The varied windows and rooms along the corridor were like downtown storefronts, and lounge areas were like small parks.

There were shops, a shoe-shine stand, an indoor cafe, an “outdoor” pub and restaurant — “outdoors” was in the large atrium. There were plenty of places to walk, plenty of nooks to sit in, plenty of tables and chairs. Trees and plants; bricks and stone.

There was no need to leave the hotel, and just as well because there was no place to go.

A group of us holding an extracurricular meeting tried to beat the lines for lunch. We scrambled across the road to a restaurant. First, we walked across the hotel parking lots. Then we ran across the first two lanes to the median, pushed through the trees and bushes on the median, ran across two more lanes and through a crowded parking lot only to wait in line at the restaurant. We should have stayed in “town.”

When I first saw the contingent of librarians from Telluride in the hotel, I teased them about coming to the city in a herd for protection. But they felt pretty much as I did. The whole region was off-putting.

It doesn’t have to be, of course, but it is … the result of man’s worst inclinations run amok. Houses have become commodities like bushels of corn, and communities are emerging markets.

The suburbs are dependent on oil in a remarkably sensitive way. It is not possible to get simple necessities or accomplish basic missions such as going to the store, church, school, or library, without a vehicle. And every such trip is many miles long. This alone should speak against modern suburbia.

Of course, we have learned something. The trick is to use it. David Wann, author of “Affluenza” and “Superbia,” who studies exactly this part of America, is in residence here for a few weeks as part of a program between The Rocky Mountain Land Library in Denver and Art Works in Salida.

He spoke last Wednesday at Bongo Billy’s, but I misssed it because I was getting ready for the library conference. Too bad; he might have offered me solace before leaving. But I’ll never complain about waiting for traffic on F Street again.

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