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How to Mess Up a Town

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The town where I live, Saratoga Springs, New York, like practically every other town in America, is under assault by forces that want to turn it into another version of Paramus, New Jersey, with all the highway crud, chain store servitude, and loss of community that pattern of development entails.

Ironically, the forces who are ready to permit the most radical damage to the town’s historic character consider themselves the most conservative.

Ironically, the forces who are ready to permit the most radical damage to the town's historic character consider themselves the most conservative; while the groups most concerned with preserving the town's best features, and even enhancing them, have been branded radical.

... The past forty-odd years, of course, just about everything has been done to destroy that pattern and dismantle the town. The mammoth hotels were razed in the 1950s and replaced by strip malls with huge parking lots fronting on Broadway and its adjoining streets. All sorts of inappropriate suburban building forms were imposed on downtown sites -- ridiculous one-story structures with blank walls, surrounded by bark mulch beds and, of course, acres of parking lots -- destroying all pedestrian interest. The blocks on either side of Broadway were leveled in a mendacious urban renewal scheme that left 90 percent of that land in parking lots.

Many of the functions of everyday life were taken out of downtown and scattered out in the countryside where they are only accessible by motor vehicles. Last year it was the new junior high school, moved three miles out of town along a busy state highway, to which students are explicitly forbidden to walk or ride their bikes. This year it was the public skating rink, which was removed from the center of town and stuck three miles from Broadway out on a county road across from the old dump. The reason it was moved, by the way, was because there wasn't enough parking. Do you suppose the children cared about the parking?

Saratoga's plight has been aggravated by the fact that the northernmost of its gateways, Exit 15 of Interstate 87, lies within the adjoining town of Wilton, which has aggressively turned the land around Exit 15 into a feeding frenzy for mall builders, national discount stores, franchise fry pits, and other agents of suburban sprawl in order to pay for its growing roster of "revenue-loser" residential subdivisions. Wilton has become the Anti-Saratoga, both in physical layout and economically, its chain stores sucking the lifeblood out of our downtown. ...

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