Monday, May 4, 2009


We went over to El Dorado Hills on Sunday afternoon to see a movie, The Soloist, which is unlikely to ever play in our teen-centered Jackson Cinemas.

The movie was in the multiplex crowning the hill at the top of the El Dorado Hills "Town Center," an attempt to create a town-like central shopping district in a community of commuter subdivisions and strip centers. It's got the requisite parts: retail shops at ground level, offices (and maybe even apartments) above, sidewalks, some civic spaces (amphitheatre, places for people to sit and talk), some quasi-natural open space.

But it seems oddly cold and artificial, and not just because the shops are so shi-shi and everything is so obviously new.

The architecture's sort of Cal-Tuscan -- at least that's what I think it's supposed to be -- stucco, awnings, ironwork, tile, fake stone. The buildings look very much the same, as if someone took a limited palette of architectural elements and combined them in different ways over a few blocks.

Contrast that with a town like Sutter Creek, Murphys or Ione, which grew organically over 150 years. Even though there's a cohesiveness to the architecture on their main streets, it's not as if everything looks alike. Buildings are made of a variety of materials and have different scales and textures. They look, well -- authentic -- in a way the Town Center just doesn't manage.

An urban critic like James Kunstler could quickly describe why our old towns "work" for pedestrians and this new one doesn't. It would be interesting to have him do a walk-through.

But you don't have to be an expert on public spaces to understand the importance of maintaining the authenticity of our Amador communities, not only in our vernacular architecture, but in our culture and our landscape and our people with long ties to the land. It's awfully hard to create from scratch, and a good part of what makes living here truly special.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

I so agree, Katherine! Every time I am at that Eldorado Center I think again what a lost opportunity it is. I don't think it includes housing above the retail stores and I believe that would have made it more user-friendly as well. Even that new downtown section in Murphys includes a residential element!

One of my very favorite examples of new community/commercial development is in West Palm Beach, FL. It is kind of an Americanized version of an old European City. It is not European but contains the best elements....Lots of diversity of both population and types of businesses.

I spent one memorable winter week- day evening there, as a matter of fact: eating ice cream and watching local dancers salsa in the center courtyard. Fabulous!