Wednesday, September 7, 2011

empty cities?

A former co-worker posted a link to this discussion about the Amazon vs. California sales tax dispute, which raises some excellent points about how the loss of sales tax revenue has far reaching effects on state and local governments and their services and some equally excellent points about the impact of online commerce on local businesses.  One of the examples the author chose to illustrate the loss of local businesses was his surprise at the the fact that no new business has yet moved in to the location of the old Wordsworth bookstore in Harvard Square after all these years. 

Maybe a bookstore is not the best example because people, myself included, have an emotional attachment to bookstores. However, the example did bring to mind this segment of Studio 360 that I heard awhile back: Do We Still Need Bookstores? In it, Clay Shirky mentioned how now that we can buy everything -- not just books -- online, there will be much less street level commerce.  While I'm all over the idea of retooling bookstores as non-profit cultural institutions, I don't see that working as a model for all street level commerce.  Will cities become places where all we can do is eat in restaurants and drink in bars? Will the arts have a place in these cities?

The same Studio 360 show also had a segment on how the NEA has decided there are too many small theater companies.  This got me imagining cities devoid of arts venues as well as bookstores.  So many cities are trying to refocus themselves either as arts destinations or tourist destinations these days, but is that the answer? There's only so much art that people can buy. There's only so much tourist kitsch that people can buy.

Are we facing a future of empty cities?

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