Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Saturday, July 18, 2009

McDonaldization in Park Slope

Perhaps the one building in Park Slope we most love to hate is the Rite Aid on the southwest corner of 5th Avenue and 10th Street:

5th Avenue & 10th Street, Park Slope

We've described before how this building annihilates the unique "sense of place" for which Park Slope is famous worldwide. The building looks like it could be anywhere; it certainly has absolutely nothing to do with Park Slope. It is not just "non-contextual"; it actively debases the entire corner on which it sits.

The feeling that this building could "be anywhere" was brought home to us this past spring, while we were driving our daughter around New England to visit colleges. We unfortunately had to drive through a number of suburban strip-style commercial areas, and quite to our surprise, we passed this very same Rite Aid building several times! The building is the same everywhere, right down to the ridiculous diamond-shaped portholes:

Suddenly it hit us: these buildings are designed in some distant corporate boardroom to embody the store's "brand", and then plonked down anywhere regardless of context. Park Slope, New Jersey, Las Vegas, whatever... it's all the same, a perfect, seamless "market" of "consumers" out there... These "buildings" are basically like fast-food restaurants, machines designed to extract money from their "market" as efficiently as possible.

Back home, we checked Google Images, and sure enough, the very same building popped up all over the country:

Of course, we as "consumers" are somewhat complicit in this state of affairs. According to sociologist George Ritzer, author of The McDonaldization of Society, on some level we really want uniformity, sameness, non-differentiation; we want to walk into a McDonald's or a Rite Aid anywhere in the world and know exactly how the hamburgers are going to taste and that the shampoo is always in aisle 4.

But the unfortunate side effect is that the world itself becomes increasingly flat, the same everywhere, undifferentiated: what Ritzer terms the "McDonaldization" of society.

Fortunately here in Park Slope we still have a wealth of wonderful 19th-century mixed-use buildings housing locally-owned and -operated businesses that do so much to create the Slope's unique "sense of place" and to resist the rising tide of "McDonaldization" that has engulfed nearly the entire rest of the world.

7th Avenue and Garfield Place - unprotected

Truly Park Slope is a "treasure hidden in plain sight", as the Sufis might say.

We highly recommend Ritzer's book, which can be ordered through Park Slope's own Community Bookstore:


Eric McClure said...

Great post! Without an expanded historic district and design standards for new or replacement construction, Park Slope will increasingly be encroached upon by these banal, corporatized structures.

"Progress" doesn't look like Rite Aid.

ChickenUnderwear said...

I never shop at RiteAid for the reason you describe and many more.

If we don't shop local we will not have a local to shop.