Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Critical analysis and critical analysis of retail, communities, etc.

Urbanophile has a piece, "Creating a Culture of Honest Critique," about how the Dallas Morning News has hired an architecture critic, in association with the University of Texas at Arlington, to up the level of critical analysis for the paper and the architecture beat. The critic, Marc Lamstetter, started off with a serious critique of the new George W. Bush Presidential Center and Library, and apparently the bracing review has ruffled feathers.

Aaron goes on to discuss what we might call the cheerleader issue and how most communities aren't comfortable with hard core critical analysis.  He focuses on "small towns" but I think this is an endemic problem regardless of the size of a community.

I call what I do critical analysis" but most people seem to take it as "(personal) criticism" and they don't like it.  And elected officials in particular prefer to shoot the messenger rather than dealing with message.

2. Along with the cheerleading thing, lately I have noticed advocacy organizations recommending to their members that they don't criticize elected officials, who for the most part, support their positions, as elected officials believe that they are doing all that they can, and that should be respected, rather than focus on the negatives of compromise, stalling, and sub-standard efforts and realization.

Image from Waymarking.com.

That's why I was surprised to see this piece in yesterday's New York Times, "A Whole Town in Colorado Pushes to Improve Its Customer Service," about Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and its initiative on improving the customer service quality of local businesses, in response to "average" ratings on the survey question "How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?"  Analysis of the data found low scores concerning quality and service at local stores and restaurants.

A couple years ago, I wrote a piece ("Speaking of unsatisfactory visitor experiences: the breakfast at Hotel Harrington sucks") that suggested that local convention and visitors bureaus should do "mystery shopper" surveys of local establishments, to provide businesses with third party "objective" evidence about the quality of service, and the need to improve.

This is because many businesses catering to tourists--this is a problem in cities like DC or even Gettysburg, Pennsylvania--are comfortable providing bad service or food knowing that most customers won't be coming back anyway.

3. Relatedly, I argue about the difference between uniqueness and exceptionalism in communities.

All places are unique. But most places function similarly based on various elements and characteristics. That's why I am able to compare places, make recommendations, write plans, etc. But as long as people focus on uniqueness and are unwilling to compare, too often they end up embracing mediocrity and improvement takes a long time to happen, if it ever does. See "Chauvinism, mediocrity, and robust systems" from 2008.

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