Decay reared its pockmarked face everywhere I looked.
The neon sign for a beauty parlor crumbled from rust, its lights broken. An old billboard had faded, the previous paint job poking through the washed-out letters. A shoe repair shop, a citrus packing plant, a humble eatery – markers left behind by some lost civilization, perhaps, or gaudy ghosts from a more glittery era.
Except it was all fake. Every last broken bulb, every peeling paint chip.
A movie set, right? Or Disney’s “Main Street USA” gets the reality TV treatment?
Nope, all this faux retro glory belongs to a new shopping mall in Rancho Cucamonga. Victoria Gardens covers some 147 acres and boasts 1.3 million square feet of retail space. And that’s just Phase I.
But giving an outdoor mall a distressed look is just window dressing. The real horror was sticking roads through the middle of it, just like a real downtown, where you take your life into your hands crossing from Pottery Barn to Williams-Sonoma.
But Pasadena, this ain’t.
It's a glitzy, dumbed-down attempt at New Urbanism, the architectural religion that worships walkable downtowns and front-porch Americana.
Victoria Gardens borrows the language of sidewalks and cobblestone streets without actually curbing drivers’ penchant for barreling through crowds of shoppers.
It emulates a café society but provided only two restaurants with outdoor seating; by 1 p.m. hungry shoppers were told the wait for a table was 2 hours. It sticks the names of local pioneers on facades meant to recall buildings from the last turn of the century, but where the upper floor is empty.
Nobody lives here. Nobody ever will.
Of course there is a residential component to all this, the usual series of confusing cul-de-sacs that just happen to be within walking distance. That is, if you don’t mind crossing eight lanes of traffic during a nano-second walk light. Suburbia as usual, in other words.
If regurgitated, repurposed small-town kitsch is too much for you, you can always hop in your car and drive 500 feet to a more traditional – if that’s the proper word – shopping center, also new, with a Sears Grand built to gluttonous proportions.
I suppose I should see signs of a thriving economy in the families promenading up Victoria Gardens' grassy walkway last Sunday. Except in a real New Urbanist community, they'd be ambling from home to church and not to temples of commerce.
If there’s a Bitch Goddess, this is her acropolis, a shining city by the freeway whose citizens are reminded in prominent signs to keep moving. Need to take a load off? The time limit on park benches is 15 minutes. Who is that aimed at? Armies of hobos yearning to leave Santa Monica for the chance to sleep by a Guess superstore?
The planners must view cities as quaint anachronisms or museum pieces that can be reproduced for commercial effect without the nuisance of an actual civic life, or collective responsibility for anyone whose income might fall below the desired demographic of $53,000.
So much for the social contract. Where can I get a latte?