The Town Hall Meeting took place in the high school gym. I was asked to lead a table. Each group was supplied a map of the downtown area, and asked to mark what they considered to be the ‘number one location’ for Pacific Avenue. It was the same toss up at each table; some said the Cooper House, others insisted on the Bookshop. Both had been reduced first to rubble, and then to history. That leading, ingratiating question had pointed people to the past, and they went there willingly.
The experts then primed the participants with slides of the patinated urbanity of European streetscapes; the Champs Elysee was the rue du jour that nuit.
Afterwards, as I was talking with one of the presenters, a woman approached; she had that freshly inspired brightness of eye. Why couldn’t our town be like Paris? The experts smiled. Why not, indeed?
I told them both why not. The answer was simple, final, and self-evident. The people living in this town were not Parisians. They were Americans who commuted to work, took a half hour for lunch and were in bed by 10:30. Summer nights here are not warm. The workshop had lasted over two hours, and no one had cared to ask the people who lived here what kind of downtown their lives required, or what kind of town their culture could support.