Monday, December 05, 2005

A Dream Wheezes

In my neighborhood, there's a building. More accurately, the shell of a building. Two stories of emptiness mere blocks from the heart of a redeveloped urban area. Some time ago, the building housed a bowling alley (20 lanes or so, plus plenty of extra space) but has since been barren. I used to walk by this building daily and dream. Primarily for reasons of immediate convenience, but also thanks to its blank canvas quality, the building struck me as the perfect place to launch my associated industries. Downstairs would be a segmented bar- part pub, part performance space (and possibly an affiliated musicians shop, lunch counter, or something else entirely- as space and whim dictated). Upstairs, a magazine and a radio station. All three of which would supplement the existence of the others. A beautifully symbiotic vision, if I do say so myself.

Well, the building is no longer available. My dream will have to find a new home. Not that I expected such a prime piece of real estate to wait for me to, eventually, assemble the pieces of my idea. But the process of dreaming and anthromorphizing led me to expect the building to ultimately be inhabited by something special. Maybe I was fated to be disappointed? But certainly not to the level that I am.

After several weeks of gutting the building- inside and out- a banner now announces the future occupant. A gym- LA Fitness to be exact. No, this is not a general purpose jeremiad against gyms, health clubs, and the like (though, that would be interesting. What we mean by 'the gym' surely cannot have a long history). For context, this club/ gym will be the third of its kind within 3 blocks (joining the long standing Gold's and the just opened Washington Sports Club). In addition there are already two quickie/ ladies gyms (of the Curves variety) within a similar 3 block radius. Oh, and let us not forget the mini- fitness centers in the numerous surrounding apartment complexes. That's plenty of dead weight, treads to nowhere, and recumbent bikes for such a small geographic area. Enough already.

Returning to the building, its new tenant wouldn't seem to add to the local tapestry. Oh look- another gym. What a waste of space.

This in an area which, as I mentioned, is only recently being redeveloped/ redeveloping itself. The community which stayed through the tough times has been actively involved in shaping the redevelopment plans- keeping true to the existing residents, cognizant of the neighborhood's history, and generally not ending up as another Bethesda. The local tapestry does matter. Not as much as it used to- as luxury condo, after luxury condo, after luxury loft rise from formerly decrepit or underused lots.

I am of the opinion that a region needs a critical mass of resources in order to thrive- anything less and the effort fails. My neighborhood did an admirable job in assembling that critical mass while refusing to compromise its identity. But the gym forces me to wonder: After an area 'takes off', is control of its direction lost?

Let's stockpile our thoughts on gentrification for another day and end this post on that note. And mourn the building- whose potential will go unfulfilled- and my dream's newly homeless status.


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