Robots, faux urbanity, and public spaces

My son had a robotics competition in Layton, which is a sprawling mass of houses and big box stores perched at the south end of Hill Air Force base. Nearby is a new shopping and living community which I’d always wanted to check out, so I took some time to do it.

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(charming shop)

“Station Park” – as at least the shopping segment of the community is called – marks a big improvement over the standard-issue outdoor shopping mall. It was deliberately fashioned to resemble a shopping district in a city – so there are short streets, with corners and traffic, and nonuniform, multi-storey buildings that look like they had had some purpose before becoming shops and restaurants. It was, in short, a faux urban space. You can walk around and pretty much pretend you are exploring some city neighborhood, without the feeling of foretold doom that haunts every strip mall. Only the ubiquitous piped-in music spoils the illusion. The shortened lines of sight helped provide a cozy sort of urban vibe.

 

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(charming faux town square)

In addition to the expected outposts of Gap, Forever 21, and Victoria’s Secret, there are some local shops, an Italian cafe, a cineplex, and a martini bar. In the middle is a public fountain and a playground structure – all frozen over now, though probably most cheery in the summer, for those who like that sort of thing.

 

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Cozy outdoor fireplace

I know the whole thing is contrived, but I have to say, it works. For those of us who like cities, this is a nice fake: a sort of a Disneyland Main Street with a contemporary twist. There is some variety in the shops, from Apple to Build-A-Bear. In an archipelago of shops breaking off from the village, one can find more restaurants, shops, and Starbucks (of course) – but also a medical center and a grocery store. Not too far off from that are apartment complexes, houses, and condos. There’s also a train station for the “Frontrunner,” which provides commuter service to Ogden and Salt Lake City.  So, it’s basically meant to be a place where people are meant to live – a shockingly revolutionary idea in urban design.

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Camo crocs

There also is a Cabela’s. If you ever have guests from another country, you really should take them to Cabela’s, for it will blow the minds of even those who harbor the most cartoon-like images of America. They can shop for shotguns, crossbows, ice-fishing houses, canoes, dehydrators for jerky, and camo everything, with a huge display in the center of majestic dead animals of the fictional wild. There must be equivalents in other countries, but I have not heard of them. One imagines a huge store in Devonshire celebrating the glory days of the empire, where you can buy jodhpurs and riding crops, or one outside of Berlin offering spiky helmets and potato masher grenades. It is outrageous, and fun, if your sensibilities permit.

Surrounding the little community is a typical barren space of the west: a huge flat plan running toward dramatic mountains, a vast open space ruled by antelope and F-16s from Hill Air Force base.

I traveled thence to the public library in Salt Lake City, which is one of the coolest public libraries in the U.S., with loads of glass, angles, open space, and light. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that it seemed to have been taken over by homeless people with very bad coughs. I have great sympathy for the plight of the homeless – and I am happy that at least some nice public spaces are available for them – and, were I homeless, that’s where I would be – but I couldn’t help thinking, quite uncharitably, “Wow! These bums have lucked out in SLC to have such a grand building at their disposal, with comfy chairs and extensive holdings of literature.” Take your foreign guests here, too, so they can get the full view of America’s sweep: from artificial villages on the barren frontiers selling martinis and three-pound handguns, to palatial libraries unintentionally giving shelter to homeless sick people. “Land of contradictions” does not even begin to cover it.

After all this I managed to catch some of the robotics competition, too, though my skimpy WordPress plan won’t allow me to upload my video of it. (You can see the general sort of thing in the video below.) Basically, the objective (as in war) is to throw more shit at your opponent than they can throw at you. To my mind, it is a very fun sort of event, with appropriately balanced elements of cleverness and competitiveness. The first, shorter part of each round is the robots following their programs; the second part, a bit more exciting, is when the robots are controlled remotely by humans.

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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