Driving across the country on long road trips, I have noticed this. At night, you can't see the general type of land around you, whether you're in plains, deserts, mountains, you can't really tell. The only thing that you can see are the interstates lit up by orange streetlamps and neon signs of businesses. Most of these businesses are restaurants and stores that are national chains. Everywhere you go...Red Lobster, Carlos O'Kelly's, McDonald's, Taco Bell, Wal-Mart, Pier 1, Starbucks, Barnes and Noble. The same gas stations, the same headlights. We are so homogenized.

Sometimes this seems like the worst sort of reality to me; that so many places would be so much the same. Cities should have character, they should have features , they should be different.

Most often, though, I find this reassuring. It is nice to have a constant.

There will be the quiet residential streets, the dog barking somewhere, a streetlight buzzing and failing. There will be strip malls and McDonald's, there will be a gas station, there will be a movie theater, there will be a 24 hour supermarket.

These things will be there.

When you are lonely, you want something for reference, you need a frame of reference. Unchanging cities form such a frame.

And home? A home can be made anywhere. Home is a person, not a place. Any city will do, it will have the basics, a few extra features here and there, whatever. The people will color the city, and that's where the differences lie.

This is all of course a matter of perspective and is quite the subjective opinion which will not inevitably be held by all participants of E2 or indeed the world as a whole. However, that does not remove its validity. In fact, there is some concrete evidence which would balance out any potential validity. There was a time historically when in fact all American towns had distinctive differences. The craftsmanship and design prerogatives of individuals within the vicinity of one location would inevitably differ from those of people elsewhere. Travel from city to city was cumbersome if not entirely impossible for some. And despite the progress of technology and communications in the past few hundred years, it had been comparatively restrictive not too long ago for various like-minded engineers, craftsman, architects and others to share knowledge. Many had to find slightly different solutions to similar problems.

However, with the advancements of technology that we take for granted today, some designer in Paris can upload schematics to a construction crew in San Franciso, California with little to no bravado, and less effort than what was actually put into making the designs in the first place. In fact institutions of learning throughout the world can comparatively more easily accumulate and ingest discoveries, concepts and breakthroughs of construction and design throughout history and modern-day in order to more fully prepare their students for the world that awaits them. Any new designer of the 21st century fresh out of practically any qualified school system in the world can have in his mind and at his fingertips the ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright, I.M.Pei, Frank Gehry, Joseph Albers, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Louis Sullivan, Jørn Utzon, Buckminster Fuller, Christopher Wren, Agatharchos, Antonio Gaudi, and even Dagwood Bumstead (famous sammich architect). Granted, theoretically all this accumulated wealth of knowledge would bring about dramatic differences between individuals, but ultimately what occurs is people go with what works best, and the result is a growing tendency toward prefabrication and inexpensive assembly line thinking, in an attempt to minimize costs and maximize profits, for the ultimate prize of being known as the lowest bidder.

So it often amazes me that today's constructions and structures don't look more identical than they do. Take for example the number of sides a building may have. Despite attempts by some architects throughout history to break the mold, the simplest solution has always been and perhaps always will be a square or rectangle basis for such construction. This is the most sturdy of all the shapes, to create what is inherently cubic in structure. This develops an incessant tendency for all cities to be designed around such square structures, making construction of city streets easier, as well as other aspects of city design. Some attempts are made to break out of the mold, but they are few and far between.

It is interesting to point out here that in one of the last written works of Carl Sagan, called Pale Blue Dot, he discusses how the perspective from space would be wholly more subjective than that of an American or perhaps visitor to America looking at our fair cities like New York or Las Vegas. First off, their attention would be drawn not to the cities, but to the incredibly massive amounts of methane gas deposits which their infrared scanners would pick up in our atmosphere. Some theoretical alien races might incorrectly deduce on first inspection that the most populous and intelligent species on our planet is not human beings but cows. They would need to get closer to learn more.

Upon further inspection of general city design from a distance, they would indeed take note of the general tendency towards all cities worldwide being designed with the four sides cubic structure in mind. From this they may either deduce a lack of creativity and forethought, or alternatively, they may deduce our tendency to go for the easier, perhaps even cheaper solutions to world population than perhaps more complex but ultimately wiser solutions that they had devised on their own. OR they'd look at what we've done, slapped their appendages to their heads and gone, "damn I shoulda had a V-8!" Ultimately their attention would be drawn to the one large structure (visible from space) on Earth which is (perhaps purposefully) shaped inherently differently from any other: the Pentagon.

So again, it's all a matter of perspective. You may say that at night, all American cities look the same, but the fact is that from space, all cities look the same, except for one. Is this mere coincidence, or was it by design? I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

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