When my friend sent me a link with the subject line: Carmel in WSJ! I clicked with trepidation. The last time my hometown made national news it involved a sodomy hazing incident and the high school basketball team. Phew. This time, it was only about a local dispute over an expensive new piece of suburban architecture:
This is the Palladium, a $126 million concert hall, whose controversial price tag is heating up this spring’s mayoral election. My first thought was: why, when Indianapolis theater and concert venues reside a mere 20 minutes south, did Carmel do this?* I asked our resident city expert Sharon Zukin for her opinion on the matter and she wrote:
…so Carmel, Indiana, has entered the global sweepstakes of destination culture!…every city copies every bigger, more famous, more glamorous city to build cultural attractions in the hope of attracting tourists and (hope against hope) They hire starchitects (usually Frank Gehry but in this case…the long-dead Andrea Palladio!) to design flagship buildings that will get media attention (the Guggenheim Bilbao effect). They sign up for the Cow Parade (see the website) if they have a low budget and for “The Gates” (Christo in Central Park, 2008) if they have a big budget and for the Olympics if they have a huge budget. All of which puts them on a treadmill of cultural competition.
And the ironic thing is that the more cities compete, trying to differentiate themselves with “cultural attractions,” the more alike they become. As Zukin also told me:
…so many cities do the same thing that they ALL wind up building the same kind of attraction, so the uniqueness of any of these attractions is submerged in the wave of same-old same-old spectacles; the resulting standardization is called, thanks to the geographer Donald McNeil, McGuggenization.
Think of the Guggenheims, Times Squares, MOMA’s, and MOCA’s across the world. That’s McGuggenization. And your city could be next!
*In the Palladium’s defense, I spoke with my mom and she happened to like the center (they offered a free concert for the grand opening). And she didn’t have much sympathy for the outcry about a potential raise in taxes due to Palladium expenses. Turns out Carmel has one of the cheapest tax brackets in the area, meaning the residents have gotten a lot of bang for their buck over their years. Like a brand new Arts & Design District. Safer roads. And Waterslides.