The Deleted Scenes Top 10 of 2021
This newsletter's first year comes to a close. Thank you and happy New Year!
Our New Year’s Eves are usually pretty cozy and quiet. Christmas is the last big event of the year for us—the opposite of Die Hard’s Argyle: “If this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year’s!”
Tonight we’re opening a bottle of sake and picking up an osechi box from a fancy Japanese restaurant in D.C. That’s a classic Japanese collection of preserved/salted/pickled/cold foods, that serves to feed the house for a couple of days in the new year without anyone having to cook. We try to make ours last for three nights; chopsticks make you eat less per bite, I think—sake cups have the same effect.
For those of you who’ve come on throughout the year, I launched this newsletter in early April—see the first two posts here and here—and at the time I promised a couple of pieces a week. But I’ve written every day since then, and am approaching an archive of 300 posts. I’m enjoying this as much as when I started, and I hope you are too.
I never have too much to say on holidays, so this is just a brief little thank you, but I’d like to know if you have a favorite piece from here, or if you’d like to see more of a particular topic. Leave a comment! And also, since we writers do this, I’d like to share the top 10 posts I’ve written here, below. They’re a combination the top 10 by traffic and pieces that are just my favorites. They’re all unlocked for now as well. Here we go!
#1: Kinney Shoes’ Architectural Afterlife, July 19
I drove around Fairfax County, Virginia and identified every Kinney Shoes store still standing. Some locations were given to me by old-timers on a local Facebook group. Some have been remodeled beyond recognition; a couple have barely been remodeled at all. They’re classic, exaggerated-modern structures from the 1960s that are quite adaptable. To my knowledge no one had ever documented all of them in one place.
#2: A Piece of New Jersey We’ll Never Build Again, July 8
I wrote about a small shopping center from the 1960s in Pennington, New Jersey, since demolished. It had a petting farm, a restaurant, a motel, and a bunch of small businesses. This was a distinct form from a plain old strip mall or a large-scale mixed-use center. I miss it, but I also acknowledge that things change—business owners move on, property values rise and fall, etc. I hope something good goes on its old land.
#3: Apartments, Ownership, and Responsibility, September 27
One of the longer and more personal posts I’ve written, I get into Millennial attitudes about housing and homeownership—finances, upkeep, etc.—and argue against the notion that homeownership signals any particular virtue. There are many reasons why different people choose different housing, and of course affordability is a huge factor.
#4: Office Depot Time Capsule, September 23
I like to write little illustrated essays of towns or developments I visit. This time, I took that style of writing and applied it to my local Office Depot, which recently closed down. I like to observe ordinary things and say something new about them, as well, and this was a great subject for that tendency in my work.
#5: Thoughts on Density and Distance, May 18
The last two places I’ve lived, Maryland’s D.C. suburbs and Fairfax County, Virginia, are both pretty “car oriented.” They’re places where trying to get around efficiently without a car is pretty difficult or time-consuming. But they feel different from each other. At first Maryland felt too crowded to me, but I’ve come to see that what I interpreted as “crowded” can also be seen as energy, convenience, proximity. I do a lot more driving in Virginia than I did in Maryland—car dependence is on a sliding scale.
#6: What Does Waterford Mean?, May 11
This is one of those small-town photo essays. Waterford is a tiny rural village in Loudoun County, Virginia, past D.C.’s exurban edge. Is it a template for new construction? An enclave of privilege? Does it say anything for urbanists or housing advocates? Look at the pictures and think about it!
#7: Inhabiting Old Ghosts, December 21
Using my hometown as a backdrop, I think about the “conservatism” of the old-guard NIMBYs, compared with a sort of “conservative urbanism,” that also prizes that small-town feel and continuity with the existing built environment, but also sees the need for new projects and new people. If you wonder what I mean sometimes when I talk about “urbanism,” read this one.
#8: Spread Out or Smashed Together?, November 2
This post and the next are about perceptions and intuitions of the built environment. This is kind of the meat and potatoes of a lot of conversations about traffic, density, etc. The fact that the same place can feel so different to different people, and that radically different conclusions abut its pros and cons can be drawn, means that there’s lots of room for conversation—and maybe for changing your mind!
#9: Going Nowhere Fast, December 7
As with the above, I present here a typical suburban place and wonder what you think of it, this time with a focus on traffic and cars in particular.
#10: Mechanical Romance, May 8
Various musings about old technology and consumer goods are one of my perennial topics here aside from urbanism and the built environment. This is one my favorite old-tech pieces, appreciating the solidity and workmanship of audio and stereo equipment from its peak in the 1970s. However, the particular device I talk about here is probably not something you have ever seen!
Thank you, once more! Please consider using that subscription discount at the bottom of the post, and please stick around for another year of The Deleted Scenes!