The Geography of Blandness

Fifteen years ago I started to count shops on the high streets of different cities to see how many names I knew. I was disappointed. I was already beginning to recognize too many and gave up. Last year I started the counting again and idly counted the shops in

Source: Charles Landry

Corporate blandness, anywhereville

Cornmarket and Queen Street, the main shopping streets in Oxford, one of Britain's most distinctive cities. I knew the names of 85 out of 94. I experienced a lurching feeling of dullness. In those 15 years, the world of retailing in Britain has changed dramatically, with the march of malls and global brands sucking the life out of ordinary high streets. I have travelled too by car, criss-crossing the suburbs and outer entrances of cities from Europe to North America, Australia and elsewhere: always the same picture, always the same names. Thought experiments kept coming into my mind. What if you lined up all the 30,000 McDonald's in the world next to each other - how long would the McDonald's road strip be? Six hundred kilometres or so? And then add the 25,000 Subways, 11,000 Burger Kings, 11,000 KFCs, 6800 Wendy's and 6500 Taco Bells? Hey, if we line up the ten top fast-food chains, they will stretch half the 4504 kilometres from New York to Los Angeles. A chilling thought. And even Starbucks has over 11,000 outlets with joint ventures. Then I went though the same exercise with other shops, like Gap, which has 3050 outlets, before a headache set in and I stopped. This is the geography of blandness, and the bland-ing processes are worldwide, as witnessed by counter-activities such as the 'Keep Louisville Weird' campaign, which, picked up on from

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