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American architecture turns drab

How commercialism, technology impact built environment

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Traveling the United States has, among other things, gently tutored me that the residents of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., pronounce their town's name WILKS-bree, not Wilks-BAR; that the good citizens of Vermont call their capital MontPEELyer, not MontepeLEER, and that that lovely town in southern California is called LaHOYA even though it's spelled La Jolla. These are nuggets of everyday wisdom that book learning can seldom impart, but that being on the spot can teach one in a hurry. Alas, traveling the U.S. also reveals a dismaying transformation that's more obvious year by year: What was once a nation of kaleidoscopic architectural variety is slowly being turned into a homogeneous landscape stretching from coast to coast -- one in which freeways and boulevards, suburbs and downtowns all look more or less like their counterparts everywhere else. As a nation founded on individualism, it's a sad trend, especially since it's being furthered by a number of forces we usually think of as positive. ...