Sagniaw, Michigan this isn’t.  I wonder how Paul Simon would have weaved a planned community into his epic song, “America”.  This could be Anywhere, USA circa any year post 1995.  To be honest, it doesn’t matter where this is or isn’t.  What it represents is something that was meant for good, but now has turned to something so antiseptic, you wonder if there’s a pulse.  When you take a look at the surface, there really is nothing wrong with any of the planned communities in America.  In fact, they’re a great place to live in many instances.  Clean, safe, well landscaped, always cloud free it seems, and for home owners, a great relief that housing prices did not fall precipitously in the last 3-4 years.  How can it be wrong?

Well, it isn’t so much wrong as it is just safe.  And I’m not talking about physical safety.  What I’m referring to are the safe choices these communities make about the dining experiences it’s offering to its residents.  It’s almost depressing.  Hordes of Macaroni Grills and CPK’s will not stop me from saying that our culinary experiences are diminishing to the opposite intent of these city planners.  When family run places cannot afford to open cafe’s and restaurants because not only are the rents high, but also the city takes a percentage of your gross above a certain level.  This makes it impossible for anyone outside a national franchise to survive.  And in trying to create a Utopian bubble, these city planners have robbed us of a diverse spectrum of foods that isn’t being corporately pushed by the likes of Cheesecake Factory and Chili’s.  The good meaning men and women who run the city have prioritized the right to approve the color of our stucco, the endless list of approved plants and flowers, and whether or not your garage is being used as storage unit than giving us a culinary experience, however shallow, that could take our imaginations to different cultures and cities.  Baja Fresh, mind you, is not indicative of the Baja area of Mexico, nor is it anything remotely Mexican.  So, while one can argue that planned communities offer up ethnic cuisines just like Hollywood and West LA because they have Baja Fresh and Thai Spice, it is criminal to call some of these places “ethnic”.

As a frequent reviewer on Yelp!, it’s getting more and more difficult to write reviews that doesn’t include Claim Jumper, BJ’s, and Corner Bakery, because for the most part, that’s really the epitome of what is around these parts.  It’s disheartening to see places that offer up some semblance of soulful food be overtaken by another Bucca di Beppo because they no longer can make a profit.  I don’t know what we can do about this, but one thing that I’m not going to do is to give up and have my Friday or Saturday night meals dictated by Olive Garden.  I’d rather drive 30 minutes to experience a place like Memphis Cafe or Mama D’ Italia than be resigned to dining at Islands and Ruby Diners.  The less that we spend at the franchises, the better off we are in experiencing something unique and real.  And maybe, just maybe, they too will wither away from The Bubble and we can invite the mom and pops back to pitch their tents.

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