Same old Williamsburg, same old New Town

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January 18, 2008

8:18 PM

Since October, the Virginia Gazette has hosted an internet forum in which veteran Williamsburg residents can reminisce. The feature, “You know you’re from Williamsburg when” boasts more than 10 pages of ’Burg lore. Most of its entries memorialize bygone businesses and traffic patterns, e.g., “Do you remember when the first stoplight in town was at the A&P?”

p. This is the kind of front-stoop fraternizing we have in our futures. Assuming we can thwart global catastrophe — a dicey supposition to say the least — Williamsburg is still going to be around when we’re 70. And if, to kick around old times, we deign to return to our alma mater, will we like what we see?
Probably not.

p. Taken en bloc, we 20-somethings are already more resistant to change than you’d expect.

p. Note the abuse heaped on Facebook whenever it slightly modifies its interface. Note our disdain for the College’s new logo (though, in our defense, it sucks). Note the existence of Deadmalls.com, a site chronicling the demolished shopping institutions of our youth. (You know the ones — indoor, multilevel complexes with elaborate fountains, glazed-brick floors and cars for sale near the food court.)

p. But note first and foremost our indifference toward New Town, the commercial residential Mecca that deserves its own zip code. (Might have one. Too lazy to check.)

p. New Town, like every upscale social hub built in the 21st century, yearns to be European. An anonymous Gazette contributor — hopefully a paid advocate — claimed it was just like an Italian piazza. I haven’t spent too much time in Italy, but I never encountered piazzas bound by chain eateries and a cineplex. Furthermore, can an establishment erected circa 2005 offer any Old World charm beyond the ersatz?

p. New Town wants us. Last September they debuted an evening catering to the College’s undergrads. I don’t know how successful it was, but I haven’t heard rave reviews; in fact, I haven’t encountered anyone who went. Despite free transportation and targeted deals, New Town predominately attracts preteens and yuppies — what we were and will be, respectively. But not what we are.

p. I’m probably the exception to the rule, but remorse creeps over me when I visit New Town — patronizing its eateries, say, or catching a movie. By spending time and money there, albeit rarely, have I tacitly authorized its existence? Because I, like many others, would be happier if it had never been constructed or conceived of in the first place.

p. It’s a difficult venue to attack without delivering a tired rant about the superfluity and inanity of consumer culture; suffice to say I’d prefer the absence of New Town to its presence. I wish its land were unoccupied. I wish I could negate corpocracy and overpopulation, giving the Gazette nostalgists a Williamsburg attuned to their memories: easygoing, communal and maybe a little insular.

p. It’s not that all change is bad; certainly many of Williamsburg’s recent transformations have been for the better. I think the bigger problem is that we 20-somethings see no way to obtain any positive paradigm shift. We want change, after all, and 2008’s presidential election is predicated on major change being possible. But these issues — the Gazette nostalgia trip, Deadmalls.com, my frustration with New Town — stem from a sense that we’re all powerless over Williamsburg’s evolution, to say nothing of our country’s.

p. Confronting the multitude of construction both on and off campus, I can’t help but see each project as excessive and undeserved in different ways. “High Street,” for instance, a New Town-esque carnival-market whose name reeks of anglophilia, is currently being brought to Richmond Road. By 2028, it may have merged with its sister to form New High Street Town.

p. But it’s too late to stop that project, just as it’s too late to halt renovations of College buildings or the auction of street names to wealthy alumni.

p. What could I do, anyway? Stand in the path of the wrecking ball? Boycott every franchise in town? Write my congresspersons with a flurry of expletives?

p. No, no, no. The nicest thing I can do is graduate and skip town — old and New alike — for good.

p. __Dan Piepenbring is a senior at the College.__

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