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What Makes a Place Feel Livable?

We just noticed a new custom-framing store in the neighborhood, a chain called Fast Frame. That makes four such establishments within easy walking distance of one another. How many do we need? How many can we support? I don’t know, but without having much need for framing, I have to admit I’ve patronized three of them.

This year also saw the opening of two art galleries in town, one of which replaced the only (used) book store, probably done in by its indifferent selection and the proximity of the Barnes and Chernobyl (what an independent bookstore owner in my old neighborhood called B&N). Culturally, when an art gallery replaces a bookstore, we’re still about even.

All that art and with its attendant framing is probably a good thing for our town. It made me wonder what businesses are indicators of peace and prosperity. Are frame stores a reliable barometer? Probably so. I used to think it was Starbucks that was an indicator of culture and civilization, or at least an excess of disposable income. We only have one, although there’s a terrific independent store that’s thriving as well. Maybe it’s just the availability of good coffee. I know I don’t feel very civilized without it.

Come to think of it, what really sets the tone for quality of life isn’t a certain type of store at all. It’s trees, especially street trees, and especially street trees in urban settings. Think of Delancey Street (in downtown Philadelphia). The lack of trees is also an indicator. I can’t help noticing that the developments of cheek-to-jowl McMansions in the suburbs are utterly lacking in trees, making these places feel barren and soulless. Clearly I treasure trees, but I feel that even those who don’t will have their spirits uplifted by the presence of trees—even if they can’t put their finger on why.

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