There isn’t much in my town.
Well, that's a bit of an oversimplification. I live in Apex, North Carolina, a suburb of Cary, which itself is a suburb of Raleigh. Because of this, even though Apex is a large town, it doesn’t have anything notable, besides a small downtown which, like most “small town” downtowns, is just a series of brick buildings inhabited by restaurants, offices and stores. What we have is a lot of chains, several nondescript shopping centers, many houses, some small businesses and a movie theater — or used to have a movie theater, as it was shut down earlier this month due to the AMC bankruptcy. And with how town borders work in my county, my home is merged with a few other cities and towns into a massive, homogeneous sprawl indistinguishable from the suburbs of any large southern city.
The only thing somewhat special about my town is that it is home to Shearon Harris, my region’s only nuclear power plant. But even Shearon Harris isn’t notable as it’s hidden away in the woods, the only signs of its existence being the ever-present column of steam in the sky, the occasional test of the warning sirens, and the signs indicating where to evacuate in case of a meltdown. This relative lack of notable places meant that there was very little for me to do as a teenager. It also meant that when I took this story assignment to cover art in my home region over break, I quickly realized there was very little to cover. My best options were a regular movie showing at my local community center (which doubles as our arts center) and a series of small art installations funded by my town’s government and designed by local artists. While the latter was important and enjoyable, neither were enough for a story.
And this scarcity of local art and a general emptiness isn’t unique to my town. Many suburbs throughout this country also lack this fullness, usually due to their status as towns only inhabited because of their proximity to other, more important places. Just like my town, they are mostly home to the same cookie-cutter housing, chains, small businesses and stripmalls. That isn’t to say that there are no local artists where I’m from or in those other towns, just that their art is often not very visible. As a resident of one of these places, I’ll admit that it’s often disheartening to think about how little there is to do where I’m from. Moreover, this reality makes it much harder for my town to have a strong character or identity.
However, a closer examination reveals that there actually is something visually appealing in my town, something that prevents it from being the uniform sprawl I previously thought it was: architecture. Be it different materials or different designs, the buildings of my town are distinct from one another. Our shopping centers include one made from massive, uniformly grayish brown bricks, one built out of wood and styled like a village and a few built out of red bricks and styled like their own mini towns. Our churches — being the South, there are a lot of them — are built with materials ranging from old-fashioned white-painted wood to blackish-red brick to grey concrete and painted cinderblock.
Just like the seemingly uniform and homogenous sprawl, this architectural diversity hidden beneath the surface isn’t unique to my town, as I’ve seen it in almost every suburb I’ve been to in the South. Some take it even further by incorporating their history in what they build and in the building process. This diversity ensures that despite the sprawl that often consumes these places, they can retain some, albeit small, sense of individuality and a bit of character. This highlights something important — that even in the vast sprawl that many of us find ourselves living in, we can find features and quirks that make our homes unique and different.
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Zev van Zanten is a Trinity sophomore and campus arts editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.