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There is a notion in American design circles that towns and cities throughout America tend to be the same and look the same.  Nationwide standards of road and building construction, along with landlord ability to demand tenants with  only the highest credit ratings for their developments, tends to a commercial landscape formed for viewing at 30 MPH out of the corners of American eyes.  It is not actually this bad, as am nay chains are not nationwide, and independent stores are able to thrive in some markets untouched by national chains, like household services,

However, the idea is compelling.  I visited Hoboken once when it still smelled like nothing but coffee.  My friend I noticed that even the prewar storefronts in the downtown were arranged along a certain beat.  A bar here, a bodega there, then a barber shop, repeat.  We noticed this beat was between 2-4 blocks long.  We figured this was where the Hanna-Barbera animators got the idea to repeat backgrounds in chase scenes from their made-for-TV cartoons.

In an auto-dominated landscape, where the retailers are few, it makes sense for franchises to space themselves out.  It makes l;title sense for an established operator to open a new location so nearby that it cannibalizes older store locations.  I have only seen nearby stores in America where the obstacles to moving between one location and the other are great, such as at an intersection, across a median, or on opposite sides of an interchange.

Where transportation is costless, you tend to see franchises or even retail sectors, like convenience, food, and housewares solace them selves out to reduce competition and improve proximity to customers.  Other sectors, like automotive, tend to cluster along traffic arterials.  These low volume, high profit, and auto-centered fields benefit from their positions along the most congested corridors, as they offer the renewed dream of driving pleasure to a commuting public that will never find it on that highway, at that time.  That isn’t part of the ad copy though.

What if transportation isn’t costless?

Just like the gas stations at the corner, Historic walkways and reads in Europe and Asia don’t offer the conveneicen of sting in a nice chair with great acoustics between shops.  In constantly congested places like Linking Road in Mumbai, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, or Lajpat Nagar in Delhi, Center City Philadelphia or Midtown Manhattan, driving between stops is not conceivable.  These are “park once, shop, and leave once” kinds of places.  Many don’t even own a car, walking or taking transit from their homes in housing nearly as dense as the commercial
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(Clothes, we got clothes)

In the grand bazaar and its many auxiliary markets, we notices a fine scale of submarkets.  Belts, buttons, books, stuffed toys, plastic toys, dishes, pots, and hardwares each had one to several districts of 3-10 shops all within a block of each other.  They catered to wholesalers in the case of buttons, consumers in the case of housewares, but they assembled to gather for the simple convenience of being found.  They also gathered to talk shop, I expect.  We weren’t there nearly long enough to understand all of the bazaar, but the markets we saw were a repudiation of the spatial pattern America.

One thing that was spaced out in India were gas stations, along arterials, just as in America, but almost always mid-block.  It is a pain to try to get out of and then back into Indian urban traffic at an intersection, as more lanes are in play more of the time there.

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