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Thread: The Bong District: unusual agglomerations of unusual uses

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    The Bong District: unusual agglomerations of unusual uses

    Well, yet another head shop opened up in downtown Ithaca recently, this one just a half block away from the west end of The Commons, where six other head shops now do a bustling business. With such a heavy concentration of head shops in one area in such a small town, I've taken to calling this block "the Bong District".














    Why so many head shops in one area? A convergence of forces; the city's large population of hippies and progressive/alternative/crunchy/natural baby boomers, about 27,000 college students with large disposable incomes, the close proximity of glassblowing schools in Corning, and New York State's lenient drug laws created a "perfect storm" of sorts for the emergence of the Bong District. The Bong District is also something of a regional tourist attraction; it's a day trip destination for those looking for exotic, unique and often very expensive glass.

    Agglomerations of specialized businesses are nothing new; electronics stores in the Akihabara district of Tokyo; the Diamond District of New York City, the Furniture Rows, Antique Rows and Auto Rows of many large and small American cities. I'm curious about the more unusual agglomerations of businesses -- the Bong District of Ithaca, the Mommy District along West 32nd Street in Denver, the Curry District in downtown Niagara Falls, New York (a city with an almost nonexistent Indian population) and so on -- and the forces that caused such districts to be formed.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Wow I want to open a store there that sells nothing but Cheetos and Ding Dongs (aka King Dons)!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Just thought of an other oddball "district" in Denver, aside from the Mommy District in the West Highlands/Berkeley area - the 1300 block of Delaware Street, otherwise known as Bail Bond Row.



    I also remember there's a huge collection of used tire dealers clustered together somewhere in El Paso, Texas.

    There's the "Tattoo District", otherwise known as Southside Flats, along East Carson Street in Pittsburgh. I've never seen so many tattoo artists in one place.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    I'm curious about the more unusual agglomerations of businesses [...] and the forces that caused such districts to be formed.
    The 'standard' economics explanation for districts is that once, either by accident or by spin-off effects, there begins to be an evn slightly greater-than common concentration of a type of business, it tends to attract suppliers (in the case of large businesses) or consumers (in the case of retail) because of the susbtantive positive externality to which this gives rise: i.e. large reduction in search costs.

    Another factor, which is less "economics" and more "behavioral economics" (i.e., cognitive psychology, really) is the phenomenon whereby knowledge of adne xposure to a product increases the likelihood of consumption. This does not automatically generate a "district" but rather, a business flow to a location which, in the case of specialized goods, makes customer capture easier by subsequent businesses of the same type.

    On the retail side, at least in theory, this should happen more often for product categories that ahve one or more of teh followign characteristics: a) reasonably expensive, b) bought reltaively seldom, c) with a fragmented product offering. Additionally, of course, some businesses require some geographical attribues (used car lots require space and easy vehicular access, beach clubs require beaches, etc.); but that's a special case.

    In the US (but also elsewhere) obviosuly there is also the issue of planning regulations, but again that's a special case.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

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    Cyburbian
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    I thought head shops died out with the hippies!

    But yeah, these kinds of "special use" districts have self-emerged ever since humans started building towns and cities. For various reasons (customers finding one place to conveniently compare things - if they're disappointed with a neighboring shopkeeper, they can wander over to you instead - and the other specifics Luca mentioned) businesses (and people!) have chosen to cluster in like-minded groups. Countless towns and cities have jewelry districts, bar districts, college student ghettos, laundromat strips, etc.

    I think the emergence of the more-unusual ones that you noticed just reinforce the reality that like-minded humans tend to cluster, self-organize, and self-associate. Despite all the counterproductive "diversity" politics and platitudes we have in our society today, people and businesses will always tend to associate with familiar, like-minded others. So it's not surprising to see the emergence of "mommy districts," streets that have only college professors living on them, gayborhoods, "dentist's rows," Indian food strips, and all kinds of other minutely-graded neighborhoods and business districts.

    Not only do you see this behavior in neighborhoods, you also see it on the internet (websites and forums catering to extremely fine-grained interests, not all of them positive of course!), in schools (clubs and teams formed over the most abstruse of interests), and virtually any other place where humans choose to congregate and interact. There's even a contemporary PC term for this - "special interest group" or "XXX community." XXX could stand for "business" or "bicycling" or for even more abstruse things like "tree frog lickers" or "betta fish collectors" or "model railroading." Often these interests, if they happen to veer into the business/commercial world, congregate in physical storefronts where they can all play off each other. I guess you could even call this "natural" or "emergent" zoning, and it calls into question the necessity of many of today's counterintuitive, bureaucratic, institutionalized zoning practices.

    When it comes to physical special-use districts, I'm more concerned when someone/some group either tries to arbitrarily force a new special-use district into existence, force an existing one to disperse (or prohibit it from expanding), or prohibit a new one from emerging. The first action never works, and the other two actions are terribly destructive and run counter to human needs (these districts wouldn't exist if they didn't fulfill a purpose, which is why, for example, every port city gets a rough-and-tumble red light district for the sailors and longshoremen, despite the moralizing of city officials).
    Last edited by marcszar; 20 Nov 2011 at 3:07 PM.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks for sharing! I'm glad to see the Commons is achieving greater economic viability. Is the store that sold union-made-in-the-USA wool socks (even throughout summer) still there?

    And Bail Bond Row is priceless - that picture should be in a historic preservation magazine on adaptive re-use.

  7. #7
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    And now, yet another head shop, this one outside of the Bong District.

    http://cornellsun.com/section/news/c...rnalia-smokers

    Merchandise includes rolled cigarettes, cigars, hookah, sheesha, handblown glass and tobacco accessories, such as hand pipes, water pipes and humidors. The front counter is stocked with Pineapple Express and Twisted Dreamz herbal incenses.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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