The Residences at the Lofts at SoDoSoPa, or “Beware the Four-Letter Words of Vibrant Downtowns.”



GaGaNaNa — be one of the beautiful peeples.

Beware the Four-Letter Words of Vibrant Downtowns, by Max Azzarello (Strong Towns)

 … the most fun I have in such places is when I’m playing Vibrancy Bingo: The search for the four-letter words that inevitably advertise such luxury spaces. Whether they’re written on banners hanging from retro street lamps or projected onto impossibly clean sidewalks, you’re practically guaranteed to find some permutation of the words “Shop. Play. Dine. Stay.”, the rhythmic marketing mantra of the modern lifestyle center.

I think that it’s telling that for all the amenities offered, these lifestyle centers are so often interchangeable. From the four-letter words and impossibly attractive 30-somethings in ads, to the Cheesecake Factories and towering luxury condos, these developments are no more connected to the neighborhoods they inhabit than the strip malls and convention centers that came before them. It’s a modern twist on the suburban “geography of nowhere”.


Perhaps surprisingly, a strong satire of these developments comes from South Park, a show that has consistently offered pointed societal critiques behind its trademark irreverent humor. In one multi-episode arc, the poor part of town is rebranded as SoDoSoPa (realtor-speak for “South of Downtown South Park”) and is heralded by town officials for providing necessary economic investment.

Faux commercials like this one take lifestyle centers to their absurd conclusion; The soothing narrator promises “A place to gather, a place to mingle with all economic classes, and now it’s a place to live,” with both animated and live-action shots of pretty, well-heeled people enjoying the amenities. The running gag of the story arc is that the development is built surrounding the home of the town’s only poor residents (rebranded as “Historic Kenny’s House”). Though the ads promise economic diversity, the city’s poor are left completely out of its exclusive benefits.

While it may be difficult to take a cartoon best known for its fart jokes seriously, the show raises some important questions when it comes to luxury developments and lifestyle centers:

  • Are these developments being driven first and foremost by the city’s residents, or do they come from outside investors with no connection to the place?
  • What about the people who already live in the proposed development area? Do they have a say?
  • Are such massive developments really in the best interest of the city’s residents, or do they find themselves swept up in the glitz of Adobe Illustrator mockups and four-letter words?
  • What happens if the development fails? Is there another use that could take its place, or would it inevitably fall into disrepair?