Some of the most beautiful cities in the world are those that seem to have a soul. Some of these cities, like Boston, make the cut because they have a disorganized charm while others such as Shanghai are known for the modern feel. Regardless of what makes a particular city special, the thing that my favorite places have in common is that they are all unique and have something that cannot be mimicked by another place.
This for example is a picture that captures the essence of Shanghai.
It appears to me that at some point, cities and to a greater extend suburbs forgot what it meant to have a unique feeling. In came developers. Sprawling neighborhoods emerged of houses that not only looked the same as one another, but looked the same as others in other towns and even in other parts of the country. This is not limited to residential development; strip malls and chain restaurants populate huge tracts of land. Standing in one of these malls one would have no way of guessing if they were in Florida or North Dakota, except maybe for the temperature!
True it may be cheaper and easier to build standardized developments, but it also takes the heart out of an area. The appeal of an area is lessened as it imitates the style of everywhere else. This type of development can drain the life out of a city.
While this trend seems to roll along, some retail companies have notably bucked the trend. My two best examples of this are Apple and Starbucks. When visiting a location of one of these stores, you know that you are sitting and drinking your favorite coffee or shopping for a nice computer, but you also know where you are. These stores are built to represent the feel of the company while respecting the environment that they are found in. Apple has been able to build stores inside of the Louvre and Grand Central Station. These locations represent a fantastic balance between standards of design and urban cultural awareness that other new developments should seek to emulate.