The Homogenous Zone

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As CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports, no matter where you travel in the United States you get the strange feeling you've been there before.
If you take a look at places across the four corners of America, they all look the same: Charlottesville could be Salinas, and Minot could be Mesquite.

"You literally can't tell from the landscape where you are," says Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Moe believes the country is going bland. From sea to shining sea, a flood of look-alike, taste-alike, feel-alike strips water down regional flavor and wash away local color.

"I think there are cultural and regional differences that are worth retaining because we are a very diverse nation," Moe says.

That's what a group of activists in Vermont thought. A computer re-creation shows what the outskirts of Burlington looked like in the '30s and what it looks like today. And farther out where once there were only farms, you can barely see a silo beyond the big new stores.

"We think we didn't do very well on this particular battle," says Dana Farley of the Vermont Forum on Sprawl.

Farley's group fought to preserve the farmland there and obviously lost. "It doesn't feel as much like Vermont. It feels like anywhere. But it also feels like nowhere," Farley says.

Of course all these places are here for a reason. People fill these places regardless of where they are. Sameness sells, and sometimes that means selling off the character of a region.

"The marketplace has made some demands about 'I want convenience. I want consistency,' and that's the price we pay for it," says Don DeBolt of the International Franchise Association. His organization doesn't worry a lot about spreading similarity.

"I think most of us, you know, for parts of our life want things pretty dependable, pretty predictable," DeBolt says.

But on Bainbridge Island just a ferry ride from Seattle, things look a little different.

"It doesn't look like any other place in the world. It looks like Bainbridge," says resident Wendy Johnson.

It's been a fight to keep it that way. When McDonalds came there, the town rose up and passed strict laws that kept out most fast-food places and chain stores. And Bainbridge Island is prospering.

"It's a matter of being vested, of being part of a community. It's the difference between having commerce and being part of a community," Johnson says.

In local elections around the country, towns are fighting the same battle as Bainbridge. In Maine, in Virginia or in Miami, it can be hard to have a sense of place when every place looks like anyplace and no place looks special.
For more information about issues of concern for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, go to its Web site.

To learn more about th current agenda of the International Franchise Association, explore its Web site.

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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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