In a race to go faster, cheaper and wider, it's tempting to strip away elegance, ornamentation or subtlety. If you want to reach more people, aim for average.
The market, given a choice, often picks something that's short-term, shoddy, inane, obvious, cheap, a quick thrill. Given the choice, the market almost never votes for the building, the monument or the civic development it ends up being so proud of a generation later. Think about it: the best way to write an instant bestseller is to aim low.
The race to popular belies the fact that our beloved classics were yesterday's elitist/obscure follies.
Bob Dylan, Star Trek and the Twilight Zone vs. The Monkees, The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan's Island.
Zaha Hadid and Maya Lin vs. Robert Moses.
A Confederacy of Dunces vs. Valley of the Dolls.
No one watches Ed Sullivan reruns (except for one, the exception that proves that rule).
It's our choice. The ones who create, the ones who instigate, the ones who respond to what's been built. It's up to us to raise the bar—pandering is a waste of what's possible.
Sometimes it seems like winner-take-all capitalism is pushing us ever harder to play it dumb. That makes it even more important that we resist.