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July 06, 2005


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* A fascinating, wide-ranging posting comes from WhiskyPrajer, partly about what it's like to be a pastor's kid.

* Arnold Kling provokes a fun commentsfest with this sentence: "For many college students, the first thing they discover upon graduation is how low-paying and low-skill the job market is for them."

* George Hunka muses about the differences between seeing a play performed and reading its text.

* John Massengale has put up some terrific postings recently. Here he wonders why the well-being of New York City should be in the hands of auto drivers and traffic engineers. "We've gone too far in accommodating the car, and all it's gotten us is traffic jams, honking horns, road rage and pollution," John writes. Agree or not, it's a well-made case. Here John shows that the NYTimes' current ludicrous-architecture critic is as blind a victim of ideology as their last ludicrous-architecture critic was.

* Daze Reader points out this informative Slate history of the vibrator. Teresa Riordan writes: "Since its introduction in the 1880s, the device has, by the most conservative estimates, mechanically induced billions of orgasms." I think the earth just shook.

* Dave Eggers wants teachers to be paid more. Fabio Rojas thinks Eggers doesn't know what he's talking about. Tyler Cowen visits El Paso and lists some of what makes Texas great. "I am surprised that the weight of achievement is so unbalanced toward music and food," Tyler writes. Music and food -- I'm on my way now!

* Steve Sailer shares some Sailer-esque, un-PC thoughts about sperm banks and bisexuality.

* Yahmdallah thinks that many chicklit heroines could use some therapy.

* I'd lost track of recovering grad-student Rose Nunez, who I'd thought had abandoned blogging. In fact, she's now at a new address, and is being as rogue-ishly smart as ever. Nice passage:

I think that academics in the aggregate, relatively insulated as they are from the normal workings of market forces, are just beginning to realize the dimensions of the public relations problem they've got ... I don't think a 'We're smarter and more open-minded than you provincial hicks' attitude is the best choice, not just because it's condescending, but because it's not too hard to pick apart.

Now it may be that Ward Churchill is an extremist rarity among humanities professors (although in my own experience he's not very far from typical), but it's also possible he'll turn out to be their Hindenburg, or at least their Yugo. So if y'all are so smart, professors, you'd better get better fast at defending your guaranteed paychecks.

* Rick Poynor wonders why designers tend to make such lousy editors.

* Older and perhaps even wiser than he once was, Neil Kramer suspects that he'll let that menage-a-trois fantasy remain a fantasy.

* What's your worldview? I'm equally an "idealist" and a "cultural creative." Time to go shopping for interesting eyeglasses.



posted by Michael at July 6, 2005


I'm "cultural creative"--81%, "idealist"--75%, "postmodernist"--63%. Based on your other recent quizes, I'm also an "existential" thinker and a "liberal." Hmmm. I still don't know where to go for lunch!

Posted by: annette on July 7, 2005 11:18 AM

That's a genuinely existential dilemma.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 7, 2005 11:42 AM

Regarding the FDR Drive and Nicolai Ouroussof's review of a new master plan for it ("Making the Brutal F.D.R. Unsentimentally Humane," NYT, 6/28/05):

As I see the work of Jane Jacobs, it is primarily concerned with creating and maintaining economically, socially and environmentally successful human settlements. So if any vision of the city is likely to have a "gritty integrity" to it, this would seem to be it.

On the other hand, the Pasquarelli and Rogers "vision," at least as described by Oursoussoff, seems to me to be little more than an aesthetic one and thus it seems to me to be the one more appropriately considered picturesque, precious and "quaint":

"For architects like Mr. Pasquarelli [and Rogers], the suburban promise embodied in Moses' freeway and park projects represent, for better or worse, a part of our collective memory. Their task, as they see it, is to salvage the corners of unexpected beauty from those childhood landscapes and give them new meaning."

So, if any approach is likely to "drip with nostalgia for a city that never was" it would seem to me to be a Pasquarelli/Rogers approach rather than a Jane Jacobs-inspired one!

But to be fair to Pasquarelli and Rogers, it also really isn't clear from the text of the Ouroussoff article what exactly their plan involves. And Ouroussof himself does mention that at this point their plans are, indeed, kind of general. So maybe their ideas may actually be closer to a true Jane Jacobs approach than the Ouroussof article makes it appear.

But Ourousoof's understanding of Jacobs' work, at least as expressed in this article (and another recent one on the Ratner/Gehry plan for downtown Brooklyn), seems to be way off. It would be interesting to hear him explain more fully what he thinks Jacobs is saying in her six or so major books and where exactly he believes she is saying what he thinks she is saying.

- - - - - - - -

However, I do have to say that, whatever the Pasquarelli/Rogers plans are, I believe it would be a very big mistake to tear down the FDR Drive south of the Brooklyn Bridge (which is the portion that goes by the South St. Seaport) -- and I'd like to offer what I believe to be Jane Jacobs-like arguments in favor of retaining this section of the FDR.

Yes, I know that Jane Jacobs is anti-highway and, generally speaking, very much in favor of tearing down expressways and making them into boulevards. And this is something that I very much agree with -- in general.

But Jacobs is also very much against the mindless, mass-produced, "knee jerk" one-size-fits-all approach to things and, in this particular case, I think there are good reasons for retaining, pretty much as it exists today (i.e., non-prettified), at least this portion of the FDR Drive.

1) True urban diversity

Yes, waterfront elevated highways cut people off from the waterfront. But that doesn't mean than each and every inch of the perimeter of Manhattan Island has to be totally free of elevated highways -- that no elevated highway anywhere ever can serve an interesting and useful urban purpose. This is, in my opinion, mass-produced, knee-jerk urbanism.

It was, indeed, wonderful that the West Side Highway eventually became obsolete (although it wasn't wonderful that a truck fell through the roadbed!) and was torn down, opening up a direct connection to the Hudson River for a vast stretch of the west side of Manhattan. And maybe it wouldn't be so bad if most the FDR eventually came down also. But a mixed waterfront, with some areas open to the waterfront and some areas "cut off" (or, more accurately, bridged) by an elevated highway wouldn't be so bad either --- IF such portions of the elevated highway actually have some kind of genuine urban usefulness.

2) Usefulness

The original West Side Highway (and maybe to a lesser extent the FDR Drive, too) did indeed originally have a genuine urban usefulness (and an importance to the health of the NYC economy) when it was built. When the WSH was first built, West Street was more than just Manhattan's westernmost north-south street. It was also a staging area of sorts, I believe, for the very busy docks -- a very important part of NYC's economy -- that lined the Hudson. So it seems to me that this highway had a genuine urban usefulness -- it in effect created a double-decked street where one was genuinely needed to create a high intensity urbanism.

(Plus in its primitiveness, the West Side highway was very "un-highway-like," as it was built to basically conform to the existing city grid -- which is why it quickly became such an outmoded highway, especially for high speed travel. The turns were tight, and the roller coaster-like off/on ramps didn't take up additional space.)

I think the portion of the FDR Drive that goes past the South Street Seaport has a similar genuine urban usefulness:

a) it allows large numbers of pedestrians going to/from the South Street Seaport and Pier 17 to comfortably cross (and also congregate) beneath a busy traffic artery;

b) it provides a wonderful weather-protected canopy for these crowds -- especially for the large number of people getting on, or getting off, the many tour buses that stop there;

c) it creates (at no cost to the city, really), a great impromptu open-air tour bus terminal for Lower Manhattan;

d) it provides (at no real cost to the city, really) a nice tour bus garage for Lower Manhattan.

And both reasons "c" and "d" help keep tour buses off other, less useful and less welcoming, Lower Manhattan streets.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on July 7, 2005 1:39 PM

I think calling Ward Churchill "academia's Hindenburg" is very funny and very true! Whatever happened to him? Is he still tenured?

Posted by: annette on July 7, 2005 2:15 PM

What will replace the Westside Highway and the FDR Drive? Will tunnels be run up both sides of the island? There has to be some way to move traffic around the edges, yes?

Or is that already in the planning stage and I'm not aware of it?

Posted by: ricpic on July 7, 2005 6:43 PM

The Westside Highway hasn't been around for many, many years. I forget exactly when it was torn down, but it may have been torn down in the late 1970s. It was essentially "replaced" with "nothing" but a heavily landscaped (unfortunately, in my opinion) suburban-like artery (with turning lanes, etc.) which is under the jurisdiction of the New York STATE Department of Transportation and designated, I believe, Route 9A.

The decision not to construct a replacement highway for the Westside Highway, and the fact that a surface level street has proven to be just as good (at least in an era when this area is no longer a busy working port), is widely seen (and correctly so, in my opinion) as "proof" that you really don't need highways around Manhattan Island to move traffic around the edges.

However, it is unclear to me from the TEXT of the Ouroussof article what kind of plan for the FDR he is talking about -- i.e., what (in normal language) is actually being discussed for the FDR Drive (a telling weakness of the article, in my opinion). But I just took a close look at some photographs that someone sent me that apparently accompanied the article in the on-line edition of the "Times," and it seems that basically that what Ouroussof is talking about is really only the creation of a park / esplanade beneath and around the existing FDR Drive.

Interestingly, there is one photo montage that apparently shows the area near the South Street Seaport that I was talking about (which I think makes a great de facto bus terminal), but it seems all prettified and gussied up (in a trendy modern way), which to me is yet another illustration of how Ouroussof has gotten it backwards -- it is the Pasquarelli and Rogers "vision" that is the quaint theme-park approach to urbanism.

One reason, however, that I thought that the plans might have included (and may still eventually include) the demolition of the part of the FDR Drive south of the Brooklyn Bridge (opposite the Seaport) is because early plans that were covered by a local newspaper (the "Downtown Express") reported, if I remember correctly, that the Dept. of City Planning or the NYC Dept. of Transportation was considering a recommendation that this portion of the FDR be torn down because it is relatively lightly used (and because it is the "in" thing among planners to demolish elevated highways). I believe another plan under consideration was to convert the "underutilized" FDR Drive itself (or a portion of it) into a park or public esplanade (similar to what is being done with the old High Line rail line).

Again, normally I am also in favor of replacing highways in the city with surface level boulevards -- but I think this section of the FDR seems to me to be a special case (an exception that proves the rule).

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on July 7, 2005 9:13 PM

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