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August 10, 2008

Architecture and Urbanism Linkage

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Architects go anti-modernism.

* Should the federal government really be moving inner city residents to the suburbs?

* How walkable is your neighborhood? My own scored 100 out of a possible 100. Have I mentioned that I haven't owned a car in over 30 years?

* John Massengale isn't crazy about Beijing's Olympic architecture. A key passage:

For every great monument like Bilbao, [contempo starchitecture] produces a thousand clunkers like Blue and San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. And 100,000 anti-urban clunkers in Las Vegas, Houston, and American sprawl in general.

* MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about the failures of architectural modernism.



posted by Michael at August 10, 2008


One more sign of the slow ebb of the whole modern/progressive/liberal project. It isn't just architecture, it's across the board, culturally speaking.

Still, it's got enough kick left for a few more annoying decades, sad to say.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on August 11, 2008 12:56 AM

Michael, please, please... buy a car.

Last week, you came out against babies. This week, you've returned to your campaign against cars. What's next? Will you launch a campaign to eradicate tits from the planet? Is nothing sacred?

If you think living in Manhattan without a car is great... try living there with a car. Back when I worked for a law firm, the firm gave me a parking spot in a garage right in Midtown as a perk. That was, as Cartman says, sweet. Before I had that spot, I used to drone on about how wonderful it was to just jump in the subway and go. When I got the spot, I stopped taking the subway. Do you know that after 7 p.m. it's a breeze to park just about anywhere in Manhattan?

This anti-car, anti-baby thing is your grumpy old fart personnae. I've got my own version, so I know it when I see it. It's also partly caused by reading too many thought-y books. Do you know any people who don't read books at all? I do. They are so much happier for it. They don't bother themselves with all these weighty issues.

I've had some great cars... a 1966 Mustang, a 2003 Ford Expedition. Cross country car trips are among my favorite memories. For God's sake, I kissed a girl (and copped a feel) for the first time while I was driving a car.

No, we haven't been lured into loving cars as a result of "false consciousness." Take a look around the web. Americans spend a large portion of their leisure time at car events... new car shows, antique car shows, parts swap shows, etc. We just plain love cars because they smell like gasoline, their engines growl and you can get in them and go fast.

Please buy a car, Michael. Start out with a Mercedes Smart Car... only 17,000 bucks. Pretty soon you'll be buying accessories and you'll be wearing a farmer's hat with your car's brand name stenciled across your forehead. Become a dirty low-down sinner like the rest of us.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 11, 2008 8:29 AM

1) Walkability

While the "test" is fun to do, I think it needs to be refined. I entered two neighborhoods I lived in as a kid a) Astoria, Queens (which is almost like Greenwich Village) and b) Jamaica Hills, Queens (which is almost, but not quite, like parts of post-WWII suburban Nassau County) and they both came out with the same score: 82.

By the way, I'm with you MB on the pleasures of not owning a car. Not only have I never owned a car, the closest I've come to even taking driving lessons is a) high school drivers' ed (which, if I remember correctly, gave you some kind of "bonus" if you then ultimately decided to take real driving lessons, so at the time it seemed the practical thing to do); and b) getting a learner's permit (which ultimately I never used) when I thought it might be useful to learn how to drive for a job I had (which I shortly quit for other reasons).

2) Conventional "Modern" architecture

Although I consider myself anti-conventional modern architecture, there is much I actually like about it. For me the big problem is its somewhat inherent anti-urbanism. But when conventional modern architecture is located in suburban settings, or in a world's fair or in a sports park (like an Olympic park), I think it can be just wonderful.

Although, obviously, I haven't been to Beijing, from photographs at least some of the modern architecture (e.g., the "Cube," etc. -- and especially the "Birds' Nest) seems really spectacular and exactly what, it seems to me, is called for on such an occasion.

Actually, in such settings, it seems to me that it is modern traditional architecture that might be out of place. For instance, the New York Mets are currently building a neo-Ebbett's Field in Flushing Meadows, Queens. I think this is a bad idea. The original Ebbett's Field was in an urban setting, and it's architecture was very appropriate for that setting. But the new Mets Stadium is surrounding by parking lots and highways (and a nearby industrial area that the city, unfortunately, is trying get rid of) and in such a setting a striking, iconic "modernist" stadium would be far more appropriate, in my opinion.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on August 11, 2008 10:55 AM

Todd -- And ain't that the truth!

ST -- I'd have a car if I could afford one. Tempting though it is to duke it out over the kids and cars topics, I'm not advancing general arguments, just sharing personal tastes.

Benjamin -- "For me the big problem is its somewhat inherent anti-urbanism." That is the biggee, isn't it? Modernist structures so seldom contribute to the creation of decent public spaces, let alone to neighborhoods. On your theme of "it ain't bad so long as it's in what's already a crapola environment," I know what you mean. I've always thought that modernism works in L.A. as well as it does partly because of the light but also partly because there's no city there anyway. If what you've got is a big parking-lot/ashtray crisscrossed by freeways, why not plop anti-urban modernist structures down at weirdo angle?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 11, 2008 11:18 AM

Seventy-eight out of 100 for my neighborhood in - Oklahoma City?

Yes, really.

Posted by: CGHill on August 14, 2008 10:24 PM

The "walkability index" is GIGO. Its listings of facilities are massively corrupt.

I entered my home address. The first listing for "movie theaters" was torn down several years ago, and another is a famous and venerable live theater. Many listed businesses are mailing addresses. The "nearest" bookstore is listed at the owner's home; another listed is years out of business. The first listing in Clothing and Music is a public warehouse. (?)

The nearest school to my mother's house is Northwestern University - its football stadium, that is.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on August 16, 2008 4:58 AM

So Manhattan is walkable... bravo. I'd like to see an overlay of cost of living and walkability. Is walkability a luxury item? If so, how to create neighborhoods that are both walkable and affordable?

Posted by: thecreepingkid on August 19, 2008 4:52 PM

A good many Manhattan neighborhoods have ALWAYS been walkable -- but it's only relatively recently that they've become expensive. So walkability is not inherently expensive.

How to create walkable neighborhoods [and ones that aren't a luxury item]? Probably the single most useful suggestion: read Jane Jacobs, who also points out that one of the biggest -- perhaps the biggest -- reason walkable neighborhoods have become so expensive is because demand has outstripped supply.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on August 19, 2008 5:33 PM

"How to create neighborhoods that are both walkable and affordable?" A key question. but you've got me wondering about this question too: Does it strike anyone else as ... bizarre or something that we've gotten to the point where we consider "walkability" in a neighborhood a luxury item? Shouldn't we be able to take walkability for granted?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 19, 2008 5:57 PM

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