Thursday, June 29, 2006
Now that New York mag is publishing oral histories of the golden age of graffiti and a bank in the E.Vil. has commissioned "graffiti" art and placed it underneath the teller windows (see pic here), it's definitely time for this artform to mutate, and indeed it has. Call this X-Acto graffiti. Someone spent a lot of time making very precise cuts in this poster on E. 12th for what looks like a bad Uma Thurman romantic comedy. It probably wasn't intentional, but this is a brilliant little commentary on beauty and plastic surgery.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
It has become the contrarian fashion to say that Jane Jacobs' contribution to urban planning didn't address many of the problems we grapple with today, and that Robert Moses wasn't entirely destructive and wrong. I find this to be an intellectually lazy argument. No single person could simultaneously explode an entire profession AND anticipate every possible consequence of that (such as gentrification, which did not exist at the time that she wrote her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961).
Still others have the impression that Jacobs was a milquetoast housewife who presaged New Urbanism by only favoring small, quaint neighborhoods -- which couldn't be further from the truth. What she was critiquing at the time -- brutal urban renewal practices -- compelled her to attack large-scale planning and modern architecture in favor of community and neighborhood, but that doesn't mean she dismissed everything big and modern as inhumane and unworkable. What makes Jacobs so compelling and enduring is the power and flexibility of her ideas, rooted in an instinctive response but articulated with precision and clarity.
As Paul Goldberger recently wrote in a Metropolis magazine piece entitled Jane-Washing, "Jacobs herself had little patience with much of what was presented as an extension of her views; she knew better and understood instinctively the difference between the real street life of an old New York neighborhood and the packaged synthetic urbanism of the new make-believe streetscapes." I can well imagine Jacobs might have been a big fan of, for instance, contemporary Dutch planning and architecture, which is both large-scale and ultra-modern.
What's more, to say that not everything Moses did was bad is to entirely miss the point. His unchecked power and dictatorial style coupled with a non-existent process for public input was the disease. The highways that crushed entire neighborhoods were the highly visible symptoms (parks and beaches being the positives externalities). Jacobs took on a dictator. We could use more of that kind of ballsy housewife nowadays.
On another note, people point to her long-running public feud with Lewis Mumford in order to degrade her ideas as those of an unsophisticated simpleton compared to the intellectually superior Mumford. No disrespect to one of New York's last great public intellectuals, but he could be a dyspeptic critic himself, launching attacks at everything including Rockefeller Center. "Architecturally, in short, Rockefeller Center is much ado about nothing," he wrote in the New Yorker in 1933, which he later reversed somewhat, leading one exasperated NYC official to complain to the magazine, "The problem with Mumford is, nobody can tell what he wants." With Jacobs, unlike Mumford, there was never any question about what she found lacking and what she thought worked. Mumford's thinking wasn't always so clearly-- and gracefully -- articulated, not to mention that he was more prone to urban utopianism than Jacobs ever was.
Scheduled speakers at Washington Square Park include New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, Ned Jacobs, Jane'’s son, and others. Since I am in full-on book-writing
procrastination contemplation mode, I'll see you there.
UPDATE: Andrew Salzberg of Messy Diversity writes from Toronto to point out that, indeed, Jane Jacobs did like contemporary Dutch planning and architecture. In an interview with James Howard Kunstler (in Metropolis magazine), JHK asked her what parts of the world she likes and admires, and her immediate response was to say The Netherlands. "...The human scale of the whole thing and the density is far above what we are used to in North America, or anywhere. The high density and human scale are not incompatible at all."
The Netherlands is, of course, highly regulated and planned, contrary to the assumption that Jacobs only liked "organic" neighborhoods. Andrew goes on to point out that an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal recently praised Jacobs, practically labeling her a libertarian, because she didn't like planning. Again, totally false. She didn't like top-down, FASCIST planning that left no room for public participation and resulted in the destruction of neighborhoods. Thanks, Andrew.
Today’s installment of breathtaking inanity (the new irrational exuberance) takes note of three facets of this latest craze.
1. Moynihan Station, in its third (or is that fourth?) design iteration, will cost $1 billion to turn part of the Farley post office building into a partial replacement for Penn Station across the street. The catch: the only tenant is NJ Transit, which will leave behind 80 percent of commuters who currently use the old Penn Station in the pit below
2. Santiago Calatrava’s beautiful transit station design at Ground Zero will cost $2 billion and serve only those people who ride PATH trains from
3. The new Fulton Transit Center, run by MTA, is behind schedule and over budget even after the signature architectural element, a huge “oculus,” was reduced in size and – get this – the plans to untangle the clusterf**k of subway lines underneath Fulton were also scaled back. In other words, MTA is prepared to spend another $800+ million on a duplicative grand transit statement while backing away from the original intent of making the subway lines more rational for commuters ... New York commuters.
Hey, I’m all for grand architectural gestures, WHEN THEY ALSO WORK FOR THE PEOPLE WHO USE THEM.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Using The War Tapes and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth as primary examples, the Times' David Carr recently argued that documentaries have become an effective vehicle for advocacy journalism, and are quite successfully turning "the most boring of issues — and public personalities — into an entertainment."
Add to this genre a new doc from Transportation Alternatives, Contested Streets: Breaking NYC Gridlock, which will premier next week at the IFC Center in the Village. Whether or not this doc rises to the level of "entertainment" remains to be seen, but it will show how other cities are using innovative ideas and technology to solve traffic problems ... and, of course, how New York is not.
To see a trailer, click here.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
I then noted that Avery Hall at Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture was badly in need of an overhaul ... which is now in the works. I happened to be in the architecture library yesterday and spotted Stephen Cassell who, along with Adam Yarinsky, are the founders of ARO, one of my favorite architecture firms. It seems the firm will be undertaking the Avery Hall rehab.
They are not starchitects but smarchitects, intent on -- hold on to your socks now -- designing buildings while keeping in mind 1. the people who will use them, and 2. the surrounding environment. They are a whole lot less focused on developing a signature style that shouts, "ARO!" the way a ten year-old can now spot a Gehry building (ARO stands for Architecture Research Offices ... so obviously, they're not too concerned with branding their own names, either).
Just to make the point about how they brilliantly design for the surrounding environment, here are two very different projects: The Army recruiting station in Times Square (above) and home in Telluride, CO (below). Some of the firm's other NYC projects include rehabbing the currently underutilized building at the north end of Union Square Park, working with landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburg on Brooklyn Bridge Park, as well as other commerical and residential projects around the city (and the rest of the country).
Monday, June 19, 2006
Special thanks to New York Songlines for helping me organize this tour.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Monday, June 12, 2006
Other than a little whiplash from a jetski mishap, fun was certainly had, even when I was working. But it's good to be home. Will do my best to get caught up on Polis posts soon.