If Google has its way, our public space might soon look like the Californian suburbia that the company calls home: nice but isolated, sunny but relying on decrepit infrastructure, orderly but segregated by income. What Richard Sennett said of suburbanites in Uses of Disorder—that they are “people who are afraid to live in a world they cannot control”—is equally true of Google’s optimizers. But the lack of control is simply the price we have to pay for living in complex, diverse, and cosmopolitan environments that we call “cities.” Alas, for all its impact on impact on urbanism, there’s yet no sign that Google understands what it is—and what it is for.
The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the international organization of skyscraper engineers, designers and builders that certifies a building’s height, … has three categories for measuring the heights of tall buildings: height to “architectural top,” “highest occupied floor” and “height to tip.” This may seem like splitting hairs, but the differences can be considerable.
The meanings of “height to tip” and “highest occupied floor” are self-evident. But “architectural top,” the category the council uses to officially crown the tallest building, is less clear; it includes “spires,” but not “antennas, signage, flag poles or other functional-technical equipment.”
Great interview with a Sim City designer by the Venue team. I found this bit about parking pretty interesting (and a bit sad):
Geoff Manaugh: While you were making those measurements of different real-world cities, did you discover any surprising patterns or spatial relationships?
Librande: Yes, definitely. I think the biggest one was the parking lots. When I started measuring out our local grocery store, which I don’t think of as being that big, I was blown away by how much more space was parking lot rather than actual store. That was kind of a problem, because we were originally just going to model real cities, but we quickly realized there were way too many parking lots in the real world and that our game was going to be really boring if it was proportional in terms of parking lots.
Manaugh: You would be making SimParkingLot, rather than SimCity.
Librande: [laughs] Exactly. So what we do in the game is that we just imagine they are underground. We do have parking lots in the game, and we do try to scale them—so, if you have a little grocery store, we’ll put six or seven parking spots on the side, and, if you have a big convention center or a big pro stadium, they’ll have what seem like really big lots—but they’re nowhere near what a real grocery store or pro stadium would have. We had to do the best we could do and still make the game look attractive.
“It just went down. Everything in Birmingham is going down.”
One obvious exception would be what Mr. Minter calls the African Village in America, and the amazing fabrications he has raised to fill almost every square foot of his consolidated half-acre holding.
It is, by some reckonings, one of the nation’s most extraordinary and least-known sculpture gardens. Here’s a room-size re-creation of the Birmingham jail cell that held Martin Luther King Jr., surrounded by six concrete Dobermans.
There’s a monument to those murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, including 26 pairs of flea-market shoes (“I got them for a pretty good price,” he said) and the raging rubber head of Jesse Ventura.
And everywhere else is welded iron and hand-painted biblical signage and bric-a-brac to overrun a landfill. It seems all but inevitable that Mr. Minter will eventually raise a memorial to the Boston Marathon bombing, although the only clear patch of lawn lies behind the twin towers.
The African Village also stands among the most endangered art environments: Mr. Minter serves as the site’s artist in residence, curator, docent and groundskeeper, and he just turned 70.
His installation represents one of the last great “yard shows” in Alabama, said Emily Hanna, curator of the African and American collections at the Birmingham Museum of Art. This coinage describes the culturally distinct and sometimes visionary home displays of the South.
Paffendorf’s startup, Loveland Technologies, created a website called “Why Don’t We Own This?” It addresses one of Detroit’s biggest problems: abandoned property. Detroit is big, covering 139 square miles, enough to hold Boston, Manhattan, and San Francisco. Yet over the past 60 years, its population has shrunk from 1.8 million to just over 700,000. As a result, thousands of foreclosed, government-owned lots go up for auction for as little as a few hundred dollars. Identifying those properties is a labyrinth for anyone without a real estate license. Loveland’s website provides a simplified and information-rich online map of auction property for anyone looking to buy. Renters, too, can learn if a building is on the verge of foreclosure.
Paffendorf’s website is significant because it represents a new, simplified approach to these problems, from the toilet paper to the schools. Detroit has often sought salvation in big solutions: a car company comeback; the Renaissance Center, a cluster of seven towers downtown; casinos; the 2006 Super Bowl; the 2009 election of Bing, a Detroit Piston star turned steel magnate. Nothing has worked. But the city’s depression—and the depressed real estate prices that came with it—created opportunities. And opportunity lures entrepreneurs. The startup types, like Paffendorf. And the ones with lots of money, like Dan Gilbert, the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, the third-largest mortgage provider in the country; he moved 1,700 employees downtown in 2010, giving him 7,000 employees there and making him Detroit’s third-largest landowner (trailing only the city and General Motors). With slicked-back hair and a perpetual poker face, Gilbert has just gotten started on his plan to transform the area.
While we are on the subject of disappearing tree cover, we wanted to draw your attention to this article from The Washington Post correlating tree cover to income disparity. The difference inside the District is stark, with households that have a median income of $205,750 enjoying an 81…
New York and New Jersey have a first world problem: The Bayonne Bridge, which connects the two states, will soon block the entrance to the largest seaport on the East Coast, the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal. In other words, New York City and its surrounding region have too much infrastructure, and the older infrastructure is starting to interfere with the newer infrastructure, forcing a public evaluation of priorities.
Here at Chez Jay in Santa Monica, where big-name Hollywood wined and dined, it might as well be 1966. But change is coming to this tiny dive bar with the king-size reputation.
Just steps from Chez Jay’s back door and that bar porthole, the city of Santa Monica is building a multi-acre park with picnic tables, hills, playgrounds and two steel observation decks with views of the ocean and the pier. Nearby, more than 300 condos and rental apartments and shops are rising at the $350-million Village at Santa Monica. In 2015, the Expo Line light rail will roll into town.
City officials envision a family-friendly, alfresco eatery to go with the new development.
Chez Jay’s owners hope their 53-year-old landmark restaurant will fill the bill. They are pondering a $1.5-million makeover to create an outdoor patio where visitors could order burgers, fries and ice cream cones (but no alcohol) at a walk-up window. The outmoded 150-square-foot kitchen would become a private dining room. A modernand much bigger kitchen would be built closer to the park. They plan to submit a proposal to the city.
Sometime around the 1960s and ’70s, people in Philadelphia began slowly, subtly to change how they speak. The sound of their vowels started a gradual shift consciously imperceptible to the very people who were driving it. A’s evolved to bump into E’s. The sound of an O lost some of its singsong twang. After decades of speaking with what was in effect a southern dialect, Philadelphians were becoming – linguistically, that is – more northern.
Neon’s vogue was brief, however, reaching its height in the 1930s. In some ways, it was a victim of its own success. Perceived at first as a symbol of prosperity and security, neon’s ubiquity soon began to suggest a society devoted to “surface” and “spectacle.” Theodor Adorno thought neon emblematic of the mass production of experience and presented art as the antidote: “The more the all-powerful culture industry seizes for its own purposes the principle of illumination and corrupts it in the treatment of men for the benefit of the perduring darkness,” he writes in ”The Philosophy of New Music,” “all the more does art rise against this false luminosity.” For Adorno and others, neon was a symbol of false enlightenment and the reduction of the modern world to mass-produced commodities — although, ironically, neon itself was an artisanal product, handcrafted in individual workshops. At the peak of its popularity, there were over 5,000 neon workshops throughout the United States.
But for many, neon signs indicated not just products, but possibility. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Las Vegas, where neon routinely transformed the prosaic into the fantastic. Almost every surface emanated something tempting and improbable, suggesting the unlikely existence of the city itself. Neon “set the city ablaze,” in Ribbat’s words, making it into an enticing mirage in the desert of American culture, inviting irony and interpretation. An account of a trip a group of Yale students made to Las Vegas in 1968, “Learning from Las Vegas,” published in 1972, caused a worldwide reassessment of the city’s landscape. They highlighted the artistry involved in making neon signs, comparing Las Vegas to both Versailles and Rome. Neon, for these scholars, represented a rejection of a culturally determined sense of what is good and beautiful, and an invitation to find significance in the formerly negligible and sordid.
Maybe the Yankees do deserve some scorn: as Brian Shactman notes at CNBC, the money owed to players on their disabled list alone could be used to field three squads of Astros.
But who would want three versions of the current Astros? Fans in Houston are likely to be miserable enough with just the one. This off-season brought with it a few moments of excitement: the team moved from the National League Central to the American League West and introduced retro-inspired uniforms. Those novelties provided the good news. Now for the bad: the franchise that finished dead last in baseball in 2012 while spending a little more than $60 million enters the 2013 campaign spending roughly a third of that: of their $25 million payroll, $4.5 million is owed to Wandy Rodriguez, who stayed behind in the National League to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
So what kind of team does about $20 million get you? Likely, a bad one. The Astros are essentially the biggest minor-league club in the country.
The New Republic ran a disparaging piece questioning the progress that Make It Right has made over the last five years, and MIR Executive Director Tom Darden responded with his own strongly worded rebuttal, calling The New Republicpiece by Lydia DePillis a “flawed and inaccurate account” of their work. Taken together, the two articles provide some compelling insight into the nature of the project and, more broadly speaking, the benefits and detriments of large-scale building projects in disaster-stricken cities.
The structure, titled “Mobile Homestead,” will have a mobile part: a trailer, making up much the front of the house, which was completed during Kelley’s life and can be “docked” with the house or hitched to a truck to travel the city. But the rest of the house is permanently installed on a lot across from the museum, which built it with the London-based art philanthropy Artangel and additional financial support from the Luma Foundation, a nonprofit based in Switzerland. (The museum has not disclosed the cost.)
In accordance with Kelley’s wishes, the house will serve not as a gallery of his work or that of any other artists showing at the museum. Instead it will function as a kind of free-form community center, a place where people will be able to hold a concert in the garage, for example, or run a benefit or show their own art. The interior, which has a vague hospital feel, with linoleum flooring, rubber baseboards and bright white walls, will not be furnished like a residential house but will be left in flux, to accommodate projects that the museum and the community come up with.
The best chapter in “The New Mind of the South” (the title of which is taken from W.J. Cash’s seminal 1941 survey, “The Mind of the South”), concerns the city of Atlanta, a booming metropolis straining at its seams, where whites are a minority and the poor still get short shrift. Thompson doesn’t live there anymore, and when she tells you about the traffic, the sprawl, the free rein given to business interests and the racial mistrust that scuttles every attempt to create vibrant public spaces, you can hardly blame her. Yet she’s still invested in Atlanta, still finds memories on many street corners and still believes that it constitutes the most genuinely “biracial” city in the nation. She understands it deeply enough that when she resolves this chapter in an indictment of the Atlanta’s “pretense,” the result is a magnificent and stinging piece of writing.
The suburb has a claim to being one of the most successful and least loved inventions of the modern era. Many intellectuals, being city people at heart, find the suburb a hard place to love.
So writes city historian Graeme Davison of Monash University, in Australia, in a recent issue of the Journal of Urban History. Davison goes on to chronicle a brief though rather complete rise and fall of the suburban lifestyle. Concentrating on England, but drawing support from the United States and Australia, Davison tracks suburbia from its ideological roots in the Victorian era to its harsh detractors in the present.