Surburban expletive deleted

July 25, 2010

When Nixon’s secret tapes of his White House conversations were released under duress as part of the machinations of Watergate, the phrase, “expletive deleted” from the typwritten transcripts entered the language.  Nixon’s chat was not always of an elevated nature.

There is a blog on the NYTimes Opinionator page about a contest to redesign (yet again) the suburbs, this time of Long Island.  What struck me most about this post was the comments:  they are vehement, often violent, and I have never seen so many editorial deletions of inappropriate comments.  Apparently, feelings about urban design run pretty high.  And I am a frequent reader of climate-change blogs, where emotions are not exactly, shall we say, cool.

One line of thought was that the entire idea was a crock.  The suburbs are hell.  They should be razed completely.  Tax auto use to the skies and force those jerks to take mass transit.

Another was that NYC life has become impossible for middle-class people with families, so why do you hate us so much?

Plans of all sorts abound, from utopian to totalitarian.  Everyone has the solution. Everyone should be happy to live in the suburbs that I design.

Confusion over the very nature of terms is fundamental.  Manhattan is an American anomaly.  Many local suburbs are as dense as cities elsewhere in the USA.  Most people who live in American cities live in regions that would at least look suburban to New Yorkers.

Sprawl is evil.  Suburbs are evil.  Cities are virtuous.  People in the suburbs live soulless, isolated lives.  As if you can’t be terribly lonely and bored in the midst of a crowd in Bryant Park.

For another post on the topic of urbanist-ideological ranting, visit here:  Facing the Reality of Sprawl.

More Green

April 17, 2008

Spring is sprung, and I found myself with a big fat DWR (Design within Reach) catalog on my table that asks the question (square of grass front and center on the cover) “What is green?” Looking through the catalogue, I had the feeling that I was participating in an irony so blatant that I wondered if I was missing a secret joke. From the look of the pages, green is MONEY!

DWR has nice stuff, some fascinating, some beautiful, some just a bit weird. Aside from the odd accessory and some very well designed and affordable chairs, the furnishings it showcases are on the expensive side. Some are extremely expensive, and virtually none of it is for the great mass of the consuming public. Ikea, maybe. Walmart, never! So, green in DWR becomes another in the long series of political/cultural ideologies as fashion statement. In this case, the statement of a certain hip, well heeled, highly educated, and eco-sensitive slice of the consuming public.

I don’t mean to knock DWR – they have nice stuff, as I said. It’s not their fault we live in the silly world we do. Hippydom became a fad too. I recall reading an account of the Arts and Craft movement in America that pointed out that in American houses, the ceiling beams were often simply hollow simulacrae rather than hefty oaken supports – image over substance. So it goes…

Green has been on my mind: Soylent Green, and green architecture reviewed in this nice book from Taschen. It starts with a lengthy philosophical survey/rant on the history of architecture from the eco perspective. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether he is advocating or critiquing the more extreme and outlandish views of the apocalyptic fringe of environmentalism, but the book itself is handsomely done – as always with Taschen – and has some fascinating buildings in it.