Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I'M WORRIED about the great City of New Orleans. Only 15% of the residents of the city have been able to come back. The rest are scattered around the country, not knowing when or if they will be able to return. Meanwhile, too many in the city and in Baton Rouge fight for their own interests, with the result that too little happens.
There are good leaders in Louisiana, particularly Governor Blanco and Senator Landrieux (and others I don't know about, I'm sure). But too many commissions are competing for dominance, too many on the commissions have no experience making places, and too many of their consultants couldn't make a good place if their life depended on it.
For more than a month now, some of the leaders have wanted to announce the hiring of two of the best architecture and planning offices in the country. The announcement hasn't been made because others have asked them to wait. Local architects and planners have fought against the announcement because they think there will be less work for them. Some well-connected local architects with no experience in planning or urban design think they should be in charge of redesigning New Orleans. They work for their own goals while the city suffers.
There's a feeling among many that there's no hurry. This may be comme il faut in New Orleans, but in the face of the 85% of the city being homeless, it's a problem. And it's costing the city money — one session in Congress has recently ended, and many in Washington feel that Louisiana has not been organized enough. The city and the state may have missed an opportunity for funding that will never come again.
People around Congress often compare the post-Katrina situations in Mississippi and Louisiana. Historically, Louisiana has had very strong representation in both the Senate and the House, with famous politicians like former House Majority Leader Hale Boggs. Now its representation is young, and shut out of the influential committees, while Mississippi has Trent Lott, and the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and a Governor who is the powerful former Chairman of the Republican National Committee and the President's former Campaign Manager.
Mississippi made a plan (including hiring the CNU for the Gulf Coast charrette), made a budget for the plan, and was well received in Washington. Louisiana asked for money without a budget or a plan, and has been unfavorably compared to their neighboring state. It's almost a cliche in Washington to say they would have done better if they had acted more quickly and in a more organized way.
In Mississippi, the governor appointed a native son and internet billionaire to run a Gulf Coast commission and get things done. Louisiana's dueling commissions prevent things from happening. A friend who was at the Lousiana Recovery & Rebuilding Conference with me is a native Louisianan and a former municipal planner in Mississippi and Louisiana. Writing about the conference (below), she said that Mississippi's hiring the New Urbanists for the Gulf Coast charrette was like sending in the Marines, while the Louisiana conference was like a United Nations session — talk, talk, talk.
From a native Louisianan and former planner in Louisiana and Mississippi:
I fear Louisiana cannot even function in times of deep distress. It is plagued by politics as usual, and that means it is sadly dysfunctional.
Governor Kathleen Blanco had her statewide forum meeting in one room at the Marriott (about 600 invited, mostly South LA participants), the Louisiana Recovery Authority met at the same time in another room, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin made no appearance. He had his own meetings going on elsewhere.
The conference was presented by the American Institute of Architects in collaboration with the American Planning Association and cosponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Society of Civil Engineers
Much of participants' time was spent battling tremendous angst. The people of New Orleans and Louisiana clearly feel their leadership is not working together regionally or collaboratively and not listening to their voices. If this conference does nothing else it should send a message to the electeds that they are on notice. There is also the real fear that New Orleans has lost its population forever. The city is almost devoid of life.
The work accomplished was publicly inclusive, but it was overly general and WAY behind. It took two days of debate to uncover very obvious rebuilding and recovery principles that the Mississippi CNU effort used as its starting point. These included speaking to the nation with one voice, market and government responsiveness, good planning (which had yet to be defined), sensitivity to the built and cultural heritage, new models for economic development, improved education, affordable housing and social equity, and inclusive processes. AND of course, a built infrastructure that far surpasses the quality of what was there before.
There were a couple of excellent speeches with some highly innovative ideas, especially from Steven Bingler on reinventing educational models that are neighborhood based. He should be brought into the Mississippi effort.
The three days of 8:30-6:00 nonstop sessions (not even any planned breaks) were facilitated by America Speaks, and were technologically advanced. It featured individual voting remotes and round tables of 7-9 participants, each with a computer aided facilitator inputting info. Dozens of "principles" were argued and boiled down as individual tables and then the entire room reached consensus. A very effective process if all participants share an equal level of understanding about issues.
Funding the construction of a Category 5 levee system and restoring the fast-eroding Mississippi Delta coastal wetlands emerged as the single most important commitment attendees wanted from federal leaders in Washington. Without that guarantee of safety, no rebuilding can begin. The Dutch model was seen as appropriate.
The few mentions of design happened primarily in the last day. Smart Growth was referenced numerous times and was seen as the most important rebuilding strategy. This included a mass transit and regional rail system to facilitate timely evacuation as well as offer an alternative way to get around the region. "High quality, sustainable development" was another theme, although there appeared to be little understanding by the audience of what this meant or how it could be accomplished.
The players that will implement LA's rebuilding may already be in place. Word is that a famous planner has been hired to do a regional plan. Then a "super planner" will be brought in (David Dixon with Goody Clancy did the planning presentation, which was very decent). There was a session on codes by Craig Richardson of Clarion Associates of Chapel Hill, NC. New Urbanism was mentioned once, when thanks was extended to CNU by Jerry Weitz of Alpharetta, GA, for work on land development codes.
Of the people I already knew who were there, very few are New Urbanists. Some are downright hostile to NU, like XXX, YYY APA Chapter pres) and almost all the LA planning constituency. Most believe they should do the rebuild planning themselves. What they don't understand is that the CNU in Mississippi was the Marines and this meeting in Louisiana a United Nations. It was painful. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt and see how things move from process to action.
The Weirdness that is Danny
- "Only those who are frightened by worms possess sanity, desecrate gilded towers, endure."
- "Our days steadily bevel Mt. Zion into a figure resembling a tormented, destitute woman wrapping detonating charges around her forefathers before the gates were opened."
- "America turns its mass-produced urine antennae toward Caesar's arrogant ganglion, while history is advocated by utopians as a substitute for defecating."
- "Executives are praying to a chicken, confident of their brazen dream in which cherubs can not grieve but are instead forced to defecate on ruins in their doctor's presence. Cities fold their legs under tunnels. Culture will be reprieved when the lamb straightens out its doubly coiled intestine."
- "Totalitarianism is a magnificent idea which will eventually destroy the supremacy of White Biology. But a successful portrait of Jesus cannot be as beautiful as a painting depicting the sycamore tree unto which he swooped."
- "Jesus invented seduction by exposing the mother to a contemptuous kangaroo court. But Jesuits inverted seduction by being first to spit in local theaters. Though gifted, these military-minded gentlemen campaigned eagerly on behalf of the sly, the snobbish; assailed memorials by turning them into plastic souvenirs."
- "Christ had definite allergies, as do missionaries: both gadgets camouflage the truth by disguising themselves as infants, or change the appearance of dead sylphs, bound to move the surroundings."
- "God is spying on you. Please be sure to repeat the cold war while there is still a scent of chloroform in the nest."
- "Jews temper the message of Passover by intravenous commentaries. Christians acquiesce to a future in which any sedate typist pretentiously displaying software will be disguised as a dry shrub or a civilian."
- "Tempestuous Jewess, commence your flight on a ship sailing for Riga, all pink. She'd rather disrobe in public than slow the hedge-sparrow in glass."
- "Moslems resent that neither Allah nor the scent of a future B.C. can be resurrected by gently pulling the nose's hard ridge with a somber gesture of the hand — the same one they use to launch little paper airplanes in the market."
- "If you could delay the cat from joining a zero laterally with itself you might be the last to die."
Amid mounting criticism of his plan, Libeskind and his wife, Nina, have grown defensive. He says it was endorsed by a "powerful public consensus." She says it was chosen "by the people."
Actually, rebuilding activist Justin Berzon — author of the "Standing Tall" proposal to restore the Twin Towers — cites a 2002 survey for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation conducted as the public debated alternative submissions. While 25 percent of respondents supported Libeskind's entry, 33 percent backed the THINK architectural team's latticework scaffolds that suspend cultural facilities high above Gotham's sidewalks. And 42 percent chose "Neither."
In other words, Libeskind's "powerful public consensus" won the bronze medal, behind nothing!
Why should the French have all the riots?
New York Times, November 27, 2005
Revolting High Rises
By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
There is a somewhat comic lining around the cloud
of France's suburban riots. Suddenly the word
banlieue has been embraced by people not known
for peppering their conversation with French
words - callers to right-wing talk shows, for
instance. Obviously, they want to stress how
different those suburbs (burning cars and hip-hop
hand gestures) are from our own (swing sets and
Weber grills). European politicians, anxious lest
their countries be perceived as "the next
France," have made a similar point. Wolfgang
Schäuble, a prominent German Christian Democrat,
said recently, "We do not have these gigantic
high-rise projects that they have on the edge of
Meanwhile, people in Marseille, which has one of
the heaviest concentrations of immigrants'
children in France, were relieved that their city
was left mostly unscathed when those children
staged a nationwide uprising. What is different
about Marseille, residents say, is that it is too
hemmed in by mountains and sea to ship its poor
to the outskirts. Executives, entrepreneurs and
others who don't have to punch the clock are the
ones who live farther out - in Aix-en-Provence,
for instance, which is reachable by fast trains.
Marseille is not like most French cities, where
the urban core is made up of neatly tended
architectural treasures and the disorder is
pushed to the periphery. It is turned inside out,
so that "inner city" and "suburbia" retain their
American connotations. That may have spared
Marseille a lot of problems.
La crise des banlieues turns out to be an
ambiguous phrase. Is there a problem in France's
suburbs or with France's suburbs? For Schäuble,
it's the buildings. For the boosters of
Marseille, it's where you put them.
The Swiss architect Le Corbusier, as Francophobes
have been more than ready to explain, bears some
of the blame for both. His designs inspired many
of the suburbs where the riots of October and
November began. In fact, he inspired the very
practice of housing the urban poor by building up
instead of out. Soaring apartments, he thought,
would finally give sunlight and fresh air to city
laborers, who had been trapped in narrow and
fetid back streets since the dawn of
urbanization. But high-rise apartments mixed
badly with something poor communities generate in
profusion: groups of young, armed, desperate
males. Anyone who could control the elevator bank
(and, when that became too terrifying to use, the
graffiti-covered stairwells) could hold hundreds
of families ransom.
Le Corbusier called houses "machines for living."
France's housing projects, as we now know, became
machines for alienation. In theory, the cause of
this alienation is some mix of the buildings
themselves and the way they're joined to the
city. But in practice, the most effective urban
renewal has tended to focus on the buildings. It
focuses on the buildings by razing them.
The Netherlands provides the best example of how
this works. Amsterdam and Rotterdam stand in the
same urban-planning relationship as Paris and
Marseille. The core of golden-age buildings along
Amsterdam's canals are surrounded by
industrial-age apartments and then by a fan of
housing projects. Rotterdam, because it was
rebuilt after heavy bombing in World War II, has
big concentrations of poor and working-class
people, many of them immigrants and their
children, living in the bull's-eye of the
So the two cities are urban-planning opposites.
And since the murder of the filmmaker Theo van
Gogh by a Dutch Islamist last year, it has become
common to speak of them as political opposites.
Amsterdam's mayor, Job Cohen, represents the
Labor Party, which has controlled the city for
decades and is often accused of excessive
multicultural sensitivity. Rotterdam's housing
policy is in the hands of Leefbaar Rotterdam, the
party of the populist Pim Fortuyn, who was
assassinated in 2002. Until recently, the housing
boss was Marco Pastors, a charismatic and
controversial leader known for tough talk on
Yet the cities' redevelopment policies are
virtually identical. Both are well into a
headlong retreat from gigantism and uniformity.
The notorious high rises of De Bijlmer in
southeastern Amsterdam were completed only in
1975 but were soon generating the kind of
pathology on display in the banlieues. A
succession of Labor mayors have presided over
their dismantling to make way for smaller "garden
houses." When the city determined that 11,000
units of housing were needed in the Nieuw West
area, it decided to demolish 13,000 units and
build 24,000 on a more neighborly scale, to avoid
what Cohen calls "huge, stretched-out deprived
In right-wing Rotterdam, meanwhile, Pastors has
done almost exactly the same thing. He poured
resources into mixed-income projects started by
the Labor Party in the once-dismal neighborhood
of Bospolder-Tussendijken and added others of his
own. His reasoning is the same as Cohen's. Both
argue for maximum residential diversity on the
grounds that people now have "housing careers."
In the old days, the argument runs, a person with
a working-class identity could live in
"working-class housing." But today people have
housing careers that vary as much as their
professional ones. When they are young and not
terribly bothered by noise, they might choose
small, functional places close to cultural
attractions and nightlife. They can move to
larger, quieter ones when they have families and
then trade space for comfort when their children
leave home. Corbusier-style city planning shows
no evidence of having considered this. If you
don't vary the housing units in a given
neighborhood - if you fill entire quarters of the
city with standard-issue monoliths - you condemn
upwardly mobile people to constant movement. The
only people who develop any sense of place are
those trapped in the poverty they started in.
In the course of the October uprising, French
observers called this slum-based sense of place a
"nationalisme de quartier." It is a problem.
Residents of some of the most dismal projects
have often proved unwilling to relocate, even
when the government has promised to move them
into much nicer places. Perhaps they have grown
attached to their dangerous homes and neighbors.
It is more likely that they're leery about
accepting the promises of any government that
once stuck them in such a depressing spot to
Christopher Caldwell, a contributing writer, has
recently written about Turkey for the magazine.
Monday, November 28, 2005
No Soup For MTA
Is New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority taking New Yorkers for a ride? Last week they were selling a special unlimited ride card for the holidays, good until January 2nd. Now we find out there may be a New York bus and subway strike starting December 15th. Merry Christmas!
Bride & Prejudice
I've replayed some of the tunes on the Monsoon Wedding and Bend It Like Beckham DVDs over and over. So I took out the DVD for the Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha's musical tribute to Bollywood, Hollywood and Jane Austen.
The language of Bride & Prejudice, in which Mr. Darcy becomes a Californian and Elizabeth Bennet a Sikh named Lalita Bakshi, loses the eloquence of Austen, and most of the music isn't a lot better. Unlike Monsoon Wedding and Bend It Like Beckham, which used Bollywood hits of the time, Bride & Prejudice has original songs, and they're just not hits. And instead of being all Bollywood, they pay tribute to Bollywood musicals, Broadway musicals, Hip Hop and other traditions. But I still liked the big Bollywood number.
The movie's saved by the Bollywood number and three other things: the look of the movie, its look at Indian domestic life, and the Indian star in the lead role, Aishwarya Rai. She gained 20 pounds for the movie (because she thought her character shouldn't look like a Supermodel), but put her on screen with fifty people, and she's still the one you look at.
Rai is not a great actress by Western standards -- like Ginger Rogers, she often substitutes mugging for acting. But she mugs well, and she's India's biggest star, with 17,000 sites on the world wide web.
* At least the Bollywood song and dance made for Westerners. I've never managed to sit through a real Bollywood movie.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
I'm a sucker for New England, even if it seems to be increasingly full of drunken, white, twenty-somethings wearing Red Sox hats with absurdly curved bills yelling “Yankees Suck!” So one year I went to Plimoth Plantation on Thanksgiving Day.
The day was cold and miserable. The wind blew off the ocean and up the main street, pushing the smoke from the house fires back into the drafty and smelly shacks. As corny as that might sound, it made me appreciate something of what the early American settlers went through to establish their new lives.
The Pilgrims arrived in Plimoth in December 1621, and spent their first winter aboard the Mayflower. Half of them died before the spring came. The rest thanked the Lord for their blessings.
Today, Plimoth Plantation closes before December, because a New England winter in the open is hard, and we don't like hard things.
American Friends of the Georgian Group
American Institute of Architects
Art Institute of Chicago
Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches
Bedford Free Library
Bedford Historical Society
Bedford Riding Lanes Association
Boston Society of Architects
Bronxville Historical Conservancy
Central Park Conservancy
Charleston Library Society
Chiswick House Friends
Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation
Darien Historical Society
Federated Conservationists of Westchester County
Friends of Boscobel
Friends of Historic Deerfield
Friends of Drayton Hall
Friends of Historic Richmond Town
Friends of the John Jay Heritage Center
Friends of the John Jay Homestead
Friends of Lyndhurst
Friends of Mostly Mozart
Friends of the Mount
Friends of Mt. Vernon
Friends of Oakleigh
Friends of Oakley Plantation
Friends of Piccolo Spoleto
Genesee Country Village
Historic Charleston Foundation
Historic Hudson Valley
Historic Richmond Town
Historic Santa Fe
Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich
Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America
Litchfield Historical Society
Merchants House Museum
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Mianus River Gorge
Municipal Art Society
Museum of the City of New York
Nantucket Historical Society
National Baseball Hall of Fame
National Building Museum
National Town Builders Association
National Trust for Historic Preservation
New-York Historical Society
New York Society Library
New York State Historical Association
Old Alabama Town
Preservation Society of Charleston
Preservation Society of Newport
Project for Public Spaces
Providence Preservation Society
Rhode Island Historical Society
Royal Oak Foundation
Save Fenway Park
Slow Food USA
Society of Architectural Historians
Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
Spoleto Festival USA
Telfair Museum of Art
Trustees of the Reservations
Tryon Palace Council of Friends
Villa Capra Valmarana "La Rotonda"
Villa La Rocca Pisani.
Westchester Historical Society
Westchester Land Trust
Western Pennsylvania Conservation
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
So this is it, an ugly fortified tower that no one wants to be in, and a New Jersey shopping mall (and look what it does to Calatrava's Port Authority station).
The Port Authority of New York and NEW JERSEY has announced they're going to build a shopping mall just like the ones in New Jersey. It will include a "monument" (next to TJ MAXX?).