Thursday, July 26, 2007
Before you try to reinvent a place, you should be able to equal it.
IT'S the Sixties all over again: architects, politicians and machers are promoting urban-removal mega-projects — and the people are fighting back. In the early Sixties, Jane Jacobs fought Robert Moses and helped stop a highway through the middle of Washington Square and Greenwich Village. A year or so later, Jane Jacobs, Philip Johnson and Jackie Onassis fought against the demolition of McKim, Mead & White's Pennsylvania Station, but lost, and the city suffered.
”You used to enter the city like a god, now you creep in like a rat,” Vincent Scully famously said about the new and old stations. It's funny that the buildings architects propose today even look like those 1960s buildings (before the Beatles and the Summer of Love). All Power to the People, baby.
The "villages" proposed by New York City's Deputy Mayor in their Olympic proposal are obvious examples of what I'm talking about. The Deputy Mayor even considers himself a new Robert Moses (and says Jane Jacobs was wrong). Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards is another, although Frank Gehry's architecture doesn't look neo-Sixties. But the examples aren't limited to New York, by any means — I got an e-mail today about a project in New Orleans that I briefly wrote about earlier:
The latest news is that Mayor Nagin, often criticized for moving too slowly and doing too little, has listened to the architects who say that what New Orleans needs in its year of crisis is more avant garde architecture. Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid and other celebrities are being brought in to "reinvent the Crescent" and help make New Orleans safe for developers who want to build big glass boxes. The myth of the Howard-Roark-style architectural hero lives on, despite five decades of ego-driven invention making our cities worse places to live.
Will Starchitects be the salvation of New Orleans? Or are Modern architects squabbling about style instead of rebuilding the city?
Here's the e-mail.
PLEASE FORWARD THIS E-MAIL TO YOUR FRIENDS WHO LOVE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS…
Dear Members and Friends:
There is a very important public presentation this Saturday, about the future of New Orleans' Riverfront. Some changes will be improvements for the riverfront, for sure. We hope those will be implemented. But, some proposed changes have us very concerned. That's why, in an unprecedented move, neighborhood leaders of the Marigny, Bywater and French Quarter formed RiverfrontAlliance.org and have been meeting weekly – an aggressive meeting schedule – but we think the issue of the riverfront will likely become a very big controversy.
The city's process, known as "Reinventing the Crescent", has been going on for about 6 months, headed by Sean Cummings, a local developer and head of the city's New Orleans Building Corporation, and a local architectural team, Eskew, Dumez and Ripple – but, it also involved some famous out-of-town planners and architects. Over the past months, the plans have been evolving, and revealed to the public periodically, with the last update in May. This Saturday is the final plan, except for some aspects related to the funding.
What will it reveal? We don't know. None of the neighborhood organizations from Jackson Avenue to the Industrial Canal were invited to be on the steering committee.
One likely controversial part: We suspect, based on presentations, that the plan will include a proposal for high-rises and medium-rises in the historic Bywater neighborhood, where the Mississippi River meets the Industrial Canal, where the current military base is to eventually be decommissioned. We have seen drawings with as many as six towers in this one spot – appearing like "Land of the Giants" alongside the historic Bywater neighborhood.
While we have had opportunities in this process to listen to presentations, ask questions or make comments, this is not a plan from the people, like the UNOP plan was. It is not built upon citizens coming together to say what they want. This plan appears to be what certain hired professionals say we should want.
I'd like to now take you back in time – About five years ago, there was another, earlier riverfront planning process here in New Orleans. Participants were told that the riverfront could be "economic development" for New Orleans. Some of us wondered how the parks and bike paths being discussed, while nice, were going to add all that much to the economy. Ah, but, there was more to it…
Most of the neighborhood leaders were surprised when a plan was revealed to build high-rises and medium-rises at the River, much like you might see along the Florida coast. Towers, we were told, would be economic development. The public never said they wanted this! This idea appeared to be a developer-driven proposal!
Then, Katrina came. Now, we're being told that, post Katrina, the way for us to have a renaissance for New Orleans is to have high-rises and medium-rises at the River! Coincidence? Well, now we don't have to take our local developers word for it – the hired famous out-of -town planners and architects say so!
But, to be clear, not all architects or planners feel this way: During our UNOP downtown planning, when told of a possible plan to build high-rises along the river, an equally famous architect/planner made an eloquent and thought-provoking presentation about how the intimacy of our small scale historic neighborhoods give New Orleans so much character…and how the downriver neighborhoods are amazing to be so intact – this close to the city's downtown. This planner praised this as an asset that the city should treasure and market to attract new residents and visitors – comparing our neighborhoods character and scale to great cities in Europe! It was inspiring to see this fresh through his eyes.
In the darkest days shortly after Katrina, I will never forget meeting in private homes with some of this city's best and brightest neighborhood leaders. We discussed, then, how some day the city was going to seriously consider throwing out the rules and protections for our historic neighborhoods, either out of desperation or because somebody wanted to make $$$ at the expense of the rest of us, with the hurricane being a great excuse.
Is that day here? I hope not. I trust that you'll agree that this city is too amazing, too special, to let that happen. Please join us Saturday to see what they have in mind. See below for more details.
A member of the multi-neighborhood coalition, RiverfrontAlliance.org
P.S. If you haven't signed the petition yet at www.RiverfrontAlliance.org , please do so now. It asks for neighborhood sensitivity and input! We need your support.
The City Riverfront Plan Unveiled
REINVENTING THE CRESCENT
This Saturday, 9 to 11 a.m.
Please join us for the final public presentation regarding the strategic development plan for the New Orleans Riverfront between Jackson Avenue and the Holy Cross neighborhood. Launched in February by the New Orleans Building Corporation and the Port of New Orleans, this important initiative is led by a team of internationally recognized riverfront planners and architects, who will present their master plan at this meeting.
This Saturday, July 28
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Port Authority Auditorium
(Riverside of floodwall at Henderson Street)
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Louisiana was destroyed by gross mismanagement of the delta. It is slipping into the Gulf. That needs to be addressed first.
Posted by: Anonymous at Jul 29, 2007 12:36:32 PM
There's a review in the NY Times today by Ourousoff of an exhibit called "David Adjaye: Making Public Buildings." You can see it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/31/arts/design/31adja.html It's flabbergasting how so many architects still think psychotically blank walls do a good job of framing public space.
Posted by: Gizler at Jul 31, 2007 9:37:30 AM
Here's another hilarious/demoralizing piece, this time from Christopher Hawthorne in the LA Times.
He's willing to concede that, well, perhaps it might be a bad idea for architects to intentionally produce the ugliest buildings possible. However, he continues, "We certainly don't need a new philosophy that says that an architect's primary job is to produce pretty and reassuring buildings. (That way saccharine New Urbanism lies.)" Pretty and reassuring buildings, god forbid, who would want that?
Posted by: Gizler at Aug 9, 2007 2:45:45 PM
This rebuilding of New Orleans is fascinating, yet there is no recognition, apparently, of global climate change. This link may clarify why I think the rebuilding of New Orleans is utterly irrelevant.
This article talks about Jim Hansen's work at the NASA Goddard Space Center. Architects really need to look at maps of projected sea-level rise, and maps of storm/hurricane reach. However, even with the most optimistic scenarios, New Orleans is probably going to be underwater.
Posted by: Mark Robertson at Aug 9, 2007 2:47:20 PM
This is an article about Jim Hansen's work as Director for the Goddard Space Center about climate changes effects
New Orleans probably will be underwater in 100yrs if not sooner.
Architects need to consider climate change, projected sea level rises, and storm reaches when attempting to rebuild in places that will, in all likelihood be underwater, in 100 years and definately vulnerable to storms & hurricanes.
Posted by: Mark Robertson at Aug 9, 2007 4:34:10 PM