The debate continues over how to make New York City’s streets less crowded, safer and better for people as well as cars. Some, like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, call for congestion pricing in Manhattan, although so far the New York State Legislature has not allowed that. Mayor Bill de Blasio and groups such as Transportation Alternatives promote Vision Zero, aiming for zero traffic deaths in New York City by 2024.
It’s worth looking at European cities, which have led the movement to make city streets that are as good for public life as they are for driving. In recent months, I’ve visited four of the cities with the most innovative street designs: London, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Continue reading
TOM WOLFE died last week. Here’s a story about a kind thing he did for me over 25 years ago.
I was in the lobby at the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, where I had been invited to speak at an architecture conference. The keynote speakers were Tom Wolfe and James Howard Kunstler, but Jim had to cancel, and he recommended that they invite me to speak in his place.
When I got there, it was clear that they were wary. I was young, they didn’t know me, and this was a big day for them.
I was standing at the registration desk, feeling awkward, when Tom Wolfe walked in.
“Hi Tom,” I said, “Do you remember me?”
“JOHN MASSENGALE,” he said, in a large stage voice, “the man who taught me everything I know about architecture.”
A LONG TIME AGO, I turned on “All Things Considered” just in time to hear someone talking about suburban sprawl. He spoke for about a minute, succinctly saying things I was thinking about but had not said as well or concisely.
“We have been speaking with James Howard Kunstler, who lives in Saratoga Springs, New York,” the announcer said, and I called information to get his phone number (which shows how long ago this was).
I called him. He answered, and I started to introduce myself.
“Take your amnesia pills, John,” he said. “You’re in the book.”
He had interviewed me a year or two earlier for The Geography of Nowhere, but I had forgotten.
New York City’s Historic Districts and Landmarks Are Under Siege
Have you noticed how many ideas and movements from the 1960s are back in a big way? Feminism. The civil rights movement. Streets for People, which was the title of a book Bernard Rudofsky wrote in 1969. New York’s own Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961 and protested the demolition of Penn Station in 1963. In 1965, New York City passed its historic Landmarks Preservation Act and created the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Continue reading
“I am the least racist person you will ever meet.”
“No one respects women more than me. No one reads the Bible more than me.”
“There’s nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have.”
“There’s nobody who feels more strongly about women’s health issues.”
“Nobody knows more about taxes than me, maybe in the history of the world.” Continue reading
WE SAW HIM around 10 am, seemingly waiting out the snowstorm. Around 12:15, when there was a break in the snow, he spotted lunch flying by and took off in pursuit.
What’s the difference between traditional and neo-traditional design? Probably not what you think. More on traditional and neo-traditional design after the photos.
Jane Jacobs wrote 12 wide-ranging, brilliant books. In them she wove together ideas about cities, city life, politics, economics, and social and cultural issues, so it’s hard to succinctly summarize her contributions to tonight’s topic of affordable housing in New York City. The most directly relevant writing was in her first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which came from her experience of living in Greenwich Village. As you can see on YouTube, President Obama agrees that was “the most important book ever written on cities.”
Jacobs wrote about affordable housing in Death and Life in a chapter she called, “The need for aged buildings.” Good cities need old buildings, she said. That’s because the cost of new construction requires landlords to charge high rents to cover their costs, rents that only wealthy tenants and the most profitable businesses can afford.
THIS IS a difficult building to photograph, and a Northern Italian Renaissanc church with a loosely Byzantine interior wouldn’t normally be my favorite. But it is so well done. The perfect proportions, the details in the entrance in antis, the powerful interior space in the Latin Cross under the dome, the Guastavino vaults and light iron details…all work together so well, convincing anyone with eyes that this is a great building. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, take a look.
There once was a tree on Nantucket,
With none of its roots in a bucket,
“That can’t be,”
Said the state DOT,
But no car has ever yet struck it.
THE BROAD crossroads where Wall Street and Broad Street come together is a beautiful space, fully the equal of medieval European plazas. Today, post-911, it’s closed to almost all traffic, because the New York Stock Exchange sits at the southwest corner of the intersection. A few weeks ago, it was the symbolic center of the NYC DOT’s Shared Streets Lower Manhattan, when one Saturday afternoon 60 blocks were designated “shared spaces,” where “Pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles will share the historic streets of Lower Manhattan and motorists [were] encouraged to drive 5 mph.”
When Americans talk about shared space, someone will often say, “We’re not Amsterdam.” Well, parts of Nieuw Amsterdam / New York City make a good place to start shared space experiments. Eighty per cent of Manhattan residents don’t own a car, and only twenty per cent of Manhattan workers commute to work by private car. Then add the fact that many streets in the Financial District have restricted access: some streets are only open to residents or workers employed on the street; while other streets have tank barricades and are only open to emergency and delivery vehicles.
In the real Amsterdam, 85% of the streets today have s speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour (18.6 mph), and the other 15% have a top speed of 50 kph (31 mph). On the slower streets, pedestrian and cyclist have as much right to the street as cars and trucks, and may be anywhere on the street at any time. All of the detritus of traffic engineering—bold stripes and arrows painted on the pavement, large signs, colored bus lanes, and the like—is missing, and at the intersections, there are no stop lights, stop signs, yield signs, or crosswalks. Motor vehicles must be driven at a speed that successfully allows cars and trucks to stop for pedestrians and cyclists in the intersection.
That is “Shared Space.” That is the spirit behind the experiment the DOT tried out on Saturday, August 13, and what it hopes to try again in the future. I hope they will and therefore I make Broad Street my Street of the Day. Some of the my notes on that continue below. Continue reading
LIKE MOST NEW YORKERS, I was happy to see Occupy Wall Street arise.* We need more of that spirit in the neighborhood and preservation battles against the Lords of Real Estate that are welling up all across the city.
When I wrote Occupy Main Street for the Berkshire Record, I didn’t realize that the Record had already published a piece with the same name, at the time of Occupy Wall Street. And in Dallas, Texas, Reoccupy Main Street focused on the battle between Big Box retailers and local stores and commerce. That’s a natural issue in the home of the Berkshare and the Schumacher Institute for a New Economics.
Even though it talks about the intersection of Broad and Wall Streets, my post Occupy Broad Street is not about the 1% versus the 99%. But Broad Street in New York City and Main Street in Great Barrington share a common issue, which is how we reclaim the street for everyone, after giving it to the car the last 50 to 100 years.
Reclaiming Broad Street includes taking the streets around Broad and Wall, many of which are still dominated by cars, and occupying them for people.
NOTRE DAME DU HAUT is a work of beauty and genius. To fully appreciate that you must visit the pilgrimage chapel in the northeast corner of France. Le Corbusier put aside his machine aesthetic and principles of mechanical standardization and embraced the genius loci of the remote hilltop. Inside and out, Notre Dame du Haut stirs the soul. Continue reading
MANY ARCHITECTURE SCHOOLS in the northeast have become more like art schools than architecture schools. They emphasize conceptual “autonomous” architecture and personal expression, and neglect materials, construction, composition, context, placemaking… the list goes on and on. When I was on a design jury with Michael Graves about a year before his death at one of the most prominent architecture schools in the northeast, Michael didn’t know what to say, because none of the students were designing architecture as he knew it (and he didn’t want to criticize them). “They’re not drawing buildings, they’re drawing pictures of buildings,” said one of the other jurors. Like me, he had been a student of Michael.
Last week, I happened to see this renovated student lounge at Columbia, which looks to me like a Delta Airlines lounge at any airport anywhere in the world. And a few days before that I was at Le District, a “French food court” (oxymoron) advertised as “New York with a French attitude.” In reality, it has all the architectural charm of the upscale, tax-free shopping mall at Heathrow Airport.
The new, nearby Eataly—a place with wonderful food—isn’t even as good as the best parts of Heathrow. It just looks like many sub-urban shopping malls. That’s shocking for a place selling the Italian brand. No country in the Western world has as much man-made beauty as Italy, where even the choice of the table cloth and the placement of the silverware on a restaurant table are frequently a work of art.
In other words, at the same time that New York has suffered an invasion of “Iconic” buildings that are identical in character to iconic buildings in other centers of global capitalism, it has also suffered a rash of interiors of inexpressive corporate Modernism identical to many other non-places around the world. A surprising number of offices in New York have a very limited range of expression at their fingertips (or mice—this work is rarely hand-drawn, which is part of the problem).
There’s some irony that this comes at the same time as the locavore movement in food, which emphasizes local ingredients and character. Of course Eataly and Le District sell locavorism, Slow Food, and “terroir” at the same time that they sell us national cuisines from another continent in shopping malls. In 2016, global commerce makes strange bedfellows. Continue reading