The High Line Park: Turnstyles Anyone?

by Bill Butos

The recently opened High Line Park in the hip Chelsea area on New York’s West Side is all the rage.  The High Line sits on a stretch of a defunct elevated freight railway along 10thAvenue from Ganesvoort St. (which is just south of 14th St.) to 20th street.  The City plans to extend it to 34th St.   A green urban advocacy group, Friends of the High Line, has steered this part of the project to completion.  It’s become a tourist destination and a favorite platform for celebs and fashionistas.  And it fits perfectly into the nearby Meatpacking and Chelsea areas with their trendy eateries, late night clubs, and designer clothes shops.  By all accounts it purports to represent the future of urban eco-friendly planning and judging by the number of visitors (about 20,000 per week), it’s a grand success.  (See here and a video appreciation by supporters here.)

After my second walk-through, my appreciation turned slightly positive.  It is fun walking above the streets and catching new perspectives of the City from 30 feet above.  But the empty-lot weeds masquerading as (carefully maintained) indigenous flora still look ugly and many of the views are rather uninspiring.  And I am also a taxpayer. Continue reading

Delirious New York: A reaction, not a review

by Sandy Ikeda

I started reading Rem Koolhaas’s insightful but seemingly endless Delirious New York a couple of years ago and just finished it this morning. Why so long? Well, it’s partly because I don’t read so fast, but mostly because it’s maddeningly obscure, both its structure and prose.

Although it has a lot of interesting and important things to say about the “culture of congestion,” RK’s writing is as self-indulgent as his architecture.  Architecture should not be art, non-fiction should not be (mostly) non-sense. Continue reading

Two interesting models of urban redevelopment

by Sandy Ikeda

From the New York Times, “An Effort to Save Flint, Mich., by Shrinking It”:

Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods. The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval.

After Katrina, some urbanists urged New Orleans authorities to adopt something like this policy of “planed shrinkage,” but largely for political reasons it was summarily rejected.

Given New Orleans’s cultural heritage, perhaps they might also find Cleveland’s approach useful, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, “Artists v. Blight”: Continue reading

The mirage of the efficient city

by Sandy Ikeda

I’m honored to be contributing a short essay to a Festschrift for Jane Jacobs.  Recently, the editor asked me to write an abstract.  The following is the result, which I would like to share with you:

A city is not a man-made thing.  Rather, it emerges from the actions of its inhabitants, who interact in unpredictable yet orderly ways.  Under the right conditions – the right “rules of the game” – what arises is vital, creative, radically unpredictable, and profitable:  the living city. Continue reading

Infrastructure: How the seen crowds out the unseen

by Sandy Ikeda

So far I’ve come across no discussion of the consequences that the massive infrastructure spending touted in Stimulus Package I (there will of course be others) will have on what Nathan Glazer called “the fine structure of society” in the local communities it will impact.

A new freeway, for example, might make it possible to get from point A to point B faster, but it can also reduce the local economies of A and B, as well as those in between, to barren border vacuums. Note that this is apart from whether they will be built in a timely manner or if the measured economic benefits they generate somehow cover their construction costs.

Because nearly all of the debate has taken place within a macroeconomic framework, most public intellectuals seem to have neglected how such a massive and rapid increase in physical-infrastructure might undermine this fine structure. Some have mentioned the “bridge to nowhere” syndrome or questioned whether the stimulus spending will actually stimulate quickly enough. And a few, like my colleague Mario Rizzo, have brought up the important resource-allocation effects. But I’m talking about something different here. Continue reading

New York, the unfinished city

by Sandy Ikeda

A friend from France, who is both an artist and an economist, on a visit to New York last year said she loves this place so much because every time she comes here she always finds it new and interesting. Well, couldn’t you say that about any great city? Apparently not.

Thomas Bender’s The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea observes:

Those who have Paris or Vienna or Budapest or Mexico City or Buenos Aires (or one of many other cities) in their minds as proper metropolitan centers will be disappointed by New York. From such a point of view New York has not yet completed its progress to full metropolitan status. But that perspective radically mistakes the case. New York’s character is to be unfinished. It is not a failed or incomplete example of something else; it is sui generis…It’s very essence is to be continually in the making, to never be completely resolved.

Max Page describes this process in terms of the dialectic between economic development and city planning, in his interesting and informative book, The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, where he quotes O. Henry’s famous quip: “It’ll be a great place if they ever finish it.” Continue reading

Ken-Ichi Sasaki on “Urban Tactility”

by Sandy Ikeda

One of the most striking things about the Tokyo skyline, at least for me, is how striking it isn’t. Viewed from afar — e.g., from its very-expensive-to-use elevated expressways (Narita Airport is too far from the city center to afford a decent panorama from the air) — the city, with few exceptions (such as Tokyo Tower), looks boxy and visually uninteresting.

This may be partly because much of Tokyo’s skyline was rebuilt after a terrible earthquake in 1923 and bombing in World War II. Yet the skylines of San Francisco (after the 1905 earthquake) and London (also the target of bombing during the war) are more interesting today than Tokyo’s.

The contrast between street-level and bird’s-eye views, on which Jane Jacobs based her opposition to modernist urban planning, is true to some extent of nearly all great cities, but in Tokyo’s case it’s especially stark. When I visualize New York or London, for example, in addition to the busy street life I also imagine their iconic landmarks, like the Wall Street and Midtown skylines or the Tower Bridge and Parliament. When I try to visualize Tokyo, only the street life comes to mind. Its almost insane busyness squeezed among impossibly compact city blocks can cause sensory overload. Continue reading

No Palazzo Chupi in Bedford Falls

by Sandy Ikeda

Palazzo Chupi
(Photo by Erik J. Sommer)

This is artist and film-maker Julian Schnabel’s fantastical condo, “Palazzo Chupi,” a multi-story, candy-colored “palace” planted onto an old garage in the West Village in Manhattan. More on this in a moment. But first I’d like to talk about the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Continue reading