Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New York and Los Angeles

Jane Jacobs, planning guru, died today. In her book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," Jacobs challenged the logic of 1950's planning, wherein entire cities were demolished, compartmentalized, and warehoused in "architectural masterpieces" (read: towers ringed with moats of grass and asphalt). With her adopted New York neighborhood threatened with annihaliation, Jacobs set out to prove its worth. With the daily life of her Greenwich Village neighborhood as her laboratory, and the utilitarian functions of its streets her proof, we now recognize that cities grow organically and in response to its residents. Though built by people, cities symbiotically respond to and reflect the functional lives of individuals. The mean existence of the student, the garbage man and the shop keeper were elevated above Le Corbusier's Brave New World architecture. Huge swaths of urban America owe their survival to Jacobs.

Ironically, Frank Gehry's proposed Magnum Opus shares today's New York Times with Jacobs. His proposed "downtown L.A." of homogeneous Gehry designed buildings will drop a 14 acre architectural freak-show in the epicenter of America's most un-urban city. Joel Kotkin, planning guru, noted the space is not in response to resident need (there are no residents), not in response to market pressure (there is no market), and not in response to the city's auto-intensive lifestyle.

Really, what the hell is this mess?

Cities are organic, and yet they are inanimate. Gehry's architectural renderings, like those of every other pompous architect, shows people as well as buildings. As Jane Jacobs pointed out, cities grow in response to residents' needs, not the other way around. Unfortunately for Gehry, you can't just draw residents into your architectural fairy land and have it be so.

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