Category Archives: Politics

George F. Will weighs in on architecture

This, a model of Frank Gehry's proposed Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, DC, is the project in question. Image courtesy DCist.

Everyone, meet George F. Will. He’s a syndicated right-wing columnist at the Washington Post (although at the rate things are going, maybe not for much longer) and the author of this recent gem, a jaw-dropping exhibition of architectural ignorance and general idiocy. The full breakdown after the break. Continue reading

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Catching up on architecture: Fixing Penn Station, living large and more

—”What is the value of architecture? It can be measured, culturally, humanely and historically, in the gulf between these two places,” wrote New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman in a February 12 piece in which he presented his own idea for fixing the atrocious Penn Station. He is right that Penn Station is atrocious and that it needs fixing, though I quibble with his insistence on somehow removing Penn Station from below Madison Square Garden. There is nothing inherently wrong with the current system; certainly it’s less grandiose than some would like, but that means that it has some serious potential for the interesting, small-scale contemporary architecture of the future — the kind Kimmelman spends most of his time prattling on about. Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of improving Penn Station. I just wish Kimmelman had approached the issue with more of an open mind. (To his credit, he does make a point in his piece to call the ego projects like the new World Trade Center site PATH station “architectural follies” on which we “waste unconscionable amounts of public money.” Amen.)

Do you like the current Penn Station? If you answered no, congratulations! You're a sane individual! Image courtesy Visiting DC.

—Living large, no wait, scratch that: Living very large. That’s the subject of this Wall Street Journal article on the lives and homes of the ubër-rich. Most of the rather long article can be summed up in the sentence, “Wow, some people just have a lot of money,” but author Juliet Chung does make one quite interesting yet surely unwitting point. She writes extensively about Anthony Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, and a member of the family for which architecture’s highest honor is named (Chung doesn’t note that part). Well Anthony now lives in a 50,000-square-foot house above LA, and from the aerial photo in the Journal, it looks at once gargantuan and uninteresting. So much for being a serious patron of the arts.

—Speaking of tremendous wealth and insular division, remember my last post about Charles Murray’s new book about division in America? Discussion of that book has been absolutely taking off across the web. For you, my loyal readers, I’ve selected some of the most interesting responses to the book:

  • The liberal economist Paul Krugman of the Times unsurprisingly disagrees with much of what Murray presents. Though Krugman’s main thesis, that much of the ‘moral crisis’ Murray describes has its root in poor economic conditions for lower-income people, has some validity to it, many of his arguments are weak, hyper-partisan and lacking in thoughtfulness.
  • The centrist David Brooks, also of the Times, says that both Krugman and Murray stopped actually thinking in 1975. Very, very valid. Score one for David Brooks!
  • The conservative David Frum, of the failing incestuous marriage that is Newsweek Magazine/The Daily Beast, has a five-part takedown of Murray’s new book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” Frum is on the offensive and he has his wits about him: the zingers in this review have palpable dead-on sharpness.

For the record, I still have some sympathy for much of what Murray presents. And I’m glad that his book and essay have sparked some lively interent dialogue.

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Murray on division in America

Sorry for not posting in a while. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I promise I’ll do better.

Perhaps the most interesting piece I’ve read in a long while comes from the libertarian scholar Charles Murray in the Wall Street Journal: it’s the essay “The New American Divide.”

I recommend reading the whole thing, but for those who don’t, basically Murray argues that we have a massive class divide between upper-level income earners and lower-level income earners that spans beyond income to almost all aspects of our culture. He blames this largely on government entitlement programs but doesn’t present a clear plan for moving forward (this is not necessarily a flaw in the writing).

I haven’t yet read Murray’s new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” which pertains to many of the same themes, but I plan to soon.

Murray’s work has gotten only some of the attention it deserves (here’s David Brooks of the New York Times drawing a nonsensical conclusion from it). You don’t have to agree with all of his conclusions — I don’t — to recognize the validity of a massive phenomenon that he cogently recognizes and presents.

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This not architecture-specific, per say, but I do believe that it has significant implications in terms of both architecture and urban planning. Look forward to another post on that topic soon.

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The economics of government spending on architecture

We’ve been in all-out government-slashing mode since last year’s elections. The dialogue goes something like this:

Democrat: Let’s cut spending to reasonable levels and figure out ways to pay for what we really need.

Republican: Let’s brutally slash spending on programs that help people and then cut taxes for rich people!

Can someone remind me again why Americans elect Republicans? Even the most intelligent conservative economists understand that what Republicans in Congress are currently proposing would damage the economy and help only the wealthiest. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, that lonely voice of intellectual conservatism, has taken a step back from its usual cheerleading of antitax-ism.

Some basic economics — and how they tell us that government should spend money on public goods like civic architecture — after the break. Continue reading


Defending my post on cycling

This is quite the photograph.

I had some pretty harsh words yesterday for what I see as the often excessive and self-indulgent culture of cycling. My criticism certainly went against the grain and drew some strong criticism of its own. Some is legitimate; some less so. And much of it seems based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what I was trying to say — perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. A full defense of my post after the break. Continue reading

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When cycling culture goes too far

You can find the first five parts here, here, here, here and here.

Photo courtesy TripleC

My views on cycling after the break.

Continue reading

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A day to remember

Today we’re all remembering the tragedy of 9/11. This has, of course, meant different things to different people. A special feature in today’s New York Times entitled “The Reckoning” examines the impact of 9/11 from a variety of different standpoints. It doesn’t pretend to give definitive answers; rather it recognizes and remembers a tragedy while also helping readers to look at it constructively and objectively.

Not everyone took as good an approach. Many news outlets have basked in the sick glory of finding something to inflate into a week-long nonstop tear-jerker. And some have decided that today is the day to make cynical political points. I’m talking about Paul Krugman, usually a favorite columnist of mine, who posted an obnoxious blog post this morning arguing that we’ve failed terribly as a nation in a multitude of ways since 9/11. Some of his points are well taken, and all are well argued, but I can’t fathom why Krugman felt the need to make them today, or in such a contrary tone. There’s a difference between looking at what we’ve done since then rationally, and disparaging a decade of our history angrily and one-sided-ly.

Today is also the day that the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York opened. (I blogged about this memorial several weeks ago.) I’m still not sure the design is as good as it could be, but as I’ve been inundated with more and more pictures of it, I’ve come to like it a little more. I’m reserving final judgement for when I actually go and see it myself. (For an in-depth look at the memorial, check out this feature from the New York Times.)

Since the memorial consists of two voids, it’s hard not to remember the buildings that once stood there. Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the World Trade Center towers were not good pieces of architecture. They were nervously delicate, huge buildings from a nervous Modernist who was never entirely comfortable with Modernism. Like many of Yamasaki’s buildings, they never seemed sure of their size or their place. Their boldness of size was bizarrely countered with the false delicacy of their narrow windows.

The buildings now rising in their place are also not shaping up to be masterpieces, despite the involvement of more famous architects than I can count in their designs. But there are elements of the plan to be excited about, and the reopening of a road cut off by Yamasaki’s original design is a sign of both progress and healing.

What’s important to remember today is that a tragedy happened 10 years ago, and we need to remember it. We have a grand, somber memorial to do that. We shouldn’t remember it falsely — since their destruction, the twin towers have come to be known as beautiful, which they never were. We should remember the people who died, who were injured or who were affected, the damage done to our nation, and we should remember the lessons we learned.

We can also look backward from a vantage point of ten years later, and try to figure out whether we reacted well or poorly — what we handled properly and what we could have done differently. We can take what we learn with us as we move forward. But today, remembering should come first.

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The Way(s) Forward for Urbanism, Part III

I’ve been blogging really often lately, a trend I hope will continue for the foreseeable future. Enjoy.

So on to part III of my series on the future of urban design. The first part took us to Paris with ideas from Christian de Portzamparc; the second to New Orleans with a review of a new development by Nicolai Ouroussoff. This third one will be a bit different — rather than presenting cutting-edge, intellectual ideas on urbanism, I’ll focus on a tried-and-true strategy for development, one that’s as political as architectural. Nothing radical at all, mind you, though a certain political party (I no longer distinguish between the ‘tea party’* and the Republican Party) would have you think so. In fact, it’s super simple:

No, this does not actually exist, but I wish it did.

High-speed rail. (What?! Government spending? That’s not allowed! Cut, cut, cut!)

Read on past the break for my full argument for high-speed rail. Continue reading