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Thread: Sensible Projects and Crazy Pipedreams

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Sensible Projects and Crazy Pipedreams

    SENSIBLE PROJECTS AND CRAZY PIPEDREAMS

    We all know what Burnham said about small plans, but somehow when someone proposes a plan that is not small, it pretty much invariably brings out the sensible, levelheaded pragmatist in us.

    Thank God we don't usually prevail; if we did, the following crazy pipedreams would have succumbed to our collective good sense:

    1. Eiffel Tower.
    2. Guggenheim Museum
    3. Statue of Liberty
    4. Quincy Market recycling
    5. Channel Tunnel
    6. Suez Canal
    7. Brooklyn Bridge
    8. World Trade Center (the first one)
    9. Panama Canal
    10. Boston's Big Dig
    11. Times Square reclamation
    12. Haussmann's boulevards
    13. Mt. Rushmore
    14. Transcontinental Railroad
    15. Seaside, Florida
    16. Venice
    17. every Gothic cathedral everywhere...

    I'm sure you have your own favorites to add to the list. Just remember it's an exclusive list: a requirement to be included is that large numbers of us sensible people were there to pooh-pooh it.

    Right now, levelheaded grownups are about to show the good sense to rebuild the World Trade Center at a reasonable size, while hardly a week goes by without some sensible pragmatist's new proposal to expeditiously finish St. John the Divine. On budget.

    And always vigilant, our elected representatives make sure no taxpayer money is squandered on foolish boondoggles like high speed rail, for which --any fool can see--there is no market.

    Meanwhile, those wild and crazy guys in reckless Shanghai have put up a Maglev to the airport and in Taipei they have zanily constructed the world's tallest building.

    Of course, they don't have representative government and open debate to keep them sensible, but we did when Central Park was approved... How could we have let it happen?

    Most times it makes sense to build nothing, or lacking that, as little as possible. Think of all the money you can save.

    * * *

    Here are some fairly recent big projects where the sensible guys won:

    1. Les Halles redevelopment
    2. Covent Garden redevelopment
    3. Maginot Line
    4. Munich Agreement, 1938
    5. Penn Station redevelopment, 1965ff
    6. Singer Building redevelopment
    7. Montparnasse Tower
    8. Co-op City
    9. Coney Island (housing) redevelopment
    10.Interstate Highway System

    * * *
    Les Halles, the belly of Paris, covered an area about the size of a university campus with vast glass-roofed metal sheds by Baltard. These sheds had very great architectural distinction –indeed they were mind-boggling since they even covered the streets-- but the real reason to visit Les Halles was the tumult.
















    Through these sheds in the wee hours of every morning passed all the fertile countryside's bounty to be consumed fresh daily in the great city that day, whether to be distributed through myriad tiny food purveyors scattered throughout the city or through the restaurants for which Paris was and is renowned. Les Halles was the wholesale food market through which all this fresh produce passed daily on its way to three million stomachs.

    You can imagine what a raffish place this was, like Fulton Fish Market at 5am, but fifty times as big (no, 100 times). The basic underlayment was frogs in blue smocks pushing handcarts, Gauloises glued to their lips and bobbing manically to the rhythm of their irascible banter. The next layer was hotties in miniskirts with their elegant escorts in Gucci loafers, fresh from platters of pig’s feet and liter mugs of Alsatian beer. Tourists came also to stuff themselves and gawk at all this pre-dawn commotion.

    Some came for the ladies, all lined up in doorways along the rue St. Denis, awaiting after-work visits from their favorite blue smocks and whoever else might happen by with a 500 franc note.




    The bars started to hop around 6am, as quitting time neared. At 10 am, all was quiet; you would find a calmer crew of blue smocks, languidly sweeping up cabbage leaves with willow brooms.

    Think Irma La Douce.


    1970


    1970

    Well, you can imagine the truck traffic all this generated in congested Paris, though fortunately in the middle of the night.

    It wasn’t the neighbors who wanted to get rid of the trucks; the neighbors were the ladies, and they loved the truck drivers. And it wasn’t the truck drivers; why, they loved the ladies. Nor was it the restaurateurs and shop owners: not those who served the market or those who bought there.

    No, it was the sensible guys. They knew that rationally this activity belonged in the suburbs, near the highways that lead from the country, in spacious, antiseptic, purpose-built, orderly and up-to-date facilities featuring: loading docks! parking regulations! fire lanes!

    So they packed up the whole Rabelaisian scene and moved it to Rungis. Well, not quite the whole thing: most of the ladies stayed behind and cultivated a new clientele, while the restaurants and bars tried hard to retain their raffish charm. But without their human props they were forced into vaguely Disney poses: they now had to cultivate their atmosphere; it no longer came on a silver platter.

    But here comes the good part. In all this, the sensible guys had not cooked up a plan for what to put in Les Halles’ place. The one thing they knew was that they didn’t want to keep all that cast iron and glass architecture; it looked too…well, unprogressive. So, because they could not agree, they did the only logical thing: they held an international design competition. With Phillip Johnson as chairman of the Jury.

    The Jury picked some Winners, but the public didn’t like any of them, and neither did the politicians. The public missed their messy markets, and so did the tourists. So the politicians ignored the Winners, and after five or more years of bickering over a now-bleak construction site, they finally came up with…a park and a suburban shopping mall!!


    Les Halles in its [their] final days, 1971. The cleared area in the foreground awaits construction of the Pompidou Centre.


    Halles cleared, Pompidou built, 1978.


    How it sat for a period of years while they squabbled about what to replace it with:


    What they replaced it with:


    They were slightly ashamed of the suburban shopping mall, so they put it mostly underground. The suburbanites cruise in to visit their mall, where they feel comfortable, and think they have spent the day in Paris.
















    Like South Street Seaport, but without any old buildings, and pretty much underground.
    Rational. Progressive. Sensible. Not a pipedream…

    The last word belongs to enzo, on Wired New York: “it looks like it's sucking central Paris down a drain into Hell!”

    The sanitized market in the suburb of Rungis (no smoking):

    No blue smocks.





    You want to See how Les Halles was?: Rent the Billy Wilder movie, Irma La Douce, with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon.
    You want to see how it is?: go down to your local mall in maybe Passaic or Huntington.

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    There are still people who think that Mt Rushmore screwed up a nice part of the Black Hills.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    You start out with the concept of a "pipe dream," but I might dispute many of your examples. I would call a pipe dream either something physically impractical, or infeasable due to the existing market conditions. For example, you could talk of a public transit in my rural community, but it would be impractical because too few people live here, too few people work in the community, and too few of the jobs in the community are filled by local workers. Then as Lee suggests, let's not assume that a pipe dream (as you define it) is always a good thing. Mount Rushmore is a very good example. If anything, it memorializes the stealing of the Black Hills by the US government from the Sioux. It respects neither the environment nor the cultural significance of the place to the indiginous people.
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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    A pipedream is something that, because of its unfeasibility or lack of demand, would never occur to someone with good sense.

    For this reason, pipedreams generally encounter opposition from people with good sense, which includes most of us.

    Cardinal, you obviously have good sense, and you don't like Mt. Rushmore. It fits the definition, and it apparently still has opponents.

    It was certainly unfeasible; it killed its creator.

    The Black Hills are very nice, but there are a lot of them. I don't think Mt. Rushmore is much of an ecological disaster.

    But definitely a pipedream.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Great post ablarc. I'm with you: There's nothing wrong with dreaming big projects. Of the places and monuments you listed, I wonder what the power structure and political influences were behind each.

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    There is nothing wrong with thinking big. I spent most of the last four years working on conservation projects that encompass hundred of thousands, if not millions of acres. But, no let me capitalize that, BUT it is equally important to understand the costs of a vision.

    Some "big" projects are for personal aggrandizement. Some, the transcontinental railroad would be a spectacular example (see Bain's Empire Express), are built on a foundation of worker's health, or even bodies, and/or corruption. I'm not interested in railing about this, but small IS beautiful. And taking the small steps with respect and compassion for the land and people, is the only way we will attain a vision we can all live with.

  7. #7
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    And taking the small steps with respect and compassion for the land and people, is the only way we will attain a vision we can all live with.
    I don't think we can ever attain a vision we can all live with.

    Mt. Rushmore is an example of bad pipdream. It massaged an ego.

    I think the construction of pipedreams should be accomplished only when they make our lives better. The Big Dig was massively expensive and disruptive, but it solved problems that helped to make sections of Boston much more humane than before, in my opinion.

    A better example of a successful, humanly advantageous pipedream would definitely be the Haussmanization of 1850s Paris. It was very disruptive and also very expensive, but turned Paris from a filthy, medieval city into the progentior of cities as beautiful.

    We should definitely continue to pipdream, but when evaluating it, we should scrutinize who it benefits.

    Does it massage an ego or instead make life better for those impacted by it? I vote we encourage the later, way before the former.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    "Clinton's Ditch" AKA Erie Canal was deemed a crazy idea at the time, but in the end it really wasn't that crazy of an idea. It opened up the mid-west to the east coast at that time, followed by the railroad.
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


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    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    Well perhaps Washington DC would fit, many many folks during the day viewed the creation of DC as crazy, a pipedream or even horrible due to swamps, indians and being in the middle of now where. It took decades to catch on but now its a world class city.

    Course yes I am biased
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

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    "horrible due to swamps"

    Given the climate and the human swamps of modern politics, maybe they were right about DC

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    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    I think because of many of the ill-conceived urban renewal developments of past decades, we are more aware of the Big Project's affect on the little guy. Its mostly a good thing that we think about who the Pipedream will be displacing.

  12. #12
    Pipe Dream in three words: La Sagrada Familia.

    Gaudi's vision, an architectural ego exceeded by none, but a place of worship to be used by all. Certainly a pipe dream -- if memory serves Gaudi's programme for construction envisioned at least a century from start to finish. But what would Barcelona be without La Sagrada Familia piercing the skyline as no other building before it or since, or any of Gaudi's other magnificent works, for that matter?

    It is a shame what is happening to it now.
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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    It is a shame what is happening to it now.
    Off-topic:
    What is happening to it?
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  14. #14
    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    Off-topic:
    What is happening to it?
    After Gaudi's premature death, (he was old, but he died when he was run over by a street car), the civil wars and economic stagnation, the building languished. Then, about 10 years ago they got going again, but the work is an atrocity compared to Gaudi's original vision. Pre-cast concrete figures are being added with hard, geometric forms, as opposed to Gaudi's fluid, art nouveau approach. The form of the cathedral itself is much-changed from Gaudi's plan as well. I guess the "sensible thinkers" have gotten to those holding the purse strings.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  15. #15
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    the "Big Dig" was both a pipe dream and a bad idea. In that documetary on it there's a guy standing out in front of a backhoe when construction first started and says:

    "$7 billion? in 15 years we're going to be bumper to bumper in some tunnel, chocking on fumes, asking, 'what the hell were we thinking?'"

    I think he got it right, except it's $14 billion.

    Likewise i'd say the WTC was a pipedream and a bad idea. The thing was at or below 60% occupancy for the first 20 years - all the warnings were out there about the soft office market but they did it anyway and really put a hurting on the NYC office market for a decade . . . and that's to say nothing about the design of the place. Of course this was all paid for with bridge and tunnel money, with transit fares, and with airport user fees.
    The PA really made a concerted effort to keep it out the press. Neither of my parents and none of my four grandparents remembered it being built even though they could see it on their daily travels.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    WHAT AN URBAN MALL CAN BE, I.: Milan
















    WHAT AN URBAN MALL CAN BE, II: Istanbul





















    Sensible projects or crazy pipedreams?

    btw, Osama Bin Laden has targeted the second one. All that wicked, Western consumerism.
    Last edited by ablarc; 16 Feb 2004 at 11:39 AM.

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    What a majestic and beautiful temple to consumerism!

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