YET ANOTHER GOOD LOOKING CITY
Aw, they’re all the same, these good-looking cities. Seen one, you’ve seen them all. Why, they’re all made out of the same ingredients. [What’s the matter; can’t they break out and do something really original?]
They seem to have boulevards, for example, with unbroken street walls of more-or-less same-height buildings. They don’t seem to mind big signs:
The power of the cornice.
Even when the buildings break out skyward, they hold the street line, so you don’t get a raggedy edge to the street canyon or nifty plazas full of homeless people:
At street level, they have shops, so you don’t get bored walking and hop in your car. If you did that, they would have to provide you with parking lots. These people are walking because they don’t have anywhere to park. They may not even be shoppers:
Good-looking cities all seem to have little old survivors from bygone days, taking up valuable land that could be more intensively developed:
In the French Quarter they would put in a strip club.
They still have anachronisms like multi-story department stores. Haven’t they heard of volume buying and big box retailing, all on one level? Why, you can’t wheel a shopping cart around a place like that; how do they expect to sell a lot of goods? And if you do buy a bunch of stuff, how do you haul it home? Changes needed here.
They could start by tearing down the surrounding buildings for convenient parking:
Shades of Harrod’s.
And did you notice the taxis are all the same color?
The side streets are just like the boulevards, only narrower. No original thinking here. Didn’t the market study tell them there weren’t enough people to support a rip-snorting retail trade? And where was the planning department to helpfully zone out the retail, like a good uncle?
If they ran the utility lines overhead, they wouldn’t have to dig up the street so much.
Street-level retail of a different sort, blocking the sidewalk:
Ah, a mall. They seem to have made this one by roofing over a narrow street:
This is simply over the top. Will they ever get a return on those murals?
Where are the handrail extensions on that stair at left?
Subway’s nice and clean. Platforms aren’t very high. The trains must have small wheels.
And as in all good-looking cities, one of the lines literally creaks with antiquity. The wooden carriages hail from the Twenties:
All good-looking cities seem to have converted their formerly gritty waterfronts to recreational or residential use. Some people miss those funky fish heads:
The fat, stepped glass building is by Cesar Pelli of Petronas fame.
Like every good-looking city, it seems, this one has a nice bridge, cable-stayed and Calatravesque:
They started building skyscrapers way back…
…although some of them didn’t get too far off the ground:
(Oh, this one is a mall!, just built. Sorry about that.)
They have been at it ever since, though this is not long enough to transform the character of good-looking cities, which remain resolutely pre-modernist. There are no good-looking cities based on orthodox modernist theories of city building. There aren’t even any that work well as cities:
Now this building is seriously pink.
It seems that good-looking cities are those whose present character was established before World War I. This is what separates New York from Los Angeles, Boston from Phoenix.
As they expand outward over time, these good-looking places all seem to peter out into outskirts where they seem to forget how cities are made. The result is abrupt juxtaposition of incompatible scales, in which point blocks are grafted onto diminutive pre-existing edge-city urban fabric that the French call banlieu or faubourg (false city). Where are the NIMBYs when they are needed?
Here, Corbu is king. In place of streets there are plazas and “open space”. The new buildings are often even taller than in the inner city with its regulated building volumes—so the population density is high—but the street level experience is not really urban and there is not much street life. The people are there, they just don’t go out much. When they do, they get in their cars, conveniently stashed in the basement. They are living in the suburbs, you see; don’t let the high-rises fool you. Think Arlington, Va. Or think Charles River Park.
This gives you the benefits of, let’s see, peace and quiet, green space and your car a short elevator ride outside your door, a swimming pool, a prestige address, a doorman to keep out the riff-raff, freedom from street crime --since there is no street in the traditional sense, and no one goes there anyway.
There are few distractions to keep you from watching television.
Suburban living at city population density.
To counterbalance this, also on the edge, there is the usual bohemian district, full of artists and artistes. Naturally, the buildings here are brightly colored:
What is different about this city is that it comes right out to the beach:
Also, one of its airports has a single runway where the big downtown park meets the water:
You can see that this is a pretty big city.
The center-city cemetery is like an eighth-scale city.
Where are the parking lots?
Yet another good looking city.
Bah! Bring on the grit. Bring on the abandoned buildings. Bring on the parking lots. Who needs good-looking cities when we can have urban junkyards? What’s wrong with Detroit?