Thursday, July 17, 2014
Thursday, January 09, 2014
Jane Jacobs strikes again
Sunday, November 03, 2013
Staying up late in Bellagio
I'm a tiny bit sheepish about my latest contribution to The Boston Globe Travel section. The Lido nightclub splashed on the scene in Bellagio, and seemed to be changing the nature of the place as a day-tripper destination. The untold story is that it has also been driving the locals a bit loco. The thumpa-thumpa of the music rattles around the peninsula on Lake Como, particularly at The Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center at Villa Serbelloni. I was honored to be a fellow there this summer, working on my book on Le Corbusier. I only spent one indulgent night on the town. So here it is, appearing in today's editions of The Boston Globe in the Travel section: BELLAGIO, Italy — The latest addition to the scene here is a feisty, flashy, and thumping one: The Lido (www.lidodibellagio.com/index_eng.html), a beach club by day and a fabulous and groovy Euro-trash convening place into the wee hours. The parade of impossibly stylish Italians starts marching over from the ferry dock on Lake Como at 1 a.m., when the party is just getting started. A typical cover is about $26, a justifiable splurge to watch the class of people stepping off the big power boats tied up just a few steps from the dance floor. Midweek nights feature delightfully cheesy cover bands of Pink Floyd and the like. If you have the stamina, bracket a visit with a stroll through the Villa Melzi gardens (www.giardinidivillamelzi.it/html/menu_-_eng.html) to the adjacent hamlet of Loppia for dinner at Ristorante Alle d’Arsenne (www.ristorantedarsenediloppia.com/en/home.html), a favorite of nearby resident George Clooney ( no, really). Then crash at the exquisitely restored Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (www.villaserbelloni.com), where a dive in the lakeside pool is just the thing for the morning after.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Quiet and chaos
The Atlantic Cities. I had been to India before, in the 1990s, traveling to Delhi and trekking in Ladakh. This time, overall, India kicked my butt. I was overwhelmed by traffic-clogged, sprawling Mumbai, and couldn't help thinking, if this is the way things are with 20 million people, how in the world is this place not going to implode with 20 million more people by 2050? I also found Chandigarh less than inspiring -- it was doubtless a big deal at the time, but today resembles nothing so much as a bad 70s Maryland suburb. The grid requires a car dependence that seems out of step with a post-carbon future. The informal settlement was not outrageous -- Darahvi was full of industry and a thriving local economy. Even the kids seemed relatively happy. But it all seemed so tenuous, or untenable, like it couldn't possibly last. At the Lincoln Institute we try to assess efforts of regularization and slum upgrading. Yet the conditions on the ground are so overwhelming -- it's like helping Haiti or trying to mitigate climate change. One can make the effort but it's so obviously just a drop in the bucket. Similarly, it's hard to know how to be useful in advising India how to plan her cities going forward. The coda was I got gravely ill, hitting me on the way back, and all that free booze on British Airways went to waste. Sobering all around.
Friday, July 27, 2012
When it comes to sprawl, it's meet the new boss
here. So what's changed in 10 years? From a brief look around, very little. The air is filled with the sounds of leafblowers and carpenter's hammers, and the same old subdivisions are sprouting up once again. The 2008 financial and housing crisis surely slowed things down, but instead of a major redirection and moment of soul-searching, around here it was just a pause. This is a key question I raise in the revised introduction to the softcover edition of This Land, being published this fall by Johns Hopkins University Press. Surely with all those zombie subdivisions dotting the country, the reasoning goes, towns and builders and planning boards might rethink the 3,000-square-foot single-family-home, solo-driver-commute, must-drive-to-everything layout. Not around here. The homes may be crowded in together with a little more net density, with a little more "conservation land," typically in the form of a retention pond surrounded by chemically treated lawn, reserved for nature. Out from the cul-de-sacs and down the secondary roads, there are more freshly minted could-be-anywhere strip malls, where I currently reside. Foreclosures, energy costs, climate change -- whatever. The last time state government did anything to guide towns like Acton towards smarter, more sustainable growth, a guy named Mitt Romney was governor. Acton, rock on.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
This Land, in softcover
This morning I received in the mail a copy of The Johns Hopkins University Press fall catalog, and on page 78, there is my first book, "This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America," being published in paperback. I updated the introduction to include the implications of the 2008 housing crisis and recession, given the ways that "drive to qualify" areas were hit particularly hard with plummeting values and foreclosures. The nation seems to be at a turning point -- whether to continue in the patterns of sprawl, or embrace more compact, mixed-use development that is more efficient and holds its long-term value better.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Off the grid
Last week experienced an interesting one-two punch in New York: first the exhibit Foreclosed and symposium "Shifting Suburbia" at the Museum of Modern Art, a conversation put on by the Forum for Urban Design and the Lincoln Institute. Teams of architects, economists, and artists re-imagined five areas devastated in one way or the other from the 2008 housing crisis. In some ways the landscapes were easy reinventions -- compared to zombie subdivisions miles from anywhere in places like Idaho and Florida. Those single-family subdivisions, platted but empty save for PVC and the occasional streetlamp, are unlikely to be occupied, ever. They never should have been built.
Better planning for growth was thus on my mind at The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan for Manhattan 1811-2011, the equally well-done exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, where I journeyed uptown after a too short comfortable night's rest at The Chambers (highly recommended). The planners had to make a bunch of calculations: radiating streets, location of squares and parks, the big intervention of Central Park, the dyanmics of the fledgling real estate market, even informal settlement (there were shantytowns of Irish and Italian immigrants all over, at places like 105th Street and 5th Avenue). The commissioners planned the grid up to 155th Street, judging the rocky and hilly terrain to be inhospitable, and perhaps satisfied they were adequately planning ahead; how otherwise to imagine filling up every hectare of Manhattan.
My next book subject, Le Corbusier, makes his cameo, urging superblocks and more light and air, and implicitly, husbanding more urban land to the horizon. I was reminded of Solly Angel's work in Making Room for a Planet of Cities. Planning at the scale of Manhattan's master plan will doubtless be needed in the megacities in the developing world. But how far is too far? Probably safe to say, 100 miles outside Phoenix or Boise.