Monday, February 12, 2007

Caro on Moses

You have to love intellectual celebrity events. C-Span instead of E!. People walking out discussing the finer points of the talk rather than what anybody was wearing. A waitlist for tickets and overflow rooms with closed-circuit TVs. Such was the case at Robert Caro's much anticipated talk for the Museum of the City of New York Sunday, when at the conclusion, hundreds streamed across 103 rd Street from the packed auditorium of the Academy of Medicine for signed copies of The Power Broker, briefly in hardcover but now only in paperback. Caro did not inveigh against the trifecta exhibitions, "Robert Moses and the Modern City." He had only been to the "remaking the Metropolis" at MCNY, which he called "fair and even-handed," not the other exhibitions at the Wallach Gallery ("The Superblock Solution") and the Queens Musem ("The Road to Recreation."). There was no calling out of curators Hilary Ballon or Kenneth Jackson, for the rehabilitation of Moses' reputation (although at least one person actually hissed at the mention of Ballon's name). What Caro did do was marvel at the creative genius of Moses in the construction of Jones Beach, a populist campaign and an effort to restore grandeur to public works; this was contrasted with the callousness and arrogance of "RM," in the devastating relocation of citizens happily living in the path of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in the East Tremont neighborhood of the Bronx. Caro is clearly saddened by the slum that East Tremont became when the highway sliced through it, because prior to that it was a well-functioning urban neighborhood. More comfortable with writing than public speaking, by his own admission, Caro made no grand pronouncements, no mea culpa for putting a black hat on the subject of his prize-winning biography, and no shift from his answer – "no" -- at cocktail parties when people ask him he thought it was time, in New York, for a new Robert Moses. "He had great accomplishments," among them Jones Beach, the Triboro Bridge, and Lincoln Center, in Caro's view. "It is right to celebrate him," Caro said, "but it is also right not to forget the human costs." Side note re: previous post: the Amtrak Regional 161 whisked me down to Penn Station arriving ten minutes early; the packed 6:03 Acela raced through the darkness and also pulled in ahead of schedule.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

California (urban) dreaming

It’s true what they say about LA – the poster child for sprawling, dispersed developed and an unrivaled car culture really is rediscovering its center and the functionality of transit. Beyond the Museum of Contemporary Art and Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall, downtown is thriving, with lots of downtown-living projects like the renovation of a building called The Roosevelt. It is a slow process, this New York-ification of LA. Over a mojito at Cuidad, I asked my friend, the producer/director Jim Burke (most recently, “Aurora Borealis”), if I could get from my hotel, the Westin Bonaventure downtown – site of this years New Partners for Smart Growth conference -- to visit my actress sister Julia Flint in Burbank by transit. He gave me a puzzled expression. Probably best to take a cab, he suggested. I’ve turned into a transit nerd, so I didn’t give up. The trip planner on the LA MTA site suggested taking the Sherman Oaks bus at an hour-plus. But taking the Red Line to North Hollywood looked like it would get me up to decent latitude with Burbank. Sure enough, not only was North Hollywood a promising transit-oriented development site and a jumping-off point for bus rapid transit to the west, it was a cinema and arts center, pretty rough around the edges, but full of urban potential and a true hub. Signs were unhelpful to get east to Burbank; I walked down the street and asked in a pizza place and was told the 183 bus ran straight down Magnolia into Burbank. Forced to estimate the location of my sister’s number address from a map in Where magazine, I alighted a bit prematurely at Buena Vista, but still made it to within a few blocks on foot before my sister rescued me in a Prius. I can’t help myself. But neither can LA.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Climate change and how we live

If we want to reduce greenhouse gases there are lots of things we can do. We can bury carbon. We can make sure the 1,400 coal plants xoming on line in China and India have the right technology. We can put a price on carbon, and hold countries and regions to reduction standards through cap-and-trade regimes under Kyoto or RGGI, the emissions-reduction pact among nine Northeast states, which Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently joined (his predecessor, Mitt Romney, a Republican presidential candidate, had a big role in negotiating the agreement but backed away from signing it last year, before the politics of global warming shifted). But the great unsung action to reduce emissions is in land use: supporting development patterns so US citizens don't have to drive as much. There are lots of other reasons to plan for more concentrated, mixed-use, transit-oriented growth -- chief among them the looming scarcity and expense of fossil fuels. There is also a growing consumer demand for urban living. But global warming is the ultimate rationale for smart growth. Fostering growth other than separated-use conventional suburban development -- revitalizing cities and older suburbs through investment and zoning reform -- has never been a more important goal, yet climate change activists don't talk about it much. Writing from California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's emissions reduction plan is leading the nation, Bill Fulton makes the land-use connection,1,4840839.story?ctrack=1&cset=true (registration required). Look for this ultimate light bulb to contine to go off.