Monthly Archive for March, 2002

Visitors

Romo the homo is staying with me till tomorrow, (and he’s got all kinds of stage and curtain drawings all over my coffee table), and spanky and his girl are getting here tonight. I don’t know where to put all these good people.

Boston as a Blueprint

The new Planning news feed at the right of this page is already reaping interesting rewards—among the interesting links, an article that discusses Boston and it’s neighborhoods. Mayor Menino has made neighborhood-based commercial development a priority over the past decade or so, and it’s just the kind of thing that makes economic sense. In awarding grants to individual small business owners, (most of which is federal money anyway), for little improvements such as new store facades, Boston has cultivated a neighborhood approach to development. Occasionally, big “urban-renewal” projects, such as the new Ritz-Carlton monstrosity in Chinatown, do get built, but usually they include some kind of mixed-use, (even if that mixed-use is upscale in this very working-class neighborhood).

It’s never been a very sexy thing to talk about, but the successes of this program can’t be ignored, and many cities are starting to emulate Menino. Buffalo is trying to cultivate this, through the creation and encouragement of city neighborhoods such as the “Pan-Am District” around Elmwood Ave in North Buffalo. Even private college campuses such as Canisius are contributing to the quality of their surrounding neighborhoods by providing low-interest mortgages to professors and staff, to encourage them to live near the schools. Now, answer me this: Why is the major state school, SUNY at Buffalo, located in Amherst (not buffalo)?

What Buffalo Was, and What it Should Be


If you’ve talked with me in the last few months, you know that I’ve taken an interest in Urban Planning, and more specifically those characteristics that make a good neighborhood and city. I don’t know why this subject has peaked my interest, considering I used to be in awe of places like Epcot and I grew up not far from strip-malls. But, I am deeply concerned about that place where I grew up, because the city of Buffalo is rotting at it’s core, while the endless development of pharmacy mini-malls, parking lots, and cul-de-sacs pushes farther out into the countryside.

It used to be that Transit Road was a marker or sorts—suburban development fell off notably in the town of Clarence. But now, Clarence and Lancaster are becoming the newest sprawl suburbs. Housing development is getting less and less dense, taking up more and more land, and as a result, weakening community ties. The goal in the Buffalo area these days, is to earn enough to “get yours”—which means a big house in the middle of nowhere, with lousy architecture, a big front yard, and curving streets that don’t connect to other developments. You can’t walk to a corner store, much less to work or school.

This, of course, means that cars must be used for anything and everything in Buffalo’s suburbs, and increasingly so in these new suburbs. Growing up, I could walk or ride my bike to a corner store, a supermarket, a pizzeria, a k-mart and a bagel shop. For kids growing up in Loch Lea and other developments further out, this is simply not an option—a ride from mom or dad is required, and an (unhealthy) dependence is born. Also, you spend much of your early teenage years looking for older friends, or pining for that 16th birthday, when mom and dad will provide you with a car. There is a sense of entitlement that comes in such a place.

Buffalo, however, wasn’t always so bleak. The Buffalo of my Grandmother’s youth was a vibrant and busy city. Look at some of these photographs… Streetcars zipped up and down major avenues, automobiles co-existed with pedestrians, commercial streets had first-floor storefronts with apartments above, and you knew your neighbor, butcher and neighborhood cop. I don’t want to sentimentalize what was, but I think people understood that there was an art to building neighborhoods—an art that seems to have been lost in post-war, post-industrial Buffalo. The powerful suburban developers like Ciminelli, don’t build permanent places to live. They think that there is no money to be made in traditional (that is to say, mixed-use) neighborhoods. Everything is this set-back-from-the-street, bastardized modernist, flat-roof, single-floor, horizontal monstrosity, with 5 parking spots out front for every 1 customer.

I know I’m taking hyperbolic license here, but I do it only because the prevailing assumptions are so ingrained and accepted that you almost need to shock people to wake them up.

We’ve been living in the age of the automobile. Traffic engineers say we need to widen roads and intersections to decrease traffic and increase traffic volume. Every major study of roadway “improvements” shows that more lanes = more cars. By widening a road like Transit, you are actually creating more traffic in the long-run. Even Robert Moses realized this in 1939, when traffic congestion cropped up on his highways where there was previously no problem. You induce traffic, by building more lanes. And, these wide intersections you see on Transit and other roads, are less safe than narrower, more traditional intersections. Here in Boston, despite our reputation for crazy driving, there are rarely any accidents at all, due to our small blocks, odd intersections and lack of sprawl.

Still, there is hope. I think the economic pressures that 50 years of this kind of development has wrought on Buffalo is starting to change people’s minds about living and working in close proximity. I hope environmental, and economic realities force the city and it’s county of suburbs to draw a line in the sand (and the geography), and say enough is enough. It’s not about Growth vs. anti-Growth. It’s about Smart Growth. Banks, developers and city & town officials need to be shown that it is preferable to ditch this fast-decaying suburban strip-mall way of doing things. If we are going to do this, the state needs to step in and set up stronger regional government. Many people fear this, as being ‘more government’, when in actuality it could save money by eliminating redundant services.

But there is powerful resistance to any kind of regional planning.

Note to Junk-Mailers: Make it Pretty

I just got a piece of junk-mail from ‘Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Cambridge‘, and it’s the most attractive piece of junk-mail i’ve ever received. Also, it’s probably the best church website i’ve ever seen (scientology doesn’t count as a ‘church’, per se).

Tokyo Wilma

Getting ready for the show. Presley is crimping her hair, and wearing boots up to her yin. Can’t wait. I have a Mini-Disc Recorder. Now where do I get a decent mic?

Bishop Coverup

God damn, the priest scandal is out of control here in Boston. Both the NY Times-owned Globe, and the NY Post-like Herald have written Editorials demanding that Cardinal Law step down.

I can’t believe that Cardinal Law is going to last many more weeks.

So, you’re an 80 year-old mother of 11, and former Catholic school teacher… What happens when you write a letter to your bishop, demanding an explanation for why he covered up a child-pornographer-priest? You get yelled at:

Archbishop’s letter to Jeanne Bast

Dear Ms. Bast,

I am surprised that a woman your age and with your background would write such a negative letter in the secular press against me without any previous dialogue. You should be ashamed of yourself! At least you should have reviewed my statement regarding Father Allgaier and checked the facts before making such a statement.

The Church has enough trouble defending herself against non-Catholic attacks without having to contend with disloyal Catholics.

For your penance you say one Hail Mary for me.

I am sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Elden Francis Curtiss
Archbishop of Omaha

Is it any wonder people don’t find spirituality in organized religion? This asinine shit?

Memo to: Bishop Curtiss, cc: the Pope

Wake UP! it’s time for another Reformation. No more kissing rings and dressing up in pink robes. No more of this ‘infallibility’ bullshit. If a priest touches you, he is being incredibly fallible. God, I feel so bad for the majority of good priests. Still, there is a culture of secrecy and hierarchy, and it’s time for it to end. it’s time to rethink the celibacy requirement, and maybe it’s time to give women more of an opportunity to lead, spiritually.

This is still an incredibly medieval institution, which is fucking depressing to me. Think of that. There were popes in the 9th and 10th century who had wives and children. Shit was fucked up then.

Jane Jacobs Changed My Life… or, Modernists Should Die

What makes a good neighborhood? I’ve started reading everything I can get my hands on regarding urban planning and issues surrounding sprawl, and I think it’s so inspiring that Jane Jacobs had it all figured out in 1961. I think it would not be magnanimous to say that she saved Greenwich Village from becoming another Robert Moses highway. Check out this discussion about Jane’s life and the state of urban planning. (Real Audio)

As a designer, I’ve always loved modernist design — it’s big, it’s humanist in the sense that it is utopian and egalitarian, and it shows off our wonderful technology. Look at Empire Plaza in Albany, NY, and you can’t help but think that we are capable of amazing things. However, this HUGE plaza is mostly useless, except on sunny days during noon and 1pm, when workers might stroll outside for fresh air. Nevermind that there aren’t any delis or convenience stores within a 5 minute walk. Also, think of a place like this in the evening, or at night. Dead. I’ve been there! Probably unsafe. But the 19th century State Capitol is wonderful, and human-scaled. One might imagine shops or restaurants on the surrounding streets. It’s dignified, and worthy of a civic building. I think our post-60s mistrust of government makes us think that spending the money and time to build lasting monuments to public life is somehow wasteful or bad. Albany Dan’s own neighborhood (not far from Empire Plaza) is a testament to How We Used to Do Things. It’s a mishmash of income levels and uses. It’s wonderful too.

Urban renewal is a fucking sham. No news there. Look at Boston’s own place of civic activity, city hall. Modernist architects can argue all they want about the ‘greatness’ of buildings and plazas like this, but I doubt anyone but a few intellectuals actually appreciate it as such. (Myself included) It flies in the face of hundreds of years of precedent and expertise, and yet we call it ‘brilliant’. Listen to the architect’s own words:

“Kallmann: ‘We distrust and have reacted against an architecture that is absolute, uninvolved and abstract. We have moved towards an architecture that is specific and concrete, involving itself with the social and geographic context, the program, and methods of construction, in order to produce a building that exists strongly and irrevocably, rather than an uncommitted abstract structure that could be any place and, therefore, like modern man’ without identity or presence.”

Does the building and plaza create a good urban space? nope. The language itself is specifically crafted to sound unintelligible, and to elevate the architect to the status of some Ayn Randian demi-God. Even the weird geometry of the plaza is psychologically unsettling, not to mention what I feel from the building itself. There is something profoundly anti-social in a building that is set back from the street so far with that much brick. The ‘style’, (if the modernists let you call it that), is Brutalist Modern, for christ’s sake.

When Emo Hits Hawaii, You Know it’s Everywhere

I don’t know if I quite get emo kids, but I try. It’s kinda fascinating how much the word ‘emo’ has penetrated into our cultural dialogue, yet so many people can’t agree on what ‘emo’ actually stands for. I mean, by some accounts, straight emo music is dead. What happens when someone decides to label Weezer, a very successful melodic rock band, emo? Or when very good bands, try desperately to attach themselves to the emerging bandwagon?

And yet, it affects culture—in music and style. It’s hard to ignore the reality that the Gap last fall looked more like a retail punk rock glam store than the usual bland pastel plaid shirts and acid-wash jeans store. Maybe I have an urban bias here, but it seems to me that no one wants to dress like fred dirst. Don’t dismiss that observation as obvious—it’s not obvious given the dominance of the Limp in the music scene of the past few years (is Creed still number 1?!). But, even the Gap has moved on. Even Honolulu has Emo kids now. I’m sure Peoria and Duluth do too. Isn’t that odd?

Mouse

my entry for the GROSS-A-THON contest involves a decomposing rodent. (check the comments)

Neu CDs

Albany Dan and I walked around a lot this weekend. Saturday we spent in Providence, taking an improvised architecture tour, and looking in bookshops and cafes.

Today we spent in the Back Bay taking photos of his grandmother’s dorm room from 1938, on Commonwealth Ave, and also managed to squeeze into newbury comics where I bought Summer Teeth by Wilco, and then I found a Stereolab bootleg at Smash City Records. I’ve bought bootlegs at this record store since ’96… how come no one has called them on it? PLEEEASE don’t. but I can’t believe some elektra exec hasn’t wandered in there and spotted them. the cds are $15, but I used to pay like $10 for cassette tapes back then. and they’re totally just ordinary TDK audio tapes. well, money well spent I always say.

there is something beautifully cerebral about stereolab– they’ve gotten me through 50-page papers, all-night photoshopping, 60-minute T (subway) rides, and god knows what else. For some reason they allow for both hyper-focus, and zoned-out dreaming. What a glorious noise. Which reminds me, we had tickets to see them in 2000 (or was it 99?), and we couldn’t go because I had a nasty research paper on 19th c. russian lit due…. which, of course, I had put off to the last minute.


I’m looking on E-bay for those high-quality tour posters they’re known for– so if anybody knows where I can find some, do tell.

Also, we talked to 666 tonight by telephone, and she was as vivid and charming as ever. I heart her and I may even heart her more once I get more acquainted with this Wilco Album.

Remember the Real World New

Remember the Real World New Orleans? I don’t either. I think I remember Melissa, the stripping alcoholic though. she was fun.

Hi Again.

hi again.