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.