Thursday, April 13, 2006


You may not recognize which city this is, but it's distinctly American

Paul Grenier and Tim Patitsas ask "Why are good cities such a rarity in America? Why are so many of our cities and towns lifeless and ugly—and hard to love? What are they missing? It’s the spirit of the liturgy"

Grenier and Patitsas of Godspy make a great point and one which should be more obvious to many of us...

For that matter, not much of anything is reassuring about America's approach to building and rebuilding its cities. Whether New Orleans manages to rise again or not—and let's hope it does—the painful fact will remain that most American cities and pseudo-cities are uninspiring at best. Many are simply awful.

I agree. The United States is the envy of the world in many respects but when it comes to city building, its legacy is abysmal. The cities that have seen the most rapid growth in the last half-century are the worst off of all beneficiaries of urban planning, American style. It is hard to find a sense of community, cohesiveness, and even a core when one visits these new sprawling, sterile blobs of development.

The authors argue that American cities are increasingly pointless and banal because they lack a spirit one would find in Prague or Paris.

Exactly what is that spirit? It's the spirit of the liturgy.
Urban planners, architects, economists and geographers have long been fascinated by the work of Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander. But so far they have missed an important—perhaps the most important—feature of their work. Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander have unwittingly demonstrated that cities—or at any rate humane ones—are essentially liturgical.

What does it mean for something to be 'liturgical'?

I thought about these words when I recently read an article about a proposed new development in downtown Phoenix (a city that has been sapped of its vitality by outlying communities like Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale and Casa Grande). The Arizona Republic reported that,

A massive downtown Phoenix revitalization proposal has expanded from two to three blocks in size, added a hotel and nearly doubled in cost to roughly $900 million. And it now has the backing of Mayor Phil Gordon.
"What mayor wouldn't be ecstatic?" Gordon said. "It's (nearly) $1 billion worth of private capital investment . . . It reaffirms the city of Phoenix and downtown is the place to be."
While plenty of details remain to be worked out, including a taxpayers' subsidy, the project calls for four high-rise towers up to 500 feet, 1,200 residential condominium units and 100,000 square feet for a public plaza. It would take at least five years to build.

Economic forces are powerful and it is hard to know how to integrate a commodity Grenier and Patitsas find precious, time.

I think that cities must do more to weave mixed-use developments into their downtown areas. There must be a hub that everyone feels connected to. America has abandoned public transportation in the last few years while cities like New Delhi and Shanghai are giddily building new, gleaming subway metro lines.

The arguments and points made by the authors at Godspy go beyond what I try to contribute. Read their entire article and learn more about the interesting theory about the "liturgy of the city street."

Check out: The Liturgy of the City Street By Paul Grenier and Tim Patitsas

Tip o' the hat: Prof. Richard Garnett of the blog, Mirror of Justice: Urbanism, again: "The Liturgy of the City Street"

Also, Arizona Republic: Enormous 'CityScape' will span 3 downtown blocks

Update: April 23, Prof. Garnett elicits a response from Philip Bess



1) Peggy Noonan: Having an open heart doesn't mean supporting open borders

While the marchers seemed to be good people, and were very likable, the march itself, I think, violated the old immigrant politesse--the general understanding that you're not supposed to get here and immediately start making demands. It would never have occurred to my grandparents to demand respect. They thought they had to earn it. It would never have occurred to them to air mass grievances, assert rights, issue a list of legislative demands. Especially if they were here unlawfully.

2) Rich Lowry: Democrats opposed NAFTA and CAFTA but favor importing cheap labor

Democrats opposed the ratification of the Central America Free Trade Agreement last year for fear that it would undercut American workers made to compete with cheap Latin American labor. The problem the Democrats must have had with this effect on American workers was that it was too indirect. The party now favors importing lots of that same cheap Latin American labor directly into the United States.

3) Brendan Miniter: What's Wrong With Universal Health Care in Massachusetts

But Massachusetts' Legislature is unlikely to remove the rules that push up the price of health insurance and is looking instead to cover the working poor the old-fashioned way, with government subsidies. In addition to making health insurance mandatory (taking away tax deductions for those who don't buy insurance), the legislation Gov. Romney is about to sign expands the state's Medicaid rolls, levies a $295 per-employee "fee" on businesses that don't offer health insurance, and sets up a government board to approve new health plans.

4) Ramesh Ponnuru: What's Pretty Good About Mass Gov. Romney's Health Plan

Within the limits of its unwise goal, however, the Romney plan is pretty good. It is not reducible to its controversial elements. For example, it redirects some government spending to achieve increased efficiency. Conservatives have no objection in principle to replacing subsidies for hospitals with premium support for individuals.

5) Mark Krikorian: Guest Worker program would eventually expand beyond Mexico

Mexico’s per capita income, in purchasing-power terms, is nearly $10,000 a year — putting it near the top of the developing world.

Egypt, on the other hand, is home to nearly 80 million people who make less than half the average Mexican. India and Indonesia together have 1.3 billion people with one-third the average Mexican’s income. And Pakistan and Bangladesh together have more than 300 million people with less than one-quarter the average Mexican’s income.

6) William Kristol: Is the America of 2006 more willing to thwart the unacceptable than the France of 1936?

Given Iranian president Ahmadinejad's recent statements and actions, it should be obvious that it is not "a sign of humanity's moral progress"--to use Blum's phrase--to appease the mullahs. It is not "moral progress" to put off serious planning for military action to a later date, probably in less favorable circumstances, when the Iranian regime has been further emboldened, our friends in the region more disheartened, and allies more confused by years of fruitless diplomacy than they would be by greater clarity and resolution now.

7) Mark Steyn: Facing Down Iran

That moment of ascendancy is now upon us. Or as the Daily Telegraph in London reported: “Iran’s hardline spiritual leaders have issued an unprecedented new fatwa, or holy order, sanctioning the use of atomic weapons against its enemies.” Hmm. I’m not a professional mullah, so I can’t speak to the theological soundness of the argument, but it seems a religious school in the Holy City of Qom has ruled that “the use of nuclear weapons may not constitute a problem, according to sharia.” Well, there’s a surprise. How do you solve a problem? Like, sharia! It’s the one-stop shop for justifying all your geopolitical objectives.



7 World Trade Center is a marvel, better than its predecessor. However, it is having trouble attracing tenants. Are the vacancy problems due to terrorism fears? Or is it more of an economic hedge because the rest of the World Trade Center has not yet been finished. Potential tenants might refuse to come to 7 WTC because they don't think that downtown will ever rebound.

Steve Cuozzo is not worried...

Silverstein's detractors can't make enough of the fact that the new 7 WTC has yet to find tenants for most of its 1.7 million square feet.

Omigod - only a few puny deals signed after two years of construction! A mere 60,000 square feet leased out of 1.7 million!

But although Mayor Bloomberg and others have seized on the plight of 7 WTC to argue against commercial reconstruction - and to try muscling Silverstein out of Ground Zero - it's a fool's game to make a mountain out of the project's molehill of signed deals.

For one thing, Silverstein has a term-sheet agreement with Chinese real estate company Vantone for 200,000 feet, and is in talks with others. But what if those deals fall through and 7 WTC is still mostly empty six months or a year from now?

Actually, quite a few Manhattan office towers have gone up without pre-signed tenants in the past 15 years - and all ended up fully leased and thriving by the time they were open or within a year or two later, even if some developers lost the buildings to their banks.

Those projects included 4 Times Square, 505 Fifth Ave. and 610 Broadway (fully or mostly leased at their completion) and three Times Square-area towers that stood empty for a brief interlude before filling up.

Read the whole article here,
Steve Cuozzo: What, Me Worry?/NYPost


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