My first Denver library system reads

Back in October, after two years of living in Denver, I finally visited my local library branch. I happened to be at the library, attending a local neighborhood walking event and so I used the opportunity to also get my Denver library card.

The historic Park Hill Library branch is lovely, and although it has since been expanded and renovated, the original building was one of 8 branch libraries Carnegie donated $160,000 to build and furnish, in Denver between 1913 and 1920.

I picked up four graphic novels while there;

  • March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

I saw Congressman Lewis do the talkshow rounds (including I believe The Daily Show) when this first came out. Been meaning to read it since.

Although I knew the broad outlines of the story, it was of course inspiring to read the specifics. The fact that it was a graphic novel, definitely made it easier/lighter. Likely wouldn’t have read it otherwise.

  • Krishna: Defender of Dharma by Shweta Taneja

It was interesting to read these stories, in a different context/format, so many years after hearing/reading them last. Surprised myself at how much I still remembered.

The drawing/writing style, wasn’t my favorite. Prefer my graphic novels a bit more gritty and adult. However, probably appropriate for the content. A sort of modern update to the classic’s of Amar Chitra Katha.

  • Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

For whatever reason, I didn’t “enjoy” (was a bit more of a slog to get through) this one as much as the first volume.

That being said, this volume still has the excellent black/white graphic style. Also, her personal story is still so unique – from her time as a young student in Vienna, to her return to and life in Iran (post Iran-Iraq war) – at least to this American reader.

  • Denver Square: We Need a Bigger House! by Ed Stein 

Although not a native to Denver, nor a resident at the time these strips were originally written, the local character resonated with me. Especially with it’s celebration of all things Denver sports, particularly the Broncos. Still such a fact of life, in this town.

It felt (as it should) so of it’s place and time. Yet, reading it I was struck by how many themes; from traffic on I-25, the housing market in Denver and wildfires, are still relevant today.

Other topics; such as Columbine, the 2000 Bush vs. Gore election and 9-11, transported me temporally and led me to reflect on my own experience of these events, as well as the passage of time.

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Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project

In Seeds of an Era Long Gone for the NYT, Michael Tortorello highlighted the work of the  Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project. The project is billed as “a search for what Tucson used to be“, an attempt to recover or re-create the Spanish Mission Era orchards and gardens of Tuscon.

Tasting History from Dena Cowan (available via Vimeo) is a short documentary on the project.

An OMA view of St Paul’s Cathedral

‘As if it were put there for the special benefit of Rothschild’: the view of St Paul's Cathedral. Photograph: OMA

From Rowan Moore’s review for the Guardian of Rothschild New Court HQ, by OMA. It is not though on the strength of such flash that the building wins his praise. He writes:

In Richard Rogers’s Lloyd’s Building a Robert Adam interior, imported from the institution’s earlier premises, was recreated. There, it is a touch embarrassing in relation to the high-techery around it. In Rothschild the interplay of oak, oil paint, silk and aluminium is where all the fun is to be had. It delivers the required message that the institution is both ancient and modern. More than that, it is shown to be cultured, sophisticated, self-aware and sufficiently self-assured to allow a little humour. Rothschild advises but doesn’t lend, which sets it apart from the casino banks of ill-repute, and its architecture reminds you of this fact

Somehow both antiseptic and modern yet also historical and postmodern. Moore goes on to compare a nearby Foster’s building, unfavorably, chiefly because of how it plays with the street and public. Even though the best bits of Rothschild New Court HQ are “on the far side of the security barriers.

Fred and Rybczynski on the High Line

Monday, Fred Scharmen wrote Witold Rybczynski thinks Landscape Urbanism needs to get off of his lawn. and @quilian: I liked that he said the concrete planks were “neat”.

However, the article he was referring to was in Sunday’s New York Times. I worked this weekend so wasn’t able to read the Op-Ed by Witold until Monday night. I hadn’t even read (i guess) what Fred was referencing directly at the time I read his tweets. Though his take seemed to go with my general take on Rybczynski’s writing, which I would describe as occasionally old-school or kranky?

I will openly admit I have enjoyed many of Witold’s photo-features for Slate if only for their great images to text ratio…

I also think it is true though that Witold and a number of like minded critics do seem to have a somewhat “reality” based critique of the sorts of landscape urbanism trends of interest to the academics and many designers in the three main disciplines of landscape-architecture, architecture and planning. A bit of a “get off my lawn” tone or nostalgia?

Reading Witold Rybczynski’s piece Bringing the High Line Back To Earth though I found myself reflecting on some of his points. I also thought the image choice accompanying the piece interesting. It seems to me to raise one of two perspectives. One alludes to the almost Romantic-Victorian image of parks and urban landscapes as a parkland for strolling. Which could perhaps include the urban Modern flâneur if extended or re-conceived.

It is also a very non-urban, almost pastoral image. No urbanity to be found . Except on the underside as the hidden underbelly from which to escape? And domesticated. Very British. Nothing productive, either, genteel.

Yet Witold also makes two points in his piece that I found very persuasive.

First, he suggests that it would be difficult to replicate the success of the High Line or one of it’s original ancestors the Promenade Plantée in Paris. The reason he gives is that what makes those parks work is the way they let urban dwellers get a new perspective on their urbanity. It is the very density and post-urban simulation that makes them work. They allow the simple pastoral stroller to become instead an urban flâneur. This juxtaposition is key to what makes these parks a vital viable landscape. This would make it difficult for mid sized-or other-cities to hop on the new trend and spread the model virally. Most don’t have the density that makes the High Line visually appealing. Indeed Witold writes “unlike Olmsted’s parks, which were intended to provide a green escape from urban bustle, they both offer a new way of experiencing the city — from above. It is the unexpected views of surrounding buildings that make walking the High Line such a memorable experience. 

So how could one make this concept work in a less urbanized, dense city like Atlanta, Los Angles or St. Louis? Witold believes they wouldn’t. I think he is right if the model is based only on the sort of high-leisure of the more urbanized High Line. It would need to be a more mixed used, productive, generative and duplicative in terms of layering of modes of experience.

Finally, he argues that the “The High Line model is expensive, too. The first two phases cost $152 million; $44 million of this was raised from private and corporate sources, and the not-inconsiderable maintenance costs are to be covered partly by the city and partly by a proposed tax on local businesses“.

Totally agree. Similar to issues raised previously about Bryant Park or other more privatized-public landscapes.

Now, I am not suggesting that we should stop trying to convert post-industrial landscapes into other sorts of productive-leisure space. We should approach such efforts with caution though. Particularly given their often close link to real estate redevelopment projects and their high costs and privatized models of maintanance and development. I would rather see such efforts develop either out of a more public supported or communitarian model-low cost high labor-of praxis.

Moreover, as I have discussed before “Why not a park?” there are many places that need them. Although again the High Line model takes a fairly expensive, less infrastructural (dual-use approach) hifalutin form.