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.