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Rethinking the American City

Rethinking the American City: An International Dialogue

Miles Orvell
Klaus Benesch
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Rethinking the American City
    Book Description:

    Whether struggling in the wake of postindustrial decay or reinventing themselves with new technologies and populations, cities have once again moved to the center of intellectual and political concern.Rethinking the American Citybrings together leading scholars from a range of disciplines to examine an array of topics that illuminate the past, present, and future of cities.Rethinking the American Cityoffers a lively and fascinating survey of contemporary thinking about cities in a transnational context. Utilizing an innovative format, each chapter opens with an iconic image and includes a brief and provocative essay on a single topic followed by an extended dialogue among all the essayists. Topics range from energy use, design, and digital media to transportation systems and housing to public art, urban ruins, and futurist visions. By engaging with key contemporary concerns-public and private space, sustainability, ethnic and racial divisions, and technology-this volume illuminates how global society has imagined American urban life.Contributors:Klaus Benesch, Dolores Hayden, David M. Lubin, Malcolm McCullough, Jeffrey L. Meikle, David E. Nye, Miles Orvell, Andrew Ross, Mabel O. Wilson, Albena Yaneva.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0901-3
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-ix)

    IN THE PAST two or three decades, researchers from many academic disciplines have explored the history of the built environment, enlarging the history of architecture from the aesthetic study of individual works by well-known architects to the economic, political, social, and cultural analysis of ordinary buildings. Ordinary buildings are shaped by many actors: construction laborers as well as developers, residents as well as landlords, community organizers as well as architects. Everyday buildings are planned, designed, built, inhabited, appropriated, celebrated, despoiled, and discarded over long stretches of time, so study of the built environment may reveal much more about everyday life...

    (pp. xi-xvii)

    AS EARLY AS 1903, the German sociologist Georg Simmel defined urban spaces as sites of increased human interdependence and interconnection, where “the relationships and concerns of the typical metropolitan resident are so manifold and complex that … their relationships and activities intertwine with one another into a many-membered organism.”¹ To study cities thus also means to study human interaction and to explore the possibilities for common ground in an increasingly divided, competitive global world. As Simmel claimed more than a century ago, cities are enormously complex organisms, with ramifications for practically every aspect of human life. Whether we think of...

  5. 1 ENERGY
    (pp. 1-27)

    JUST FIVE MOMENTS provide a capsule history of the role of energy in American urban transportation. Imagine, first, an image of late nineteenth-century Broadway, in New York City, with parallel tracks, on one of which is an electric streetcar and on the other a horse-drawn car. The second moment is on a busy New York street corner, where cars, pedestrians, and horse-drawn vehicles again share the same space. The third moment leaps three generations forward, to an enormous freeway interchange in Los Angeles. The fourth instance suggests roads not taken: instead of highway systems, cities might have developed mass transit...

    (pp. 29-47)

    THE ABJECT FAILURE of international leaders to reach binding emission-reductions targets in 2009 at the United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen, in 2010 in Cancun, and in 2011 in Durban has compounded the despair that thoughtful people now feel about the future. Even if the political obstacles to carbon policy making were to rapidly dissolve, many have concluded that it may already be too late to take meaningful steps to avert drastic climate change. Better to accept the foreseeable consequences by trying to anticipate and adapt to the worst scenarios. Indeed, any sober reading of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate...

    (pp. 49-69)

    IN A SIXTH-FLOOR apartment of a twenty-one-story residential high-rise, my home office desktop sits in front of a ten-foot-long horizontal window that looks onto Manhattan’s scenic Riverside Drive. As I work, my gaze often shifts back and forth between layers of windows that clutter my computer screen to rustic views of Riverside Park and the Hudson River beyond. For two months in the spring of 2011, I followed the Internet broadcast of the demolition of a high-rise building. The website’s video feed documented the removal of the last residential tower of the William Green Homes, part of an ensemble of...

  8. 4 RUINS
    (pp. 71-91)

    WHAT IS A RUIN? Anything in the built environment can fall into ruins: from houses to Main Street stores, from office buildings to factories, from infrastructure (railroad lines and highways) to utility plants, from gas stations to shopping centers and malls to whole cities (Detroit is the most obvious example, but also ghost towns).

    The wordruin—at least in the traditional sense—implies a gradual process rather than a sudden catastrophe, an incremental falling into decay. For the present, we are not interested in ruins that have been produced instantaneously, such as the World Trade Center or Dresden after...

    (pp. 93-117)

    ON A MILD, spring-like morning in February 2005, I attended a brunch in New York City hosted by a friend whose rooftop apartment overlooks Central Park. We were there to witness the opening moments of an art installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude,The Gates. At an appointed time, workers stationed along the park’s myriad footpaths unfurled hundreds of silky, saffron-colored cloths affixed to metal rods. It was a spectacular visual experience from twenty stories high, but the follow-up at ground level was equally remarkable, as we joined streams of pedestrians rambling along the pathways, turning this way and that to...

    (pp. 119-141)

    IN 2001, I BEGAN an ethnography of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in Rotterdam, headed by Rem Koolhaas. Early on in my work, Rem gave me a tour of the office, and the first thing he showed me was the Whitney table. “This is the project of the extension of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York… this is a table of democracy,” he remarked. It was the most important project for him at the time, as he was dreaming of building in “delirious” New York. Later, I found out that the table of models contained not...

  11. 7 MOBILITY
    (pp. 143-165)

    WHAT DO THE Baltimore/Washington International and Chicago O’Hare Airports, California's controversial High Speed Rail, the new hub of Florence’s TAV, and the contest-winning models of Transbay Terminal in San Francisco and a new Union Station in Chicago all have in common? If juxtaposed, what are the narratives that unfold from their bold visions of mobility and urban spaces? Put differently, what are the relations between modernity, mobile lifestyles, and the city as we move deeper into what the French sociologist Marc Augé has called the age of “supermodernity”? And to what extent can we use these instances of gigantic hubs...

    (pp. 167-191)

    URBAN COMPUTING HAS come of age.¹ The era of handheld mobile computing brings situated technologies too. Today’s new phenomena of interpersonal navigation, environmental sensing, big data, and grids of smart things have implications at the scale of the city. Recent examples abound: for example, Velib and Zipcar in transportation, Foursquare and Layar in social navigation, Pachube and Sensaris in environmental monitoring. Whether in social, environmental, infrastructural, or political applications, this latest wave of information technologies brings new prospects for participation. Users sometimes even become citizens through acts of tagging, rating, monitoring, sharing, and spontaneous gathering. Yet just thirty years ago,...

    (pp. 193-213)

    FUTURE CITY. The very words have a promising ring, evoking optimism and more particularly a faith in progress—whether the ever-onward-and-upward evolutionary variety of the late nineteenth century or the rational planning invoked by countless utopian visionaries during the twentieth century. Rows of skyscrapers set in healthful green space; separate zones of commerce, industry, and residence; wide boulevards of smoothly circulating traffic; small clumps of pedestrians rendered to afford a sense of scale: all of these comprised parts of the visual vocabulary of urban modernity, whether taken from plans, renderings, and models or photographically abstracted from an always messier reality....

    (pp. 215-218)

    MILES ORVELL: Let’s now spend a few minutes with some final reflections on what may have emerged as we’ve thought about things during the last two days, which feels like about two weeks, mentally, and has been quite fascinating. The talks we’ve heard have been so very different, and yet I think we’ve all sensed, at times, the coalescence of lines of thought, with many cross-references appearing. Are there general themes that have emerged? Or any sense of surprise, or feeling something like “I didn’t realize that this was where we were going, but this is where we are.”


  15. List of Contributors
    (pp. 219-222)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 223-232)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 233-244)
    (pp. 245-246)