Sunday, August 24, 2003

Over on 2Blowhards, there are a couple of items of interest to me as a Buffalonian. The items aren't specifically about Buffalo per se, but they do touch on a few issues of ongoing interest in this former rust-belt city that has had more trouble than just about any of its other brethren in moving beyond the hangover caused by the decay of local manufacturing, the concurrent population loss, and the mistakes that most cities have made over the last few decades.

First, one of the Blowhards speaks out against Frank Lloyd Wright. Buffalo is the home to one of Wright's masterpieces, the Darwin Martin House, which I've written about before. The Martin House is a current object of a big restoration effort, and it is generally held to be one of the very finest of Buffalo's buildings in a city where architecture is a big thing. I'm not sure I agree (or even if I know enough to really form an opinion, having never actually set foot inside a Wright building) but their take on Wright is pretty interesting. I never knew that Wright had something of a mania for low ceilings, and in the course of doing a little online research on Wright, I found that when he designed his famous Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and when museum officials pointed out that his ceilings would not allow clearance for some of the paintings, his response was: "Cut them in half." Referring to the paintings. Wright, apparently, was something of an ass. (Which partly explains my negative reaction to Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead: Howard Roark, who was if I am not mistaken based on Wright, is supposed to be admired for his refusal to buckle under, and yet all I kept thinking as I read the book was, "Geez, this guy is an ass.")

Second, the Blowhards did an absolutely fascinating two-part interview (part one, part two) with David Sucher, a writer and blogger whose main interest is in what he calls City Comforts: architecture, but as a function of how it serves the neighborhoods in which it occurs. There is a lot of fascinating stuff in this interview, and I plan to spend some time investigating Sucher's work and blog in the future. I've already requested his book from the library. (Gods, I don't ever want to live in a place where I cannot take advantage of a large metropolitan library system!)

One thing that immediately struck me is Sucher's suggestion that all those mini-strips that seem to be popping up everywhere, especially in sprawled-out areas like Buffalo where new construction keeps going on out in the fringes while older, inner neighborhoods crumble and die, should at least be built right out to the sidewalk, with parking in the rear. As I drive through Buffalo's suburbs, there are parking lots upon parking lots upon parking lots. Parking lots everywhere, with mini-strips and plazas and malls or whatever set back, way back, from the street. So pervasive has the sprawl become, and to such a degree have we conceded to the car and marginalized the pedestrian, that a lot of these wide streets do not even have sidewalks.

Sucher also has a blunt, practical attitude that is fairly refreshing in the face of all the bizarro "newspeak" that so often seems to be de rigeur for urban-planning types. Sucher doesn't hate suburbs, he doesn't hold them in disdain, and he simply says, "We can tear down the buildings if we need to." This is certainly true. Modern construction isn't like the building of a medieval cathedral, when a cornerstone would be laid in the year 1150 and then construction would finally end in 1325. We put buildings up in months these days.

Buffalo has a lot of problems, many of which are related to failed urban planning. I look forward to seeing if some of Sucher's ideas are applicable.

(EDIT: I replaced my original link to Mr. Sucher's blog with the up-to-date one.)

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