Monday, January 10, 2005

MH - The Street Where You Live

One of the advantages of thinking about a blog site for a long time before actually starting one is that you build up a surplus of good items that you can pluck out at the appropriate time. Such a one is this very interesting story from 2Blowhards, which I'd been saving since September, on the gentrification of urban neighborhoods.

As a political science major, I'd been introduced to different concepts of urban renewal, but it wasn't the poli sci version that intrigued me; my interest was much more of a popular one, a combination of a fascination with architechture from the 20s to the 50s (the 1939 New York World's Fair, for example, or the magnificant WPA-era buildings of the Minnesota State Fair Grounds) and the growing nostalgia that grips you once you realize you're starting to use the phrase "the good old days" a little too often.

I became much more intrigued watching the final three episodes of Ric Burns' remarkable New York documentary. I knew of Robert Moses, of course, from reading about the '39 Fair (and I'll echo Lileks here in that I've got to read Robert Caro's bio of Moses one of these days); but I'd never heard of Jane Jacobs before, and I found the documentary's story of her battle to save her Greenwich Village neighborhood from the wrecking ball a fascinating one. Even more interesting (and heartbreaking) was watching the destruction of historic buildings (the original Penn Station) and the demolition of old neighborhoods.

Since then I've become much more interested in the impact centralized planning (such as the construction of massive freeways) has had on the character of our neighborhoods, and I've tried to incorporate it into a more broad, holistic view of culture in general. In particular, I'd recommend a very provocative book, The Slaughter of Cities, that argues "the breakdown of the [Catholic] Church in modern America had its origins in government-directed social policies of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s." Read it and see what you think.

I was reminded of all this by this story in yesterday's Star Tribune, in which our liberal daily makes the shocking admission that gentrification of downtown neighborhoods may not be all bad. Granted, you have to wade through some standard liberal boilerplate to get to it, but I particularly enjoy this quote from Steven Belmont, the Minneapolis author of an American Planning Association volume called "Cities in Full," who says, "We have got to stop thinking of any part of the metropolis as the exclusive domain of the poor."

Well, I realize I've prattled on about this a little too long. Trust me, the subject is more interesting than I've made it. Just click on the links, and you'll find out these people say it a lot better than I do.

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