The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

slightly abated

with 2 comments

A city of fortresses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing which bugs me so much about the conceptual model evinced by the City Planning crowd and the so called “urbanists” is how much they actually detest the chaotic streets and the “hustle and bustle” side of NYC. Everything they can do to eliminate the “unplanned” or the “unsightly” is on display over in Manhattan. Long blocks without street benches or other “friendly” features, a lack of interesting mid block street level buisness which might draw you away from the corner. The preservation of “sight lines” in favor of planting trees or other greenery… favoring certain kinds of commerce – high end retail and or office space – over needed businesses like supermarkets and laundromats. Modern Manhattan looks more and more like Marie Kondo has swept through it and thrown out all the stuff that doesn’t bring the “urbanists” crowd “joy.”

I’ve offered this thought before, but it seems that the crew running NYC’s regulatory environment regarding municipal preferences on street life don’t like cities all that much. They want order, and predictability. They want midwestern shopping malls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A comment often offered by a humble narrator to companions and sometimes passerby strangers involves me gesturing towards something and saying “Look, it’s just like an architects drawing. All the people in this scene are two dimensional, notice all those massing shapes and wayfinding infrastructure.” I once had a City Planner indicate to me, when I pointed out that a certain section of LIC’s street design was creating bottlenecks for pedestrians that necessitated walking multiple blocks just to find a place to cross the street, that “well, we don’t want people crossing the street there.” Thing is, people ARE crossing the street there, and what somebody in City Hall WANTS New Yorkers to do will always be trumped by what New Yorkers HAVE to do. Best laid plans, mice, men, all that.

I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with some NYS officials from Albany who told me that since they wouldn’t issue a fishing license for Newtown Creek, nobody would fish there because it would be illegal so there was no need for signage cautioning against the practice around the waterway. I inquired as to how the war on drugs was going, and proceeded to make my appeals to a different agency for signage. The Federal EPA saw my point, and there’s now signage around the creek stating the obvious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Old New York” and “New New York” used to refer to the era of modernist skyscrapers coexisting with and alongside the 19th century town houses and brownstones or tenements of an earlier age. These days, at least in my mind, it refers to the differential qualities of areas which the City Planning crowd has “fixed” versus those it hasn’t. Luckily, there’s large sections of Queens which their tender mercies haven’t been applied to. Yet.

Look at Astoria, with it’s vibrant street life and retail economy of mom and pop shopping. “Disturbingly heterogenous” and “chaotic” is probably how the City Hall people would describe things, and they’d ask “is this the best use of the land”? The bulldozers would be sitting on Northern Blvd. idling while they wait for the answer they want to hear coming back from people who think just like they do.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 9, 2019 at 12:00 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I visited this topic last month but looked at it from a different perspective:

    “…[T]here is another aspect of this proposed metropolis which is that in comparison to the megalithic towers and the mean, sterile existence of its denizens, the individual human being is reduced to an optical zero in comparison to the cyclopean scale of the buildings. The soul of the individual is not merely humbled against the vast scale of the numbingly bland or brutishly ugly architecture as a vulgar display of the power of the State, but the soul is utterly crushed beneath it.”
    Inhuman Scale

    If Orwell’s novel 1984 and the 1927 film Metropolis had a love child, the urbanist’s ideal of New York City would be it.

    Donald Cavaioli


    May 9, 2019 at 12:54 pm

  2. Well said. Where once the old could coexist alongside the new, and perhaps inevitably be gradually supplanted in the way of such things, now there exists a zealous fervor to outright replace whole blocks…instead of just allowing things to pace themselves more naturally, at the speed of the local denizen.

    Tommy Efreeti

    May 10, 2019 at 1:03 pm

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