DIRECTION OF CITIES by John Guinther

DIRECTION OF CITIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Much ado about cities, inspired by urban planner Edmund Bacon's uncontestable plea for holistic vision in design--which vision, of a coherent continuum of harmonious buildings and spaces, supplies a governing perspective but not the requisite trajectory. The result is a discursive series of uneven chapters. Guinther is a professional author who switches gears whenever he changes the subject, and his sense of proportion is as variable as his compass is broad. For instance, he sweeps through the major architectural movements of the 20th century, but reviews the PWA, the WPA, and the merits of machine politics intently (observing that, in contrast to welfare, the machine both empowered and valued the poor); and he focuses with tedious parochialism on everything to do with Philadelphia--his hometown and Bacon's too, and so the case-study locus of choice (Philadelphia Housing Association, downtown revitalization, good-enough former mayor Richardson Dilworth). Also singled out are New York (whose Central Park is extolled for recognizing and realizing a populist esthetic imperative and whose evil-empire-builder Robert Moses is vilified), colonial Savannah for its ``rhythmic'' cellular layout, contemporary Milwaukee and Minneapolis for their unifying ``skywalks,'' Chicago for the senior Daley's style of mayoring and for its public housing projects--the horrors of which last are part of a diatribe against failures of urban renewal. Guinther critically surveys program histories (then cynically projects a welfare-recipient network that warns newcomers to cover traces of employed men in the household when the welfare worker arrives). In search, ingenuously, of a ``cohesive approach to the problems presented by poverty,'' he endorses a community-based model admittedly unlikely to attract outside support, claiming that ``the merit of an idea is always more important then any immediate quantification of it.'' Overreaching by a generalist; of spotty appeal, perhaps, to fellow Philadelphians. (photos, not seen; diagrams)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-84198-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1996