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TWENTY MINUTES IN MANHATTAN by Michael Sorkin

TWENTY MINUTES IN MANHATTAN

By Michael Sorkin

Pub Date: March 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-86547-757-5
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The walk from his West Village apartment to his Tribeca office provides a springboard for architect/urban planner Sorkin (All Over the Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities, 2011, etc.) to reflect on the changing nature of city life.

Anyone who has read Variations on a Theme Park (1992), the groundbreaking collection of essays edited by Sorkin, knows the basic argument: The diversity and vitality of America’s cities are threatened by a rapacious real estate industry, enabled by permissive municipal governments, that creates a bland, homogenized environment composed of luxury condominiums, high-end shopping and expensive restaurants. Restating it as an accompaniment to his daily walk gives Sorkin the opportunity to illustrate his argument with specifics, beginning with the health and safety codes that dictated the layout of his 19th-century apartment building and ending with his enforced move from the loft that housed his office when the building was being converted into (you guessed it) luxury apartments. Sorkin is a fount of information on everything urban, from staircases (gracious public spaces in Europe; unwelcoming, grudging fulfillments of legal mandates here) to large-scale International style on superblocks, about some of which he is surprisingly positive. He doesn’t favor any particular style so much as the “accumulated forms and rituals” that give cities their eclectic appeal. Native New Yorkers will recognize the cranky tone of a classic Village bohemian in Sorkin’s zestful accounts of battles with his landlord and his blunt disdain for members of the gentrifying elite. This tone can get a little grating sometimes, but many will share the author’s dismay over the ongoing transformation of America’s cities from centers of production and sources of shared wealth to places of unbridled consumption by a privileged few, “yet another zone of high-priced good times.”

Overstated and overheated at times, but an important cautionary note to counter the national embrace of gentrification as the solution to every urban ill.