VARIATIONS ON A THEME PARK by Michael Sorkin

VARIATIONS ON A THEME PARK

The New American City and the End of Public Space
edited by

KIRKUS REVIEW

 What's in store for American cities? The eight authors of the essays written for this powerful cautionary volume have seen the future--and it's worse than you think. According to project-leader Sorkin, the Disney theme parks have been insidious models for today's alarmingly sanitized, security-obsessed, simulated places. Margaret Crawford (Southern California Institute of Architecture) describes the world's largest shopping mall in Edmonton, Alberta, a prime example of the prevailing controlled-fantasy urbanism; though the wares duplicate those sold in other malls, the mall's theme-settings purport to bring the world, in a developer's words, ``all here for you in one place.'' Edward W. Soja (Urban Planning/UCLA) examines the hyperreal exopolis of Orange County, where people work, play, live, shop, and attend college in artificial ``total environments'' that simulate themselves when not simulating somewhere else. Langden Winner (Political Theory/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) looks at California's Silicon Valley as a socially parasitic work-centered community without a physical center. Neil Smith (Geography/Rutgers) shows how the real-estate and art industries employ a frontier metaphor to justify their, to him, disruptive gentrification of N.Y.C.'s Lower East Side. All these contrived environments, the authors find, work to exclude the variety, spontaneity, grit--and less-privileged people--found in real cities, as do the other phenomena considered here: the parallel noncities built under Montreal and (in bridges between high buildings) over Calgary, Minneapolis, and elsewhere; the high walls and police barricades of L.A.; the historic tableau of N.Y.C.'s South Street Seaport; and the fast-growing and truly placeless electronic city of computerland. It all adds up to a trend that, as surveyed in this wide- angled collection--which offers a more penetrating view than did Joel Garreau's Edge City (p. 837)--seems disturbingly pervasive. The corrective, though, may not be to have more humane architecture or pedestrian pathways that rub middle-class noses in urban filth, poverty, misery, and violence--but to address these miseries directly.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8090-9607-2
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1991




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