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The New American City and the End of Public Space

edited by Michael Sorkin

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8090-9607-2
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 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.