BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: Planning for Liveable Cities by Wolf Von Eckhardt

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: Planning for Liveable Cities

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Von Eckhardt is against modern ""abstract"" architecture and the whole ""avantgarde set""; for ""the new urban consciousness"" as manifest in neighborhood revival and the briefly renascent New Town movement: a disappointing mÉlange of sweeping prejudice and shaky hopes to come from the architectural critic for the Washington Post. If, as it appears, these brief, imprecise, polemical chapters originated as newspaper pieces, that may account for the staleness of the views generally, the flagrantly incomplete updating (the New York State Development Commission ""has been doing very well""), the omission of critical background information and countervailing evidence (most marked apropos of the vaunted British New Towns)--to say nothing of the repeated swipes at a few pet hates (notably anti-modernism's favorite bogey, Le Corbusier) and glaring mistakes. For those not in the know, Von Eckhardt's review of the Garden City/New Towns element in urban planning from progenitor Ebenezer Howard through the Lewis Mumford circle of the Thirties to its reemergence in the Sixties may hold some interest, though Martin Mayer's account in The Builders is more succinct and vastly more sophisticated. Here and there, too, Von Eckhardt is sensibly appreciative--of the serpentine roadway for slow-moving vehicles through Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall--and he has one suggestion, for block kiosks, well worth pursuing; but most of his other comments on current developments (like his condemnation of Detroit's Renaissance Centre) are as stale as his larger views. Of late, modernism has been raked over more effectively by Peter Blake in Form Follows Fiasco (1977); the schemes of Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier have been treated more discerningly by Robert Fishman in Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century (1977). Jane Jacobs is still the best source on neighborhoods; and Lewis Mumford, happily, is still able to speak for himself--his autobiography will be reviewed in the next issue.

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 1978
Publisher: New Republic--dist. by Simon & Schuster