Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space Hardcover – January 1, 1992
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
From Publishers Weekly
Eight essays by architects and academics criticize as elitist and alienating such contemporary urban and extra-urban phenomena as mega-malls, historical re-creations and gentrification. Margaret Crawford uses Canada's West Edmonton Mall as a paradigm of the consumption-oriented pleasure dome. Langdon Winner offers a chilling analysis of Silicon Valley ("a vast suburb with no central city to give it meaning"), while Neil Smith discusses the greed and injustices that accompany the gentrification of New York's Lower East Side. And M. Christine Boyer dissects New York's South Street Seaport as an example of "historicized, commodifed, and privatized places." Nearly all the writers take easy aim at yuppies, as both perpetrators of inequality and victims of consumerist illusions, who care little about the poor and homeless excluded from these havens of affluence. In much softer focus, though, are the governments that have so tragically failed our cities. This bias detracts from an overall thought-provoking collection on our urban malaise. Sorkin is former architecture critic of the Village Voice.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
This book offers eight leading architectural critics' views of the sameness that invades our public architecture and public space. Whether we live in California or Boston, shopping malls, office complexes, and other forms of construction offer, according to these essays, an astounding lack of individuality. What does this say about us, the recipients of and dwellers in these spaces? What does it say about our cultural differences that are being sacrificed? Cases in point are given: Montreal's Place Ville Marie, Manhattan's Lower East Side, Houston's The Gallerie shopping center, and others illustrate the placelessness of architecture today. Good reading. For public and special collections.
- Carol Spielman Lezak, General Learning Corp., Northbrook, Ill.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The essays tackle a wide range of built spaces, but always circle back to a central idea that public spaces are being eliminated in favor of commercialized spaces that limit freedom and creativity in the service of safety, comfort, entertainment and money. So we tour gigantic shopping malls that have become de-facto town centers, but with guards able to kick out anyone who looks or acts different, or who is just lingering. We have skywalks in cities such as Toronto and Minneapolis that have killed the street life below, while being dead zones on their own. We have Orange County, California, with its gated communities, highly designed plazas, and more Olympic training swimming pools than libraries.
Over and over, the authors of these essays explain how the spaces have dulled our senses and tricked us into believing that the fascimilies we are being served are the real things. This is especially so at the reconstructions of historic seaports in Manhattan (South Street), Boston (Faneuil Hall), Baltimore and elsewhere. A few ersatz images are stuck on storefronts, like lettering in a 19th century style, and we are tricked into buying lobster pots that have never been in the water.
Atop the heap, of course, is Disneyworld, which is referenced numerous times and is the subject of the culminating chapter. It has so totally subverted reality that it gives us a fake version of reality so denuded that we have lost all connection with the past. The phrase in the book is something like that for decades we strived to develop production so that we had time for entertainment, and now that we have entertainment our subject is often production. In other words, we don't do real work, but when we go to Disneyworld, we can see images of people doing old-style work, like washing clothes by hand. So does Williamsburg, by the way. And without the dirt or mud or slavery (though they've actually improved the coverage of slavery in the quarter-century since the book was written).
Here's another great point, just to give you a sample of the depth of thinking in this book. There's a long section on gentrification, and how when it was occurring in the late 1980s in the Alphabet City part of New York City, the people doing the gentrification referred to themselves as pioneers. They were winning the West all over again. It was as much a fable as the first winning of the West. So that's one observation. Then, the author doubles down with a hilarious passage from an ad about cowboy fashions that were all the rage in NYC at the time, thus furthering this myth that the city was The Wild West that needed to be tamed -- as if tens of thousands of people weren't living in these impoverished areas and minding their own business. And then the author triples that with comments on Ralph Lauren designs at the time, which were heavy on African prints (think: savages), though Lauren had never been to Africa and famously said, "sometimes it's better if you haven't been there."
The other point that the book makes very well is that these images of our past are now jumbled together so rapidly and randomly that we've lost all context. This is done in commercial properties or downtowns or Las Vegas, where architectural styles are thrown together. A long section about Los Angeles describes subversions as a library that looks like a prison and a prison that is regularly mistaken by visitors for being a luxury hotel. One of the authors notes that this rapid-fire composition is like TV, which throws images at you one after another that are not connected in real life, either geographically or chronologically -- maybe the Vietnam War, a basketball player, a sunset and New York City's skyline. Of course, this has only become much worse in our Internet era.
One final thing to note: this is not an easy book. The language is dense and purposefully complex. Words are made up sometimes, as professors do, by adding "izification" to nouns, and other such rhetorical devices. But don't get too intimidated, because there are careful observations throughout the book. And every few pages a fascinating observation shines through.
The purpose of this book is not only to describe these spaces, but to oppose them. Each of the authors point to the negative effects of simulated space. In many cases, the essays' implications jump right out of the page and into your neighborhood. Margaret Crawford's essay on the Edmonton shopping mall could be applied to any mall in Anytown, USA. Neil Smith's essay on gentrification points out the high price that comes with "revitalization"; one is reminded of many similiar projects outside his NYC example: Philadelphia, Detroit, Seattle,and so forth. Edward Soja and Trevor Boddy both contribute well-written essays which demonstrate growing chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots." With these essays, extended and local comparisons with dying urban areas and suburbia, sprawl, gated communities, and so forth are appropriate. Michael Sorkin's own essay on Disneyland turns a well-wrought phrase, and gives the Disney Studies scholar much to think about. (NOTE: Those interested in Disney should read this article if nothing else in the collection, although many of the essays are applicable to the study of Disney.) Of the essays, it is perhaps the one least obviously applicable to "real" life. But then again, Sorkin notes the distance between the simulated environment of the theme park and the reality of the city is decreasing.
Of course, the scholars' analyses are dark and even depressing. And more than once, the authors manage to sound like angry young critics filled with more agenda than action. More than once, extended discussion of the issues raised in the essays would have helped--although many of these authors do have full-length treatments elsewhere--or perhaps alternative perspectives which would have varied the collection's tone and helped sustain readers' interest. And like any collection some of the essays are stronger than others. Overall, though, the collection makes a reader stop and think. Many readers will end up carefully reconsidering 1) the state of American life and its public space and 2) one's participation in these developments. Variations deserves recognition for addressing these issues.