Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space

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9780809096077: Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space

America's cities are being rapidly transformed by a sinister and homogenous design. A new Kind of urbanism--manipulative, dispersed, and hostile to traditional public space--is emerging both at the heart and at the edge of town in megamalls, corporate enclaves, gentrified zones, and psuedo-historic marketplaces. If anything can be described as a paradigm for these places, it's the theme park, an apparently benign environment in which all is structured to achieve maximum control and in which the idea of authentic interaction among citizens has been thoroughly purged. In this bold collection, eight of our leading urbanists and architectural critics explore the emblematic sites of this new cityscape--from Silicon Valley to Epcot Center, South Street Seaport to downtown Los Angeles--and reveal their disturbing implications for American public life.

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About the Author:

Michael Sorkin, an architect and writer, teaches at Cooper Union and Yale, and is the author of The Exquisite Corpse. For ten years, he was the archtecture critic of The Village Voice.

From Kirkus Reviews:

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. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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