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Re: [carfree_cities] Fwd: Re: interview

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  • J.H. Crawford
    ... Actually, I haven t spent more than two months total in Venice over a span of 15 years. I ll be back in October, but only for a week. It s too expensive
    Message 1 of 7 , Aug 3, 2005
      >I'd certainly like to hear your thoughts on what you learned in Venice!

      Actually, I haven't spent more than two months total in Venice
      over a span of 15 years. I'll be back in October, but only
      for a week. It's too expensive for me!

      ------ ### -----
      J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
      mailbox@... http://www.carfree.com
    • chbuckeye
      ... Even more reason for all of us to hear from Eu Chai, eh?
      Message 2 of 7 , Aug 3, 2005
        --- In carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com, "J.H. Crawford" <mailbox@c...>
        > >I'd certainly like to hear your thoughts on what you learned in Venice!
        > Actually, I haven't spent more than two months total in Venice
        > over a span of 15 years. I'll be back in October, but only
        > for a week. It's too expensive for me!
        > ------ ### -----
        > J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
        > mailbox@c... http://www.carfree.com

        Even more reason for all of us to hear from Eu Chai, eh?
      • Huang Eu Chai
        ... I m flattered! But where shall I begin? As with any city, Venice is such a complicated tangle of circumstances. As far as urban space and human scale is
        Message 3 of 7 , Aug 3, 2005
          > Even more reason for all of us to hear from Eu Chai, eh?

          I'm flattered! But where shall I begin?
          As with any city, Venice is such a complicated tangle of

          As far as urban space and human scale is concerned, it is as near
          perfection as one can imagine. However, to actually live in Venice
          itself has become more and more difficult over the last 30 years.
          Venice still has the basic urban structure to be a great place to
          live in, but thanks in no small part to poor foresight of the local
          government, it has evolved into more of a theme park for tourists
          rather than a real living city.

          J.H. Crawford is correct to say that Venice is expensive. This has
          come about because of the priority given to the tourism sector and
          the relative neglect of other trades as well as basic planning and
          governing policies for residents. Anyone who has been there will note
          the omnipresence of souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, cafes and
          take-aways. Just try looking for needle and thread. Not that daily
          supplies completely absent (there are markets, supermarkets, grocers,
          bakeries and sundries outside of the tourist areas), but the
          proportion of retail and amenities catering to the needs of residents
          is far lower than what should be to sustain a sizeable community.
          This, together with the high cost property and the building trade
          (for renovations) in general, has forced many Venetians to migrate to
          the mainland.

          Nevertheless, there are mitigating forces. Venice is still a
          university town, with a student population of something like 25-
          30000. This has helped to attenuate the push towards a totally "theme
          park" environment by providing the city with a relatively stable
          living community. The lifestyle demands of this population has
          encouraged the growth of trades relevant to this age-group - cheaper
          eating places and cafes, bookshops, youth-oriented fashion, etc, as
          well as the public transport sector.

          On transport...well, as most would already know that everything
          happens on water, including fire-fighting, garbage disposal, police,
          deliveries, and so on. Many residents have both a boat and a car, the
          latter being parked in the main garage in Piazzale Roma (they pay a
          reduced fee as residents). Public transport is by water buses called
          vaporetti, and gondola ferries for crossing the Grand Canal. The
          existence of the latter has influenced the evolution of the urban
          fabric over the centuries, so that opens spaces are found at
          strategic points along the tight frontage of the Grand Canal. This is
          why vaporetto stops seem to be located so conveniently up and down
          the Venetian main street - they have taken over most of the old ferry

          I guess that's enough writing for now. Got to get back to work...

          Eu Chai
        • billt44hk
          Thinking about what we can learn from Venice then reading Simon Jenkins in this weeks Sunday Times on the tsunami of developers tower blocks about to hit
          Message 4 of 7 , Aug 9, 2005
            Thinking about what we can learn from Venice then reading Simon
            Jenkins' in this weeks' Sunday Times on the tsunami of developers
            tower blocks about to hit London (and other British cities) -
            motivated by greed, egged on by egomaniacal big name architects'- has
            got my blood boiling today.
            Approved in the face of all planning sense, by our moronic deputy
            prime minister -John ''Two-Jags'' Prescott (and Jenkins is saying the
            planners have anyway abdicated their responsibilities), but also with
            Ken Livingstone on board, Jenkins treats us to some indignant

            Oh hell I'll just paste in the whole thing:-

            Prescott Towers, the height of architectural imbecility
            SIMON JENKINS
            When members of parliament arrive at work one day next year they will
            get a shock. Looming over their view up-river will be a stupendous 50-
            storey tower of luxury flats. It will be higher than the NatWest Tower
            and the highest residential tower in Europe.

            Last month it was personally approved by the deputy prime minister,
            John Prescott, in defiance of all planning advice, local and national.
            He seems to have gone mad. MPs will be outraged but it will be too
            late. Prescott tower, as it should be called, will have slipped
            through every net.

            Similar towers are being built or proposed along the Thames from
            Greenwich to Deptford to Bermondsey. One will crowd the Tate Modern,
            another rise over Waterloo station, another slice the South Bank next
            to the Festival Hall, and more will dominate Vauxhall, Chelsea
            Harbour, Battersea and Kew Gardens.

            The ever-narrowing Thames will seem like a torrent in a canyon of
            high-rise. "Landmark towers" are also proposed in a ring across north
            London, from Bishopsgate to Islington to Queen's Park. These are not
            stumps but giants, from 20 to 40 storeys high.

            Others are now proposed across Britain. Leeds is seeing two 30-storey
            "kissing towers". Manchester has a 47-storey Beetham Tower, Newcastle
            a mooted 50-storey tower. Others are planned for Birmingham, Brighton
            and possibly Liverpool. The craze for a single totem of modernity is
            manic. It was in like spirit that Chicago built the Sears Tower,
            highest in the world, to show the city was somehow "more manly" than
            New York. Malaysia's giant Petronas Centre in Kuala Lumpur was meant
            as a slap in the face of the West, yet it is now being out-towered by
            Shanghai, Pusan, Dubai and other tinpot civic dictatorships desperate
            for a year in the record book.

            None of these structures carries civic significance. They are not town
            halls or museums or strategically placed features. They are merely
            speculative developments in random very high buildings (known as VHBs)
            . They have been unleashed by that most lethal political phenomenon, a
            socialist enthralled by capitalism, in London's case Prescott and the
            city's mayor, Ken Livingstone. Both are on their backs and purring as
            property men tickle their bellies. The Vauxhall tower turned
            Prescott's head when its developer, Broadway Malyan, offered him a few
            flats on the cheap to tenants of his choice — known in the game as
            "affordables". They will not be affordable for long.

            Why London should want to play this game is a mystery. It has nothing
            to do with economics. There are hundreds of acres awaiting cheaper
            high-density, low-rise building. VHBs tend to be expensive to maintain
            and hard to let. A third of the residential towers in Canary Wharf are
            unsold or are left empty as bank collateral. Even the "Siefert" towers
            that dotted the London skyline in the 1970s were mostly flogged cut-
            price to government departments, hardly an economic necessity.

            Today's towers will either stand empty as vacant assets, like Centre
            Point, or be filled by new "parastatals", banks and consultancies
            dependent on government contracts. It was not skyscrapers that made
            London the financial and (no less important) tourism goldmine that it
            is. It was the lack of them, the civilised, unthreatening scale of
            London's streets and neighbourhoods.

            The towers are aesthetically banal. They strike with one club, a
            quirky shape (box, step, pyramid, phallus, wedge, shard) of uniformly
            bleak glass and steel. Their windy footings and servicing zones crush
            all humanity out of their surroundings. There is not one that does
            not. The residential towers are like fortified camps, defying all
            comers. The blocks by Lord Foster and Lord Rogers in Battersea might
            be creatures from Mars, so hostile are they to their neighbourhoods.

            The chief sponsor of this so-called "f***-you" planning is Livingstone
            himself. High buildings policy is one of the few powers he has vested
            in him. Early in his reign he visited New York and returned with a bad
            case of "Manhattan syndrome", a belief that skyscrapers are the key to
            a mayor's virility. With his office in what he himself calls "the
            testicle" he craved erect phalluses all round him. Developers with fad
            architects in tow promptly beat a path to his door.

            Height controls collapsed. Because Canary Wharf had breached the 600ft
            rule, everywhere could. The cluster policy was set aside in favour of
            "landmarks", more or less wherever a developer wanted one. Sight lines
            from Hampstead, Richmond or Waterloo Bridge were forgotten. Only St
            Paul's retained a modicum of dignity from the rule book. The socialist
            Livingstone had fought for humane planning in Covent Garden and Coin
            Street. The Blairite Livingstone fights against it at Spitalfields and

            The public still tends to the view that the loss of the familiar in
            cities, however sad, somehow "cannot be stopped". The result of the
            collapse of VHB control shows this is naive. Planning does make a
            difference. Others argue that if towers are beautiful (which all are
            to their creators) it should trump planning, as if a concern with
            settings, views and neighbourhoods were nothing to do with
            architecture. Yet we would not put the "gherkin" in the middle of Hyde
            Park or next to Big Ben because it is "original". We retain a
            lingering sense of public aesthetic.

            In his new book, The Edifice Complex, Deyan Sudjic charts the
            incestuous relations between power and architecture, the role mega-
            buildings play in "unchaining the ego" of their patrons. Not for
            nothing is architecture the one art that flourishes under
            dictatorship. Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein were all
            enthusiasts for building, magnetised by its offer of immortality. They
            saw in architecture what Sudjic calls the "instinct to control,
            categorise, shape life as it will be lived in space". In a street a
            person knows he or she is a Londoner. In a VHB we are ants, impotent
            and lost in anywhere.

            To find the centre of power in any society, watch where the architects
            cluster. They are adept at using an artist's licence to flatter power.
            They must, because their art is expensive and prominent. It is on
            public exhibition for generations to come. It also needs to obliterate
            what went before. Tower builders claim the entire city for their
            canvass. They demand the right to overpaint Canaletto.

            Town planning supposedly controls this. It was once a profession at
            which Britain excelled. It evened out the peaks and troughs of
            building cycles. It helped cities evolve rather than self-destruct
            under political or commercial pressure. Planning is democracy talking
            to architecture. Above all London's planning had a concern for the
            context of buildings, how new ones fitted alongside old. These
            concerns are familiar in Paris, Rome, even in American cities.

            London's planning has lost its way, swept aside in the same tide of
            greed as did such damage to its skyline in the 1970s. The tide is not
            motivated by some new vision of the city — it has none — but by a
            simple desire to make money wherever permitted. But its abuse of
            opposition is visceral. It accuses those, including less grand
            architects, struggling to honour London's character, of living in the
            Stone Age or seeking a "pastiche city". Nothing is more Stone Age than
            these megaliths. Nothing is more pastiche than these Mies van der
            Rohe/Philip Johnson lookalikes.

            Their presumption is on spectacular display at the New London
            Architecture show at the Building Centre. Visitors are invited to view
            London not as citizens do, from street level, but as architects do,
            from the heavenly clouds above. A model of the metropolis is at floor
            level, so the new towers seem diminutive. Virtually every one of the
            200 buildings craves "icon" status, a term idealised by the writer
            Charles Jencks, whose The Iconic Building has the gherkin as a moon
            rocket on the cover. This is architecture as "musique concrete", an
            art detached from context or audience.

            I believe Britons will deplore the towers about to pepper-pot their
            cities, as they deplored the same rash a quarter century ago. They
            congregate in streets and patently love them. Today's leading
            architects simply cannot design streets. They are like artists who
            cannot draw and composers who "don't do tunes". They do towers but not
            the spaces in between. They really want to live on the moon. Prescott
            is there with them.

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