Oculus - Spring 2014 - (Page 20)

THE SEARCH FOR THE SOUL OF CITIES Urbanists and architects from New York to Los Angeles are celebrating the crafting and care of public spaces with a new awareness for context and community ©Jim Simmons BY SAM HALL KAPLAN W hither public space, those prime and outré places in our urban sprawl we diffidently share with disparate others? Here for all to experience is the existential life of a city, the sidewalks, squares, parks, and playgrounds, as well as the varied vestigial spaces, its genius loci. Just a decade or so ago, a gaggle of planning and design critics and pandering politicians were bemoaning the death of public space, a victim of municipal neglect, overt commercialism, and media disinterest. We had surrendered the weaving of our urban fabric to an unholy alliance of traffic engineers, duplicitous developers, disingenuous elected officials, and undiscerning pedants. As designers of singular structures for a predominately private and public elite, the self-absorbed design professionals were mostly irrelevant to the unadulterated urban condition. Streets were shunned, sidewalk gatherings suspect, and parks avoided. Pervading all was a fog of civic unease. Today, in a notable change of personal perception and popular fortune, our urbanists are celebrating the crafting 20 Oculus Spring 2014 and care of public spaces as a harbinger of a more open and inviting city, a place where people can come out from behind computer screens to experience a rare sense of community, however fleeting. Add to this chorus the growing gaggle of ubiquitous tourists, their communal ardor feeding local coffers and conceits. For architects, there seems to be a new awareness for context and community, the purpose and potential of public space, and a need to hone the cryptic craft of placemaking. Prompted by the ever-increasing competition for new clients - or whatever - architects have taken on the magnanimous mantle of urban designer, landscape architect, and planner. As a play on a witticism suggests, you can call architects anything, but don't call them late for lunch. Give them a canvas, they will paint; clay, they will sculpt; a plot of land, they will design. All hail the High Line, the benches on Upper Broadway (my roost was on 79th Street, facing south), and the blossoming parklets. These among other civic amenities in New York Civic Spirit: Civic Visions

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2014

Letter From the President
Letter From the Editor
Center for Architecture
Some Blocks Over
Opener: Open to the Public: Civic Space Now
The Search for the Soul of Cities
A Different Tale of Two Cities
Public Space Reasserts Its Political Role
Gatherings of One
Time to Welcome Woonerfs
Redesigning the Crossroads of the World
A Magical Place on the Water
How to Remember a Plague
Sustainable Models for a Just City
In Print
50-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Spring 2014

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