10 reasons cities are works of art

The Work Research Foundation‘s Comment magazine published a little point of view piece called “Public Arts in the City: with reference to Chicago.”

Not only does the author — Clinton Stockwell, the executive director of the Chicago Semester — give ten positive reasons for considering cities as works of art, he peppers his short essay with great quotes, including these:

“Place is space with historical meanings, where some things have happened which are now remembered and provide continuity and identity across generations.” — Walter Brueggemann

“Art points out to the Calvinist both the still visible lines of the original plan, and what is even more, the splendid restoration by which the Supreme Artist and Master-Builder will one day renew and enhance even the beauty of His original creation.” — Abraham Kuyper in Lectures on Calvinism

Read the essay here.

photo of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue by kitchaboy on Flickr

What creates community?

What creates community? Shared stories.

Shared stories require three things, two of which are obvious:

  • A story, or any kind of happening, even a small happening, like a game of cards.
  • Some sharing, that is, a group of people who experience the same happening.

But a shared story also requires:

  • A first-hand, intimate knowledge that the story is being shared.

A group of individuals sitting at home watching the same show different shows on separate televisions does not create community. But the smallest thing shared with a neighbor does.

An example of a shared story is the above photo, which was taken in downtown Wheeling, W.Va., in 1950. A parade had gone up Market Street — you can see it in the background. Today, downtown Wheeling is almost vacant and you must drive ten miles to a shopping mall to do any substantial shopping.

— photo from the author’s personal collection

Creating a pedestrian and bicycle friendly downtown

That’s the title of a promising event May 7 at the downtown Cinema Center.

Dan Burden, executive director of Walkable Communities, will be leading an event that hopes to answer these questions:

What are the elements that make up a pedestrian and bicycle friendly downtown? Learn what Fort Wayne can do to make our downtown more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. What are other successful communities doing? What are your questions?

Fore more information, check out The Good City’s new events page. When I find out more about what will actually happen at the event — Is it a presentation? A charrette? Very few details are on the city’s press release — I’ll post the information.

Politics can’t save urbanism

Yesterday, I pointed to this article at City Journal about how New Urbanism may have changed the conversation about urban planning, but it hasn’t changed the culture.

The article points out how many New Urbanists have grabbed on to the “climate change” movement, hoping its momentum will bring its “community-building ethos into the mainstream.” And along those lines, New Urbanists have hitched their wagon to increased regulation to make their dreams happen:

(New Urbanists’) first hope was “smart growth” — basically, the imposition of regulatory guidelines concerning things like density and access to public transportation. The New Urbanists tend to regard the triumph of the automobile with skepticism and would like to think it reversible. Al Gore would agree, and as vice president he took a stab at promoting a smart-growth “livability agenda” — with underwhelming results. Smart growth, for the record, now entails advocacy of a new stratum of government: federally mandated regional authorities would control key planning decisions for core cities and their suburbs as well as the sharing of major urban assets, not to mention federal dollars.

Instead, the article’s author says New Urbanists should move beyond a top-down approach:

They need to get beyond marketing strategy, eco-hype, and trendy buzzwords, and focus on the formidable task of cultivating political leaders across the ideological spectrum who have the gumption to redeem the nation’s urban landscape — one community at a time.

The article is correct — partially. Finding political allies at the local level is much better than finding them at the federal one.

But the article’s unspoken assumption is that politics got us into this mess, and politics will get us out. It’s a fatal error.

The problem isn’t political, it’s cultural. One reason the suburbs exist as they do is because we as Americans wanted to become more isolated from each other. Until the American people realize once again the purpose of cities — and decide that they are willing to sacrifice their own comfort temporarily to make cities more livable — then our culture will continue to spin off into increasing isolation, whether the walls are single-use zoning or technology or simply never leaving your car while outside a building.

Not even $3.65 a gallon gasoline will make us love our neighbor. Forcing us to live close to one another won’t rebuilt society if we simply don’t want to.

— photo by puroticorico on Flickr

Why the public hates publicly funded art

If public art has the power like no other to “brand” a city — think of the Eiffel Tower and the Gateway Arch — then why is the public so often against the expenditure?

Dan on Cyburbia thinks it may be the style of art that’s been typically commissioned in the last half of the 20th century:

“Since about the late-mid 20th century a popular form of public art has emerged that I will call ‘amorphism’ that can be found in cities all over the world. It’s difficult to describe, but much like pr0n, you know it when you see it.

“Given that most people prefer their art to have form why have so many formless works been selected/commissioned? Do various governments have a desire to appear cutting edge/avant garde/futuristic and feel the art helps convey that impression? How are most selection committees formed?”

To bring the issue to Fort Wayne: Could much of the disagreement with Harrison Square have to do with distrust of the city’s ability to build something iconic?

I am thinking of the “amorphic” red steel artwork beside the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, the name of which escapes me. (Could someone could post a name and even better a link to a photo?) I heard stories that when it was reported the structure was sinking into the ground, a radio station encouraged listeners to drape their bodies all over it, to hasten its sinking?

On the other hand, I’m also reminded of our beautiful Allen County Courthouse, one of the best example of beautiful and functional public art anywhere. What was the spirit of those hardy Fort Waynians, and can it be recaptured?

Please comment here, but also take a minute to read the Cyburbia post and view the great examples.

Author’s photo on Flickr