walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Whyte's _City_, more comments

I should be clear: I'm enjoying the book. But periodically, I hit a snag where I go, yeah, I bet that's not fair for some reason I wonder what it is.

At the end of a chapter about gentrification's brighter aspects (which I wildly agreed with in almost every single respect), Whyte talks about "cities-within-cities".

"A recent example is Presidential Towers, a middle-class development in Chicago." I hate when people say "Chicago". It's not that it isn't true. It's that it is a generally useless level of detail. PT is West Loop. And it's worth knowing that it is 4 towers, 49 stories, about a dozen units per floor. He doesn't mention any of this. Instead, he quotes. "Writing in Inland ARchitect, Catherine Ingraham hails it as ersatz city." Everyone else describes it as a residential complex with a mini-mall. Ingraham continues, the quoted section concluding with "The development stands as a bulwark against the very diversity that it capitalizes on."

Whyte contrasts PT unfavorably with St. Francis Square Co-op in San Francisco. "With its town-house groupings, interior open spaces, and private patios, it is one of the pleasantest neighborhoods you will see anywhere. It was built for low- and middle-income people twenty-five years ago. To repeat a point: a design that is well conceived for a time and place tends to be timeless. We should not have to search hard for such lost lessons. They are all about us."

What does yelp say?

Obviously, PT has _way_ more reviews than St Francis Square, because PT has about 9x as many units as St Francis Square. Both places appear to currently support a lot of diversity: PT has a lot of turnover, a lot of recent immigrants from China and India (making that diversity slam look, um, weird in retrospect), and a ton of college kids. It went through a recent ownership change and has completed substantial renovations. St Francis Square has switched from limited equity coop to market-rate (and no, I don't know what that means in a California context), still has some of its original residents -- and apparently a substantial gap between those original residents, other people who qualify for affordable housing, and people buying in at market rate. The latter are the ones doing the renovations. There is a wild diversity of reviews at yelp and apartmentreviews, but the idea that one of these has aged better than the other does not really hold up -- unless you share Whyte's bias against high-rises.

One thing that really stood out in _Arrival City_ was how new arrivals to the US and Canada from India and China and elsewhere could reproduce social networks within a high-rise context. High rises are _not_ inherently problematic. The college kids also seem to like (altho not uniformly) PT, which suggests that there's some hope for people born here as well, at least for part of the life arc.

I _really_ want to like Whyte. Whyte likes cities. I like cities. I loved Jacobs (altho I'm really wondering what I would think if I reread _Death and Life_ right now) because Jacobs likes cities and I like cities. But I have this sneaking suspicion that the things I like about cities and the things that Whyte or Jacobs like about cities have limited overlap. There are _real_ problems with high rises, especially high rises that are single-use (whether all-residential or all-commercial -- all industrial high rises are rare to non-existent) and place massive demands on their surrounding neighborhoods and offer nothing to those neighborhoods at street level. But high rises can work fantastically well, and even when they get totally screwed up (Newmark in Seattle springs to mind, altho at least it never was at risk of falling down like the newer Seattle building that was built wrong) they don't disappear: you can opportunity after opportunity to fix the problem (Newmark again springs to mind). I can't help but feel that Whyte and Jacobs suffer from biases as pervasive and self-invisible as those of the suburbanites they chafe against.
Tags: not-a-book-review, politics
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