Lincoln Center; the ruminations of a “genius”

 

 

I emailed the following comment to my wife last month: “Do you realize that you married a genius?”

Don’t worry, I said it in jest. Or at least half in jest. It’s okay to make such comments, jesting or not, to one’s spouse.

She responded, “Let’s not get carried away, dear.” She tends to keep me from getting a swelled head. She is never awed by me. Admires me, yes. Knows my weaknesses all too well. Takes me with a grain of salt. Isn’t given to making exaggerated claims about anyone, including herself.

 

 

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In a previous post

“a Carnegie Hall concert”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/10/13/a-carnegie-hall-concert/

I wrote, about Lincoln Center:

 

I have never liked Lincoln Center. It’s a sterile “arts center” with worse seating and acoustics than Carnegie Hall. The architecture is typical 1960’s (think Shea Stadium): functional but uninspiring. Lincoln Center ruined a neighborhood; the surrounding streets have no street life. There are hardly any restaurants, watering holes, cafes, or places of interest, other than one or two rip-off restaurants on the other side of Broadway, across the street from the main entrance.

 

 

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Further thoughts of mine re Lincoln Center (since my post):

the main plaza is dreary … it’s raised above street level … one has to walk up a stairway to get to it

there are always few people on the main plaza … they don’t look happy

there is no “through traffic” (pedestrian, that is) … it is not welcoming

there is no life, no animation to the horrid “arts center’ or the surrounding area

 

See my photos below.

 

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Lincoln Center; photo by Roger W. Smith; December 2017

 

 

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Lincoln Center; photo by Roger W. Smith; December 2017

 

 

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Guess what? The pioneering urban theorist and writer Jane Jacobs, who became famous for her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, said essentially the same thing:

… the street, not the block, is the significant unit. … When blight or improvement spreads, it comes along the street. Entire complexes of city life take their names, not from blocks, but from streets — Wall Street, Fifth Avenue, State Street, Canal Street, Beacon Street.

… Believing their block maps instead of their eyes, developers think of downtown streets as dividers of areas, not as the unifiers they are. … The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York is a case in point. This cultural superblock is intended to be very grand and the focus of the whole music and dance world of New York. But its streets will be able to give it no support whatever. Its eastern street is a major trucking artery where the cargo trailers, on their way to the industrial districts and tunnels, roar so loudly that sidewalk construction must be shouted. To the north, the street will be shared with a huge, and grim, high school. To the south will be another superblock institution, a campus for Fordham.

And what of the new Metropolitan Opera, to be the crowning glory of the project? The old opera has long suffered from the fact that it has been out of context amid the garment district streets, with their overpowering loft buildings and huge cafeterias. There was a lesson here for the project planners. If the published plans are followed, however, the opera will again have neighbor trouble. Its back will be its effective entrance; for this is the only place where the building will be convenient to the street and here is where opera-goers will disembark from taxis and cars. Lining the other side of the street are the towers of one of New York’s bleakest public-housing projects. Out of the frying pan into the fire.

— “Downtown Is for People,” Fortune, April 1958

 

… New York consists of an intricate, living network of relationships–made up of an enormously rich variety of people and activities. … Consider the interdependence, the constant adjustment, and the mutual support of every kind which must work, and work well, in a city like ours.

This cross-crossing of relationships means, for instance, that a Russian tea room and last year’s minks and a place to rent English sports cars bloom well near Carnegie Hall. …

All that we have in New York of magnetism, of opportunities to earn a living, of leadership of the arts, of glamor, of convenience, of power to fulfill and assimilate our immigrants, of ability to repair our wounds and right our evils, depends on our great and wonderful criss-cross of relationships. …

This is all so obvious it should be unnecessary to mention. But it is necessary, for our slum clearers, housing officials, highway planners and semi-public developers have been treating the city as if were only a bunch of physical raw materials – land, space, roads, utilities. They are destroying New York’s variety and disorganizing its economic and social relationships just as swiftly and efficiently as rebuilding money can destroy them.

The most direct destruction is, of course, associated with clearance, and this is a painful aspect of slum elimination of which we are becoming aware. It was described well by Harrison Salisbury, in his New York Times series on delinquency. “When slum clearance enters an area,” says Salisbury, “it does not merely rip out slatternly houses. It uproots the people. It tears out the churches. It destroys the local businessman. It sends the neighborhood lawyer to new offices downtown and it mangles the tight skein of community friendships and group relationships beyond repair.”

…. Our rebuilders have no idea of what they are destroying, and they have no idea of repairing the damage – or making it possible for anyone else to do so. The entire theory of urban rebuilding rests on the premise that subsidized improvements will catalyze further spontaneous improvement. It is not working that way in New York. Living communities, portions of living commercial districts, are so ruthlessly and haphazardly amputated that the remnants, far from improving, get galloping gangrene.

Furthermore, the newly built projects themselves stifle the growth of relationships. We are now conscious that this is true of the huge public housing projects. What we may not be so aware of is that this stifling of variety and of economic and social relationships is inherent in the massive project approach itself, whether public or private housing or anything else.

Take the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts for example. It is planned entirely on the assumption that the logical neighbor of a hall is another hall. Nonsense. Who goes straight from the Metropolitan Opera to the Philharmonic concert and thence to the ballet? The logical neighbors of a hall are bars, florist shops, non-institutionalized restaurants, studios, all the kinds of thing [sic] you find on West Fifth-seventh Street or along Times Square or generated by the off-Broadway theatres down here in the Village. True, halls and theatres are desirable to each other as nearby neighbors to the extent that their joint support is needed to generate this kind of urbanity and variety. But Lincoln Center is so planned and so bounded that there is no possible place for variety, convenience and urbanity to work itself in or alongside. The city’s unique stock-in-trade is destroyed for these halls in advance, and for keeps, as long as the Center lives. It is a piece of built-in rigor mortis. [italics added] …

Lincoln Center shows a brutal disregard for still another type of urban relationship. It will have a catastrophic effect on Amsterdam Houses, a ten-year-old, 800-family public housing project. Amsterdam Houses is now bordered by factories, railroad tracks. garages and institutions except on its eastern side. On that one side, fortunately, it faces, across the street, forty-eight lively neighborhood stores, part of a non-project, ordinary community. The stores and the non-project community will be cleared out to make way for Lincoln Center. The tenants of Amsterdam Houses will therefore no longer have neighborhood stores or any contact with non-project community life, which they desperately need. Instead they will have the Metropolitan Opera. This project will be utterly shut off to itself and isolated. I should think its people would explode. What kind of irresponsibility it this that deliberately and at great expense, makes intimate neighbors of public housing and the Opera, depriving each of the neighbors it needs?

— “A Living Network of Relationships”; speech at The New School for Social Research, April 20, 1958

 

 

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Jane Jacobs and I both think, see, and say the same things. I am convinced she was a genius. She stood urban planning and the way people think about cities on its head.

Ergo, I am a genius.

Just kidding.

But, I see in her writing and views similarity to my own writing and cast of mind. For example:

We are both by nurture and nature contrarians.

We are liberal on many social and political issues, but we have a deep, ingrained strain of conservatism. Some commentators perceived Jacobs, who was arrested for anti-government and antiwar protest activities, as being reactionary.

We both rely on good old plain thinking more than education or professional credentials. We try to think everything through anew, to see it for ourselves — through our own eyes — to examine it “from the ground up.” We don’t tend to be influenced by accepted doctrines.

We both distrust big government and social engineering.

We are both essentially apolitical, but apt to be attacked for our views.

She is refreshingly jargon free. She writes simply and clearly (and, persuasively).

Does my writing compare? I will leave it to the judgment of readers of this blog. But, you know what, I think it does. So there!

 

— Roger W. Smith

  December 2017

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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