Mega Metropolis

When Metropolis , the glossy monthly on architecture and design, shows up at our house, the first thing my teenage son (who wants to be an ...
by | March 31, 2006 AT 3:00 AM

When Metropolis , the glossy monthly on architecture and design, shows up at our house, the first thing my teenage son (who wants to be an architect) does is flip through looking at the eye-popping photos, images and ads. I, on the other hand, quickly scan the table of contents and headlines for articles on urban planning--the quantity and quality of which I hadn't anticipated when I signed up for a subscription a few months ago.

Last night, I spent an unusually long time reading the April issue, which celebrates the publication's 25th anniversary. This wasn't only because it's a 262-page behemoth but also because it's chock-full of stories worth bringing to the attention of Governing readers.

Unfortunately, the articles on the Metropolis site are only available to subscribers. But here's a rundown of the best ones from an urban planning point of view.

In "Shortsighted Polemics," author Blair Kamin asks: "Are we doomed to a world in which architecture's leading practitioners use their work merely to comment on social tumult rather than actually trying to do something about it? The leading avant-garde Modernists of our time, unlike their predecessors, are pretty much without a program for housing. Frank Gehry likes to call himself a 'liberal do-gooder,' and he does the occasional socially conscious design, but let's face it: his lefty-ness is really about progressive aesthetics, not progressive politics. And yet a world without an intelligent debate about housing is not a world you want to live in."

Speaking of Gehry... The starchitect scores an article all to himself. "In each of the two biggest cities in the country," Christopher Hawthorne writes in "Gehryland, U.S.A.", "Frank Gehry has been handed a commission whose size and scope are unprecedented and would lead both [Robert Moses and Le Corbusier] to take notice. Both projects--a $1.8 billion redevelopment along Grand Avenue in L.A. replacing a bunch of parking lots across from Gehry's Disney Concert Hall and a $3.5 billion NBA Nets arena/Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn--will be helped along by a substantial public subsidy."    

Joel Kotkin argues in "Toward a New Suburbanism" that the challenge for developers, builders, planners and public officials is to "find ways to preserve the advantages of relatively low-density suburban living while addressing legitimate concerns about the environment, lifestyle, culture and family and spiritual lives. The solution to the problem of 'sprawl' must lie in the sprawl itself and in improving the quality of life in these dynamic places. This approach starts with the notion that suburbs are...becoming more varied, dense and progressively less reliant on metropolitan centers. This leads to a greater demand for 'placemaking' and village environments that can serve as core identity-providing centers for suburban regions."

"Smart City 2020" by William Mitchell focuses on research projects that are exploring the use of emerging technologies to transform urban transportation and energy-distribution systems. The miniaturization and digitization of automobile components, for example, has led to a shared-use concept car design for General Motors. The two-passenger vehicles, which can fold and stack like supermarket shopping carts (and recharge their electric batteries while in line), could be made available for short-term rentals at transit stations.

Finally, "Why I Like the Seattle Library" is written by a resident of the Emerald City, Natalia Ilyin, who's taken issue with monumental modernism in the past. Nonetheless, "my affection for the library grew as the building took shape," she admits. "It became a glass polyhedron that looked like a deep jewel or a grounded star." While expressing her disappointment that "the inside architecture just does not live up to the idealism of its carapace," Ilyin concludes that "even if its innards are lacking, it has done a lot right." And someday, she hopes, "we can take another stab at the inside and make it work with the outside."