Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Building an explanation for the riots.

In the wake of the riots outside Paris and across France, some people have been blaming the sterile high-rises of the banlieues, and in particular Le Corbusier, whom they finger for having gotten the whole high-rise thing going. At TNR Online, Clay Risen says it's not his fault:
Like many architects of his generation, Le Corbusier believed that revolutionary changes in modern society required a revolutionary architecture. Modern buildings had to respond to rapid social change and to incorporate new modes of living and interaction. Booming cities required denser housing, hence the high-rise apartment building. Vertical density, however, entailed vertical integration of social spaces, hence Le Corbusier's concept of the "interior street," in which alternating floors were filled with shops and services. Increasingly dense cities meant disappearing green space, hence his "tower in a park" design, in which a building's vertical density enabled open land around it. Fragmented family units needed flexible living spaces, hence his open-plan apartment designs. Such adaptability is what Le Corbusier meant by the "machine for living"--pace his literal-minded critics, he certainly did not believe that buildings should be merely functionalist edifices.

* * * * *

The public housing authorities who copied Le Corbusier's work in the late 1950s and early '60s saw a model for cheap, high-density housing. They tore down vast swaths of urban and (in Europe) suburban neighborhoods and threw up massive, poorly built, and banally designed projects separated from the rest of the city. They rejected Le Corbusier's insistence on mixed-use development, so that residents became isolated from their jobs and social lives as well. And rather than use the buildings' densities to improve the efficiency of public services, housing authorities in Europe and North America used their anonymity and physical isolation to ignore the needs of their residents--especially when, by the late '60s, the welfare state model began to implode. Poorly maintained and understaffed, within a generation these monstrosities became havens of crime and poverty; the notorious Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis was dynamited a mere 20 years after its construction, and today Chicago is systematically tearing down such mega-projects as the Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini-Green.
In The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann suggests that part of the attraction of building high-rises like the Robert Taylor Homes was that a greater proportion of the government's spending would go to (politically-connected) construction firms. If so, the governments that built awful housing on the South Side of Chicago and outside Paris did not spend as much time as Le Corbusier did thinking about how to make those projects work.

Judge Posner on planning for an avian-flu pandemic.

"So we are seeing basically a repetition of the planning failures that resulted in the Hurricane Katrina debacle."

More here.

Scorsese's Dylan documentary.

Greil Marcus doesn't seem to like it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

For Strange & Norrell fans.

Crooked Timber has posted a wonderful seminar on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke's novel about magic in England at the start of the nineteenth century. Several of the Timber regulars have posted short pieces about the book, and Clarke responds. Good stuff.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

UN reform.

Newt Gingrich recently made some astute comments on reform at the UN, related at TPM Cafe. A sample:
"Corruption, inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the United Nations implementation capabilities directly hurt the poorest countries and the poorest people in the world. So this is not simply an American interest in saving money. So, if you are sincerely interested in helping the poorest people in the world, if you are sincerely interested in helping health around the world, if you're sincerely interested in maximizing development there's a very real interest in having an effective United Nations. The terms of the debate ought not to be about saving the American taxpayers' money. It ought to be about wasting the money which should be available to directly help the poorest people in the world."

Obama in print.

According to this piece from The Telegraph (Calcutta) (via Brad DeLong) correctly, editor Rachel Klayman saw then-State Sen. Barack Obama as a candidate to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator last year -- before he became famous at the Democratic National Convention last year -- and decided that he would write a good book. Looking into it, she found that her own copy had published a book by Obama a few years before. "What Klayman found unusual is that the book was actually a good read." She got it back into print, and after the convention it started flying off the shelves.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Hi, Adam.

I once had a roommate whose ability to think in long chains of what we who cannot think in such terms would call double-negatives -- i.e., triple-, quadruple-, quintuple-negatives (etc.) -- was astounding. Today he is a successful corporate lawyer in Chicago, Illinois. Perhaps he could unravel this recent AP story on the Plame investigation, the subject of Jack Shafer's piece in Slate:
The Valerie Plame investigation is ostensibly about identifying the anonymous government source or sources who leaked her alleged status as a covert CIA officer. After reading this AP story, I was as bent and twisted as Gumby. In trying to determine who Bob Woodward's anonymous source might be, the story cites another anonymous source to clear the vice president of suspicions that he was the anonymous source for the foremost collector of anonymous sources in our time.
Shafer says it's Woodward. Unless I'm confused, which is highly possible.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Domino Theory.

Endangered Dutch house sparrow killed after it knocks over 23,000 dominoes.

One Nation, Under God.

At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok posts part of a 1796 treaty between the fledgling United States of America and the Bey of Tripoli:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Seems relevant to an originalist interpretation of the Establishment Clause.

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