Friday Thoughts: From Glass House to Glass Phone

Thanks to my friend Bob, who set up the trip, I visited architect Philip Johnson’s iconic and in some ways almost cliched “Glass House” outside New Canaan, Connecticut. I say cliched because it’s been so photographed, and its image so disseminated, that it’s easy to see it as a joke. A glass house! Right. How could anyone possibly live there? It’s a concept, not a house.

Visiting it though, it’s easily seen that it’s one, beautiful, and two, easily lived in. And the reason is that the house sits on Johnson’s 49-acre estate. So when you lay down to sleep in a bed surrounded by windows on three sides, it’s meadows and trees that surround you, not prying eyes.The nature is part of the house. This is great – if you have 49 acres.

Friday Thoughts:20/09/13 – Local Institutions Matter

I’m down in Virginia Beach right now, having spoken at the Naro Movie theater in Norfolk and at WHRV about my new book. Neat to be back in my hometown.
The Naro movie theater, nestled on Colley Avenue in the heart of the neighborhood of Ghent, is such a lovely institution. The two guys who run it, Tom and Tench, have created something that for 35 years has functioned and grown into a community center and community builder of sorts. When you go to see a movie there, or go to talk there, you’re going to a place that functions as watering hole for people interested in the arts, in ideas, in politics. Not just the neighborhood but the city and region would be poorer without it. I know that this pair, Tom and Tench, have had to be endlessly creative in keeping this enterprise alive as a business in the face of various larger forces that want to wipe them out.
Seeing this institution, relatively healthy and prosperous, I was struck again by how so many important things in a city’s or community’s life are created partly by chance or happenstance. There are much larger cities that lack this kind of institution. It was created in Norfolk by the lucky combination of a pair of guys back in the mid 1970s who had a vision, a theater that was available, this theater being right on what was or would become the central walking and strolling street of the district if not the city, and some other factors I’m not aware of. These are factors that are hard to plan, or to put in a formula, yet at the same time must be encouraged somehow.
Here’s a link to my now past-tense appearance a few days ago, http://narocinema.com/calendar/view.php?id=1781&show=13007
And here’s a link to my talk on the radio on WHRV in Norfolk, on the Hearsay show by Cathy Lewis. http://www.whro.org/home/html/podcasts/hearsay/09172013.mp3

Friday The 13th Thoughts: Summers vs Yellen

Larry Summers and Janet Yellin are still duking it out in the pages of the press (metaphorically speaking) over who will be the better Fed chairman, should President Barack Obama pick one of them.

What the Summers side is missing, apparently unintentionally, is that this debate is not about competence, it’s about values. Those who explicitly favor Yellin, such as Joseph Stiglitz or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, favor Yellin because she is closer to a progressive position that will emphasize full employment and less coddling of the financial sector. Those who favor Summers, in contrast, talking endlessly about his competence and bureaucratic skills. They seem to miss that the Fed job is not just about driving the car correctly; it’s about where it’s going.

Why We Need and Can Have More Great Public Works, Right Now

Neal Peirce, that distinguished dean of commentators on urban planning and cities, picked up my argument about why it’s a great time to start doing more public works – i.e. infrastructure – in this column today that ran all over the country. Here’s a link to the version that ran in the Richmond Times Dispatch.