By Alex Marshall
For The Virginian-Pilot
SUFFOLK — This handsome new courthouse of brick and stone that sits on Main Street is one answer to the question: how do we revive this city’s downtown?
Is it the right answer? This city’s center, with two-hundred years of history, was once a bustling place. Now, like Norfolk’s Granby Street and Portsmouth’s High Street, it has declined. All of these city’s main streets are shadows of their former selves, even though there are signs of life on all of them in the form of new businesses amid the vacant storefronts.
This Article first appeared in Builder Magazine
NOV. 30, 1999
BY ALEX MARSHALL
The old commercials for Lite beer by Miller which were once so popular gained their fame by having ex-jocks and other assorted celebrities stand at a bar, hold up a glass of amber-colored liquid, and repeat the slogan: “Tastes great, less filling.”
The advertising pitch worked for a while, but as any beer lover could tell you, all the “lite” beers were a pretty thin, tepid brew. The designer beers, which actually did taste great, but were also filling, shoved a lot of them out of the marketplace.
When it comes to urban design, the French have a unique ability to use heavy-handed state authority to produce systems that are technologically and aesthetically advanced. When successful, their state-trained engineers and civil servants produce stunning urban systems, like the TGV high-speed train network, that combine high technology, artistic elegance and coordinated efficiency. This can be seen not only in the TGV system, which has helped keep Paris a center of Europe and thus economically vital, but also in the country’s state-run nuclear power system, and its phone and electrical systems. Even the arching brick tunnels of the city’s 19th century sewer system are elegant.
The City and the Suburb
[Excerpt From Chapter Four]
“The sloughed-off environment becomes a work of art in the new invisible environment.”
— Marshall McLuhan in a conversation with William Irwin Thompson; quoted in Thompson, Coming into Being
“The bloodthirsty national merchants and the Chamber of Commerce have pretty well gutted the place I remember and taken and hucked the town’s original character into the overall commercial park. The center of town, which when I was a kid hadn’t changed much in the century, and was pleasingly timeworn and functional, has now either been torn down or renovated for artificial preservation as an example of itself.”
— description of Lexington, Kentucky, from Richard Hell’s autobiographical novel, Go Now2
The Role of Government in Building Cities
[Excerpt From Chapter Six]
In 1817, the governor of New York convinced the state legislature to spend $7 million to finance a canal from Albany to Buffalo. Eight years later, after thousands of workers had carved a channel through rock and earth, the Erie Canal was complete. The 350-mile canal opened the entire upper Midwest to shipping, and cemented New York City’s role as transportation hub for the nation, and as the country’s greatest city.