Written for the Conference: “Critics Talk About Smart Growth”
May 10-11, 2000
at The Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Sponsored by The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in cooperation with
The Institute for Urban Design of New York City.
By Alex Marshall
In 1957, John Keats wrote the satirical portrayal of life in the suburbs, The Crack in The Picture Window. It tells the history of the then burgeoning suburbs by telling the history of “John and Mary Drone,” who take up residence in a series of awful developments around Washington D.C. In its scathing, vitriolic language, it was a rifle shot across the bow of the battleship of suburbia that was proceeding at full pace. Keats wrote in part:
In a war of words, the best wielder of them tends to win. So I’m hesitant to disagree with Tom Wolfe, one of the century’s best journalists and a great word wielder. Nevertheless, it bears saying that Wolfe’s entertaining and lengthy two-part screed in The New York Times on Sunday and Monday was largely rubbish. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/12/opinion/12W OLF.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/13/opinion/13W OLF.html ).
It’s not that I mind Wolfe’s defense of the diminutive, Edward Durell Stone-designed Huntington Hartford building at Columbus Circle, which the newly renamed Museum of Arts and Design proposes to substantially remodel into its home. It’s true I have never liked this building.
Being windowless, it looked like an unfriendly fortress to me. Wolfe’s piece caused me to see it differently. Perhaps it is worth saving.