by Alex Marshall
August/September issue, 2001
Today’s Quiz: What magnificent hall of marble, iron and glass, built about 1900, was torn down in the mid 1960s, robbing New York of one of the best examples of Beaux-arts architecture in the city if not the world?
No, not Penn Station. The Pavilion of Fun!!!!!! Of course! That magnificent hall inside Steeplechase Park on Coney Island that sheltered park goers on a rainy day. It was our Crystal Palace. And Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, tore it down in 1966 to build some condos that didn’t materialize.
[Excerpt From Chapter Three ]
Urbanism and Underwear
Anne (not her real name) had worked at the small used bookstore in Menlo Park since 1967. During this time, she watched the downtown change around her. It used to be a place where the city’s politicians came to meet, a place where the average person came to buy a television, some furniture, or some shampoo. Downtown was the area’s commercial, political, and economic center. Then, hard times hit. The furniture and appliance stores closed or moved out to the malls. McDonald’s out on the highway replaced the everyday restaurants on Main Street.
[Excerpt From Chapter Two]
The Nature of Place
Before the car, or more particularly before the highway, the essential challenge of cities was to keep everything from being in the same place. The city was centripetal. Like a black hole, the nature of a city or town was to suck everything to one point. People needed to be near the railroad, the port, the factory to get to their jobs, and factories needed to be near the people and transportation links. This was why reformers championed public parks. Called the lungs of the cities, they were spots of greenery in the tightly packed clumps of buildings and streets. And it took real community effort to put them there. Valuable and scarce land, which could have been converted into homes and businesses, had to be set aside by the public. The tendency of the pre-automobile city to suck people to specific points only intensified with the transportation advances of the nineteenth century, which drew people, machinery, businesses, and money toward the subway stop, the streetcar stop, the railroad terminal.
[Excerpt From The Introduction]
Children are supposed to turn to their parents at some point and ask innocently, “Daddy [or Mommy], where do babies come from?” Faced with such a basic question, parents then decide how directly to answer it.
I doubt any child has turned to anyone and asked plaintively, “Daddy, where do places come from?” Or, “Daddy, where do cities come from?” But it is these questions that I hope people are asking, even if not consciously, and which I seek to answer in this book.