As the Grateful Dead said in a song about the death in 1970 or so of their harmonica player and singer “Pig Pen,” who also died of liver disease, “Like a steel locomotive, going down the track, he’s gone, and nothing is going to bring him back.” Okay, maybe that was a bit maudlin. But also appropriate, because Steve Jobs was a child of the 1960s, whether or not he liked the Grateful Dead or not. He took LSD, and named it as one of the most significant events of his life. He famously said that Bill Gates would have made better software if he had taken a hit or two of that substance. Jobs named another creature of the 1960s, the Whole Earth Catalog, as one of the most significant products of the Silicon Valley, up there with the Silicon chip. (The Whole Earth Catalog was created by my man Steward Brand, who knew Jobs. Brand is still alive and well, although two decades older than Jobs. Just to close the circle, Brand was one of Ken Kesey’s acid-gobbling “Merry Pranksters.” You can read all about it in Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Brand would get into computers, and then architecture and cities, big time. Kevin Kelley, one of Brand’s early editors, would go on to co-found Wired, the bible of high tech. But I digress.) I would say that Jobs, with the first Mac, with the Iphone, with the Ipad, brought a touch of the 60s culture into the mainstream, with his products’ emphasis on beauty, elegance and child-like fun. With their in-your-face openness, and directness, and hippie-like commitment to making it real. Okay, I’m going too far here. Now, 12 year olds in China make his Iphone, and one certainly can’t say that everything about Apple is good, true and beautiful. Jobs was a player in a hard-core, fight to the death industry. But it said something that he accomplished what he accomplished through good design, which when done right, go ways beyond cosmetics. In all, Jobs made the world a better place because he was here. Who could ask for more? We can thank him for giving his life to his products. He probably knew his time here on earth was limited, but he spent his last few years making insanely great tools, rather than lounging on Palm Beach. Thank you, Steve.
I’ve started teaching a class on infrastructure at the architecture school at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. See here for more info: NJIT Architecture School The two courses I teach, Elements of Infrastructure and History of Infrastructure, are a perfect fit for me. For whatever reason, I’ve gradually become obsessed with the pipes, rails, tubes and other stuff that lie generally beneath our feet. Everyone has got to believe in something; I believe in infrastructure.
Increasingly, the country is too. It and its new leader, President Barack Obama, are turning to infrastructure as the key to lifting ourselves out of bad times and paving the way for future ones. Might work. Here’s a recent column of mine on the subject. Infrastructure column.
I’ve been contributing to Streetsblog.org a lot lately, which is a blog about the ongoing fight to make city streets more liveable and fertile. It’s edited by the virtuoso Aaron Naperstak. You can check it out at streetsblog.org
This story, about the New York apartment building, ran in Slate magazine. Because it is accompanied by slides, it is best to see it on Slate’s web site.
By Alex Marshall
For The Powhatan Review
Crewing is the ultimate wasp sport. It requires patience, diligence and years of work at the simple task of pulling oars through water, as you park your butt in the bottom of a tiny slivered almond of a boat. Crew is not flashy. There is no crew equivalent of passing the ball behind your back on your way to a slam dunk over the head of a surprised defender. No, crew is all about steady effort for the sake of some future reward that may never come.
The Future of Transportation
Will the auto and airplane reign supreme?
By Alex Marshall
With the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, the political scientist Francis Fukiyama caused a sensation with an essay called “The End of History?” It postulated that, with the relative collapse of Communism, the struggle among rival political systems had ended with a permanent victory for liberal, democratic capitalism. All that was left to do was to refine it.
Is something similar happening with the way we get around? Have we reached “the End of History” with transportation? Will the current system of automobile and airplane travel reign supreme’for now and for centuries hence? Or will something new come along to remake our world, as it has in the past?
“The Joseph Papers”, Summer 2000. This paper was commissioned by The Joseph Center at Christopher Newport University for the study of local, state and regional government. It was the inaugural edition of “The Joseph Papers,” which are meant to provide a forum for the discussion of regional cooperation in the Norfolk Metropolitan Area. The “Joseph Papers” are scheduled to be published biannually. This paper examined regional transportation.
By Alex Marshall
Three hundred and twenty years ago a surveyor pulled his boat up on the muddy bank of a river and laid out the rudiments of a street system; streets for a new town named Norfolk, carved out of what was then Lower Norfolk County.
Driving along Route One in New Jersey last week, looking at the mammoth car dealerships and shopping centers lining the eight-lane highway, it was difficult to see how the words of noted Danish urbanist and architect Jan Gehl applied in such an environment. Where was there a public space to revive? Where was there a place to put a sidewalk cafe, a bicycle lane or a bench?
Gehl had spoken that same night before an audience of public officials and interested citizens in nearby Princeton, most of whom were participating in The Mayors’ Institute on Community Design for two days at Princeton, organized by Regional Plan Association and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Office of Smart Growth. Gehl spoke at McCosh Hall, inside one of the classic stone buildings at the university, as students made their way outside over a thin blanket of snow.
First published in The New York Observer
March 25, 2002
by Alex Marshall
When I take the subway, and enter into that labyrinth of tunnels and tracks that transport some five million of us daily, I think about Atlas Shrugged, that mad, 1,200-page homage to money and markets written by Ayn Rand, the late Russian ‘migr’ accustomed to wearing an embroidered silver dollar sign on her black cape, and one-time guru to Alan Greenspan and other important money men.
How Many Cyclists Can and Should Fit on City Streets?
The ferocious competition for a smidgen of asphalt on Manhattan streets might be best appreciated behind the handlebars of a bicycle. As I whiz up 8th Avenue or crosstown on 13th street, I’m confronted by double-parked delivery trucks, jaywalking pedestrians and meandering delivery boys, their bicycles draped with carryout food. Beside me, sleek SUVs with oversized grills, boxy belching trucks, and speeding yellow cabs all attempt, as I do, to grab a portion of street space and get where they are going as quickly as possible.
There’s no question that what I’m doing is dangerous. A careless taxi driver or a misplaced car door could kill or injure me in a heartbeat.