America's cities are being rapidly transformed by a sinister and homogenous design. A new Kind of urbanismmanipulative, dispersed, and hostile to traditional public spaceis emerging both at the heart and at the edge of town in megamalls, corporate enclaves, gentrified zones, and psuedo-historic marketplaces. If anything can be described as a paradigm for these places, it's the theme park, an apparently benign environment in which all is structured to achieve maximum control and in which the idea of authentic interaction among citizens has been thoroughly purged. In this bold collection, eight of our leading urbanists and architectural critics explore the emblematic sites of this new cityscapefrom Silicon Valley to Epcot Center, South Street Seaport to downtown Los Angelesand reveal their disturbing implications for American public life.
Eight essays by architects and academics criticize as elitist and alienating such contemporary urban and extra-urban phenomena as mega-malls, historical re-creations and gentrification. Margaret Crawford uses Canada's West Edmonton Mall as a paradigm of the consumption-oriented pleasure dome. Langdon Winner offers a chilling analysis of Silicon Valley (``a vast suburb with no central city to give it meaning''), while Neil Smith discusses the greed and injustices that accompany the gentrification of New York's Lower East Side. And M. Christine Boyer dissects New York's South Street Seaport as an example of ``historicized, commodifed, and privatized places.'' Nearly all the writers take easy aim at yuppies, as both perpetrators of inequality and victims of consumerist illusions, who care little about the poor and homeless excluded from these havens of affluence. In much softer focus, though, are the governments that have so tragically failed our cities. This bias detracts from an overall thought-provoking collection on our urban malaise. Sorkin is former architecture critic of the Village Voice. (Feb.)