Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Brilliant photo/essay on the decline of center cities + the "Bilbao Effect"

Guggenheim Bilbao by Frank Gehry
The Guggenheim Bilbao opened 10 years ago, transforming a gritty port city in northern Spain into a tourist magnet. The so-called Bilbao Effect was studied throughout the world, as second-tier cities sought to reinvent themselves with their own architectural trophies. The river, which was once lined with rusty shipyards, is now home to a manicured greenbelt of playgrounds, bicycle paths and riverside cafes. But while Frank Gehry's titanium masterpiece continues to draw hordes of visitors, Bilbao remains very much a one-attraction town. Though the museum has raised the profile of the city, the local culture still hasn’t integrated with the Guggenheim. The vast majority of the museum's visitors come from outside the Basque region, and more than half from other countries. The Moyúa neighborhood next to the Guggenheim, which should have benefited from the Bilbao Effect most acutely, is far from tourist ready. But there have been major strides in other parts of town. Credit: Denis Doyle for The New York Times

In keeping with the theme that historic preservation is a strategy or program for community improvement that transcends the desires of individual architects or property owners to build a single building, I came across an essay by the photographer-author Jeff Brouws, which is reprinted at the B-Mode blog.

The photographs of decay and the way he organizes and types these photographs are brilliant.

From the introduction:

Feeling kinship with the New Topographics Movement from the 1970s that documented the impact of the constructed suburban world on the natural one, I wanted to invert that premise — looking at the urban core instead of the periphery — and ask how suburbanization after World War II affected city centers. What were the consequences as we went from an urban, city-dwelling lifestyle — based on mass transportation, high density living, and production — to a suburban, car-dependent, low-density lifestyle based on consumption?

It's trying to reverse or prevent decay that motivates the historic preservation movement, not a desire to promote nostalgia.

A one-off building or project very very very very very very very very very very rarely is enough to reverse longstanding patterns of neighborhood, commercial district, or community disinvestment.

Even if it's a building designed by a starchitect.

It's a building, not a program/plan/strategy.

Even the "Bilbao Effect" is more than the museum building by Frank Gehry.

And many other cities trying for a "Bilbao Effect" of their own haven't succeeded.

Even Frank Gehry agrees. See "Frank Gehry: the Bilbao Effect is bulls**t" from the Times of London. From the article:

But this morning, speaking in front of the temporary summer pavilion he has designed for the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, Gehry, 79, said that the so-called “Bilbao Effect” had been misunderstood.

“It’s a bunch of bullshit,” he said. “You do a building, you solve the problems, people are happy and that’s nice.”

However, a really successful building, like the Guggenheim, cannot simply be churned out to order. “It is kind of a miracle, you don’t quite know how it happens”.

“In the case of Bilbao, they asked for Sydney Opera House when we started but they had a comprehensive plan for the community. Foster did the subway system, Jim Stirling was doing a train station that never happened, Calatrava did the airport and everybody did a vineyard.

“So there was sort of an intent to change the community and it worked.”

Hyping the power of one building to revive an area is also a distraction from the real business of putting up good buildings, Gehry said. “I don’t think you start out to make a marquee development. They talk about “spectacle architecture” and I think people jump on these kind of things but from my point of view I don’t start out to do that.

Also see "Welcome to the Land of ‘Wow-Factor’ Museums" and "Bilbao, 10 Years Later" from the New York Times.

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