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, March 18, 2013

Grady Clay dies

Grady Clay wrote many books on the city and the urban landscape and served as the editor of Landscape Architecture, the ASLA publication.  He died over the weekend, at the age of 96.  See "Longtime urban-affairs specialist Grady Clay, 96, dies" from the Louisville Courier-Journal

He was the author of “Close Up: How To Read the American City,'' “Right Before Your Eyes: Penetrating the Urban Environment,'' “Real Places: An Unconventional Guide to America's Generic Landscape'' and “Alleys: A Hidden Resource.''

 It's ironic that many people in the city are pejoratively using the term "new urbanism" to denigrate pro-urban policies promoted by city planning offices and other stakeholders, as Mr. Clay coined the term "New Urbanism" in 1959!, specifically oriented to the city not the suburbs.

From the article "Metropolis Regained" in the July 1959 issue of Horizon Magazine:

We believe in the city, they would say, not in tearing it down. We like open space, but hold that too much of it is just as bad as too little. We want that multiplicity of choice that the city has always offered, but is now in danger of losing.  We want the same financing for a city house as a suburban split-level; good transportation to and from work without wasting hours on subways, buses or in traffic.  We like the intimacy of the crowd--but we also like to escape from it--we like the busy downtown plaza, but also the pleasant walkways of a residential district.  We are appalled at your civic centers, your housing projects, and your expressways.  They seem designed to be self-contained mechanisms for performance, procreation, and propulsion.  We come to the city seeking community, pleasure, jobs and other people;  you seem to be destroying the first, demoralizing the second, decentralizing the third, and displacing the last.  We like it here--only give us a break!

Grady Clay, along with William H. Whyte and Jane Jacobs (the book Exploding Metropolis collects a series of 6 pro-city articles that ran in Fortune Magazine in 1958 and 1959, including Jacobs' article "Downtowns are for people") pushed for reconsideration of the value of the center city in the late 1950s, when federal housing, financing, and transportation policy favored suburban living, and urban policies--specifically urban renewal--attempted to make over the city along the lines that laid out by Corbusier's Radiant City, a deconcentrated city of towers surrounded by parks.

It's taken 50 years for those ideas and concepts to again reach the kind of critical mass that might not mean that cities will overtake the suburbs but at least that they can regain some of the lost population and commerce that long before decamped.

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At 8:44 PM, Anonymous charlie said...


Working through Glazers "Modernism" but like a lot of urban books pretty blinkered. They have the virtues of biography -- you have to stay pretty grounded in the material -- but at the same time ingnore far too much outside their thesis.

In terms of US cities, I often wonder if the anti-city movement in the 1950's was the first cycle of the new tendancy NOT to invest. Certainly I look at some pictues of cities I know from the 1950s and they are not attrative plaeces. Infrastructure was coming up on 1 generation old and people didn't want to re-invent it.

(I'd say, that at a thesis, that re-inventing 1950s era density is just as important today That is Georgia Ave -- or Wilson in Arlington. Driving out on Lee HIghway in Fairfax todays makes me wonder if that is what, say, Georgia Ave looked like in 1968)

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

OMG... "not to invest." If we ever meet in person, I can lend you the book _Downtown America_. It is incredible, so well written.

A goodly part of the book discusses the Depression and how the real estate industry had to become professional, the professionalism of the real estate appraisal field, and how the field became much more focused on the economic value of land and buildings, that multi-floor buildings may make sense physically, but not economically, even downtown, etc.

And another section of the book, if you're into ephemera, is an examination of how business districts were portrayed (air brushing, etc.) in postcards, through a deep dive into the Curt Teich Company postcard archives in Wisconsin.

wrt Clay, I was introduced to his work when I was in Louisville for the National Trust Convention in 2004 I think.

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oh, and I don't know where the hell they are in the house, but at an estate sale a few years ago in Bethesda, Suzanne noticed some old Fortune Magazines in a back room (I missed them). They were five of the six issues of Fortune that had those articles that became the Exploding Metropolis book, including the JJ article. (Which years before I had read at the Georgetown U Lib.)

At 7:02 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

um, when I wrote "professionalism" wrt appraisal, I meant professionalization, including the adoption of metrics, etc.

At 8:06 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Great, more for the list.

The sense of history is critical, the best I get from GGW is often "One day Jane Jacobs said the word, and the word became flesh."

The GF and I finally got to union market. Impressive. You might be amused that the GF, who is shall we say navigationally challenged, immediately got out her phone to look at the area from the sat photos. Never saw her do that, so I guess wayfinding is very critical there. Turns out she was plotting a lunch run...

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

and I will try to get to the Glazer book. I still need to get to that English book on transpo that you mentioned... ?


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