Youth Culture Killed Andres Duany’s Dog

I don’t know that the planning community is done freaking out about Andres Duany’s comments in the Atlantic, in which he waxes nostalgic about internal passports and hates on Us Damn Kids with our technoes and mudkips and sundry visions of emergent, unauthorized non-neo-traditional remix urbanisms that he doesn’t approve of.

But, as usual, I’m late to the party. Which has allowed for some interesting observations about not only his words, but the metacommentary itself. Rob Holmes’ comments in his rebuttal on mammoth seem most responsive and salient to Duany’s general critique:

With the publication of their latest issue, The Atlantic Monthly launched a month-long sub-site that they’re calling “The Future of the City”, which interests us for obvious reasons. In particular, the articles on the potential of private transit and post-Jacobsian urbanists are worth reading (and if I get a chance I’ll pull excerpts from them later), but the purpose of this post is to point you to a rather revealing (though somewhat absurdly titled) interview the Atlantic has conducted with Andres Duany. Within the a few short paragraphs, Duany manages to confirm some of my worst suspicions about New Urbanism (suspicions, which, I should note, by no means apply to all of the movement’s members or fans, plenty of whom are well-intentioned).

Holmes goes on to cite Duany’s “distaste for youth culture” (something I’ve seen building to a crescendo not only with Boomers but also in a recent battery of op-eds about “Generation X in mid-life crisis“, of all things), his Bush-economy “magical thinking” about real estate, and a “Friedman-esque longing for an authoritarian government that would cut through all the democratic whinging and get things built the right way”. (I’m unsure whether he meant Milton or Thomas, but either seems apropos.)

But he seems particularly concerned, as I am, about Duany’s apparently positive statements about internal passports in Cuba as a preservative measure against “the poor” destroying the historicity of Havana’s urban fabric:

Interestingly, it’s exactly this tendency — the desire to preserve the city as an aesthetic and social experience for the privileged (you’ll note that earlier in the interview Duany describes New Urbanism as originating in aesthetic concerns) by maintaining controls on the movements of the poor — which, in another of the Atlantic’s articles in this special report, Benjamin Schwarz finds and criticizes in the writings of post-Jacobsian urbanists….

The Cuban example is of, and this is literally according to Duany, a way of “preventing” one of the kinds of “destruction” (“the migration of the rural people to the city”) that can occur in a city. If he saw the Cuban example as problematic or exemplifying how top-down governance might go too far in the pursuit of certain objectives, given that Cuba is rather obviously an example of a top-down governance and that the context of the Cuban example is Duany describing what he sees as problems with democratic governance (and the corresponding advantages of top-down governance), you’d think that he would make that clear. But he hasn’t, and so I’m connecting the dots.

This seems like a rather appalling privilege of conservation aesthetics over human rights, above and beyond any of his merely obnoxious statements about the generation gap. And it goes doubly for Duany, who is of Cuban descent and not only should know better given the indignations of those with refugee status, but enjoys a remarkably privileged freedom of movement around Cuba beyond that of most Cubans themselves, to say nothing of most Americans.

Neil Flanagan of ЦARЬCHITECT has made some important points, primarily in comments when this was received on other blogs:

I’m most alarmed by his inclination to support fairly totalitarian regulations. Damnit, we’ve been here before, and all he’s done is switch up the aesthetics….

Duany argues that us kids are detrimental (among other reasons) because we rent instead of owning property the way grownups do. It’s not certain that owning is necessarily better in every case – and he doesn’t support that presumption. Harlem thrived pretty well with a majority rental population. Dan’s point seems to be that he would own if he could, he’d rent if he could, but it costs too much.

I’d go further than this: the tautological notion that “grownups” own property as a matter of course, affordability be damned, is such an enormous part of what caused the economic crisis this country (and much of the developed world) is still reeling from that I’m aghast Duany even said it.

Which isn’t to say I’m surprised. Duany’s said and done a number of tone-deaf things, including his continued desire to redevelop the Tacheles (a major art and music incubator in Berlin, particularly during reunification, and a UNESCO candidate for that reason) as yet another mid-city department store. And then there’s completely disregarding the aesthetic questions of using Seaside as Andrew Weir’s set design in The Truman Show. But while these things seem almost trite compared to the muted autocratic longings and dismissal of the young generations as monomanaiacal, authoritarian hipsters – I’m almost surprised he didn’t imagine us saying “I HERD U LIEK SMART GROWTH”, tho I’d doubt he’d get the reference – it does provide context for these ideations.

Then again, a lot of architects say appalling things. I keep coming back to Frank Gehry’s absolute and continued dismissal of context and sustainability issues as “petty” or some kind of “bogus” “political” “fad”. But the difference is that, for his myriad sins, Gehry (unlike Duany) never really pretended to care, much less staked pretty much his entire career on representing himself as one of the “good guys”.

The long and the short of it, I imagine, is that Andres Duany thinks youth culture killed his dog – or at least his redevelopment plans – and he doesn’t think it’s fair. But unfortunately for his particular vision of urbanism, remix culture interprets stasis as damage and routes around it. Fortunately, it does mean his fantasies about regulating the millennial generation out of existence will have little effect.

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~ by J.D. Hammond on May 21, 2010.

7 Responses to “Youth Culture Killed Andres Duany’s Dog”

  1. […] for more intelligent commentary on Duany and his Atlantic interview? Head over to Strassgefühl and […]

  2. “I’d go further than this: the notion that “grownups” own property as a matter of course is such an enormous part of what caused the economic crisis this country (and much of the developed world) is still reeling from that I’m aghast Duany said it.”

    Me too, me too. Though, as I’ve noted before, there’s always been an undercurrent of “real-estate-business-as-usual, but with a different facade” in Duany’s commentary on New Urbanism. I know it’s cheesy, but I’ll quote myself:

    “The tricky thing with Duany is sorting out what is a genuine attempt to improve cities and what might be a carefully-constructed shield for the extension of the corporate real estate economy (so long as Duany says things like “we don’t ask you to do what’s right because it’s ethical; we ask you because it works better” and translates the latter as “it sells more real estate”, he’ll be vulnerable to the latter critique).”

    (I was thinking of Thomas, by the way.)

  3. […] are others who are also offended by these statements, and they have made their own comments.  But my question […]

  4. […] uses and people in the Sunbelt’s few-and-far-between urban oases — has drawn a storm of the same old Saint/Mod criticisms (only this time some bloggers are taking it personally!) about NU being exclusionary, […]

  5. “tautological notion that “grownups” own property as a matter of course, affordability be damned, is such an enormous part of what caused the economic crisis this country”

    And the idea that because grownups should own property, we’ll sell them all sorts of strange and risky mortgages and gimmicks like low teaser rates to get them into homes. After all, you can’t lose, right? You’ve got the property backing up the loan, and real-estate always goes up!

    The result: financial chaos, and a further worsening of the economy as the negative wealth-effect curtails spending.

  6. ” But the difference is that, for his myriad sins, Gehry (unlike Duany) never really pretended to care, much less staked pretty much his entire career on representing himself as one of the “good guys”.

    Really? You feel let down by Andres for saying he cared, that he wanted to be one of the good guys and because of some snarky remarks you equate him with Gehry, nay less than Gehry?
    Wow, the shallowness and cynicism seem to know no bounds.

    “But unfortunately for his particular vision of urbanism”

    You mean the one any urbanist worthy of the name shares with him?

    JD, nice to see you’re back at it, and trust me, I will never assume you are trying to be one of the good guys, lest you should break my heart with your indelible wit.

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