Thursday, April 10, 2014

Meat Ax and the Evisceration of Cities



Robert Moses planned two cross-town expressways through Manhattan that were never built in large part due to neighborhood opposition.  One of those proposed highways was the Lower Manhattan expressway through SoHo and West Village area of Manhattan, essentially isolating the financial district from its surrounding neighborhoods (much like 345 did to Dallas).

In support of his proposed highway he wrote:
You can draw any kind of pictures you like on a clean slate and indulge your every whim in the wilderness in laying out a New Delhi, Canberra and Brasilia, but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis you have to hack your way with a meat ax. 
First, you can see his vision of modernist utopias: Canberra and Brasilia, both of which are soulless, lifeless places.  Second, you see what he thinks of cities, that they're in need of a meat axe, which is appropriate considering that true cities achieve a higher order of complexity, essentially a consciousness, due to their high degree of local connectivity, much like the human brain.  Imagine if you took an axe to a brain.  This is your brain on traffic engineers.

Key opponent of Robert Moses and godmother of cities and a lot of complexity science and mathematics today, Jane Jacobs responded:
Expressways...eviscerate great cities. This is not the rebuilding of cities. This is the sacking of cities.