don’t get paved over
July 11, 2010, 8:03 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

More evidence of the prevalence of the analytic:  we don’t plan, we merely do, or react or whatever.  This attitude is dominant in the offices I have worked in on the east coast.  I call it ‘how bout this?’  In designing a new product, the chief offers some low level input at the beginning and at critical phases.  The worker bees busily develop the idea.  BZZZ.  BZZZ.  Hundreds of solutions are developed when four or five, with meaning, would do.  They are shown to the client: how ’bout this?  how ’bout this?  The toss out rate is extremely high and hundreds more are developed to replace the ones being binned.  And all because there is no big picture, no one willing, or capable, or something, of making goals, developing a vision.

Here is a quotation from Bob Yaro, a planner in New England:

“When you’ve done some planning in England and you come back over to this country, you realize how futile it is, because no one’s really looking at the big picture.  I admit that what we’re doing here is looking as some individual pieces of property and trying to make sure they don’t  get paved over.  But where is the big picture?  It doesn’t exist.”

Bob Yaro, since departed for his new job with the NYRPA, offered this final assessment in a phone interview:  “When they come to chronicle the decline of this civilization,” he said, “they’re going to wonder why we were debating flag burning, abortion, and broccoli eating instead of the fundamental issues of how we live and use the environment.

–Bob Yaro, quoted by JH Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere

can’t see the forest for the trees

We analyze and parse, and collect data, and manipulate it but can never seem to make judgments based on it.  My design students today spend weeks and reams of paper and blood and sweat collecting, analyzing, charting, but never never make summary statements about their work.  There is always a huge gap left between early research analysis and the design work they take on later in their semesters.  The analysis operates as a mere pretext and the design work is developed from a position of unhinged bliss.

It appears we operate by a technocracy that allows us to float untethered from the implications of real research.   Is this why we ask so few questions and put our heads down and work:  to avoid having to react directly to what our research is telling us and to continue generating fantasies?

Here is the quotation from Geography of Nowhere:

The intellectual position of Jackson, Venturi, and Lewis vis-a-vis the American landscape illustrates how the discontinuities of our everyday surroundings are mirrored by the discontinuities of the university.  Viewing a landscape full of totem objects designed to convince us that we live in a thing called a community – ‘colonial’ houses, Red Barn hamburger joints – the academics declare that these objects may be minutely observed without considering their value in relation to other things – for instance, to some notion of what makes a community authentic or false, good or bad.  Their position is an outgrowth of technocratic view that believes only in measuring and quantifying.  Perhaps those in the arts and humanities take refued in this position out of a sense of inferiority toward those in the sciences.  By turning the arts and humanities into pseudosciences, the ideas they contain assume a false empirical authority.  And when the arts and humanities no longer deal with questions of value, of what constitutes a life worth living, they give up altogether the responsibility for making value judgments.

Thus, a Jacksonian student of landscape can observe a Red Barn hamburger joint, he can remark on its architectural resemblance to certain farm structures of the past, measure its dimensions, figure out the materials that went into building it, record the square footage of its parking lot, count the number of cars that come and go, the length of time that each customer lingers inside, the average sum spent on a meal, the temperature of the iceberg lettuce in its bin in the salad bar – all down to the last infinitesimal detail – and never arrive at the conclusion that the Red Barn is an ignoble piece of shit that degrades the community.

–James Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere