Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Slow news day, always a good thing. New construction starts are down 8% in Spain since January 2007, the largest decline in the EU-27. The stock market is down just a little, two-tenths of one percent or so. British Airways increased its share of Iberia to 13%, but they're not going to take over the airline, since it would lose its valuable semi-monopoly of Spain-Latin America flights if it passed to non-Spanish hands. Meanwhile, the airlines have reduced the number of Barcelona-Madrid flights because of competition from the new high-speed train, meaning there are plenty of slots at El Prat for any company that wants to fly in and out of here. Now let's see if Barcelona's market can support more traffic.

La Vanguardia ran a special culture section on the changes the city has experienced since the late ´80s, when I came here. It's mostly pomo-critical theory architecture--design--urban planning stuff, and it seems like there are several overriding themes: 1) Barcelona is the most wonderful place in the world 2) the city took advantage of its Olympic Games more effectively than most other cities have 3) government urban planning works in Barcelona and other cities should follow our example 4) there are too many damn tourists spoiling things for us Barcelonese 5) America sucks.

(My reaction: 1) they have a good point. Barcelona is probably one of the ten most desirable cities in the world to live in 2) they really did use the Olympics to put the city on the world map: Barcelona used to be a fourth division city and now it's near the top of the second division 3) government urban planning in Barcelona has been fairly successful, but there have also been some very serious errors 4) Shut up already about the tourists. We live off them. And they're a natural consequence of getting on the world map, which Barcelona is so proud of 5) Yeah, around here they can't even run a culture supplement about their own city without slagging off the Yankees.)

So check out this piece (of crap) by one Josep Oliva, billed as "an architect and urban planner":

USA: the urban anti-model

With a few honorable and notable exceptions, the typical American city is the urban anti-model. Though I would call it the domestic city, conceptually speaking it is a human settlement that does not reach the category of a city as it is correctly defined. The most representative example is Los Angeles, which is the paradigm of unsustainability and the absence of urban values.

Yeah, I hate L.A. too, but a lot of people like it, so many that it's America's second largest metro area. Are all of those folks lacking in proper urban values? And where does this joker get off telling us that Kansas City, say, is not really a city? What is it, a vat of Crisco?

Various factors explain the existence of these non-cities. According to V. Verdu*, the preeminence of the home over the street, the private over the public, utilitarian individualism and distant communication, all this is genuinely American. To these characteristics of privacy, individualism, and a certain dehumanization, one must add the omnipresent liberalism** and the suburban mentality typical of the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic countries as a consequence of climactic determinism, Besides, there is the role of the economy, which impregnates everything.

*Verdú wrote the notorious Yankee-bashing screed The American Planet.
**Remember, in Spain "liberal" means "capitalist," more or less.

Note the stereotyping of Americans as private, selfish, distant people, a common cliché among all Mediterranean Europeans. However, most Europeans don't straignt out call Americans dehumanized like this guy does. One comment: Americans don't hang out on the streets much because they have spacious, attractive homes with yards rather than cramped, overcrowded apartments, and instead of meeting at the local bar they actually invite one another over to their houses. Americans often (mistakenly) consider Spaniards as cold and unfriendly because they never invite you over to their place. And does the economy not impregnate everything in Barcelona too, or do people here not have jobs or anything?

For years, the US has exercised great influence in the whole world and in every aspect of life, including the construction of cities.

Yep, here's the problem. The United States is more influential than Catalonia, and therefore one must whine and complain about it.

Verdu points out that such a cruel and intense phenomenon of colonization, so absolute and devastating, has never received so little opposition, and that it does not operate in the crude manner of oppression, but rather with the refined strategy of seduction. It's not exploitation, but "modernizing." And so we copy them, uncritically adopting their way of life, and we are fascinated by the "modernity" of their images.

Cruel? Devastating? Colonization? What? Suburbs are cruel? Note that our author admits that the European stereotype of the American city is, despite its devastating colonization, seductive. It's American, so it's no good, but those clever Yankees trick people into thinking it's attractive. And note what's really bothering him: some people around here aren't totally anti-American and think living in a suburb might be kind of nice. Also note that he's judging America on images again, just like other bigots from over here who don't know crap about anything outside their own little pond.

Why should we copy a model with no future, because it's unsustainable, the product of unbridled liberalism, which ignores public space and scorns the added value of enjoying the city in itself?

In this sentence I count two straw men, the alleged stereotype (model) of the hypothetical American city and the traitorous Catalan seduced by Yankeeism; one case of begging the question, saying that this stereotype (model) has no future because it is unsustainable when those things are synonyms; one use of a scare phrase, unbridled liberalism; and two unsupported and unfalsifiable hypotheses, that Americans ignore public space (like Central Park or the Mall or Boston Common?) and make cities unenjoyable (like Boston or Chicago or New York or San Francisco?).

They talk about modernizing our urban tradition and projecting it into the future, but banal novelties are one thing and solid modernity destined to establish itself in atemporality is another.

I have a big solid turd destined to establish itself in the Barcelona sewer system in about an hour or so.

Diagonal Mar, the courthouse complex, the autistic shopping malls, and the business parks are examples of the application of American non-urban criteria. It is strange, because it is incoherent, that the compulsively anti-American left follows the dictates of this domestic city in major urban interventions that reflect urban planning from the opposite side of the political spectrum. Among others, this is the case of Caufec in Esplugues.

So this guy is annoyed at the Catalan left wing because it's not anti-American enough? And why are shopping malls so awful? It's not like hundreds of thousands of people don't go to them here in Catalonia every weekend. And when did shopping malls become politically conservative? Finally, note that our author has gone through this entire rant because he wants to denounce some construction project out in Esplugues. Jesus.

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