These fakes towns seem oddly appropriate for a generation that grew up with shopping malls as their downtown. Not only can they purchase mass-market reproductions of antiques, they can now live in homogenized versions of cities without grit–residences that offer amenities without character or history.
Notice the tone here, a characteristic Brahminian sneering at the consumer. Consumers don’t know what they want and when they do, it’s crap. (Funny, though, I wouldn’t have said that Valhouli is an old Boston name. Funny how widely the Brahmin critique has spread.)
Valhouli’s argument turns on two assumptions, one true, one false.
He contends that
Many of the most charming neighborhoods were developed before modern zoing and building codes. These places grew organically into complex, irregular and fascinanting urban forms.
This is true.
Valhouli further contends,
Advances in building technology make it possible, perhaps even easier, to rebuild them [communities] in a single run. But it seems a pity that to duplicate Harvard Square or Beacon Hill today would be a nightmare of variances and zoing relief.
This is false.
When last in Dallas, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Steve and Virginia Postrel. They told me about a recent Dallas building that was build to look as if it had been renovated several times. False archaeological cues had been insinuated into form and surface.
In point of fact, variation, inconsistency and discontinuity can be build into every aspect of the consumer economy and it indeed it is now being installed there on a systematic basis. (See the post from Vegas on Mr. Heap the architect who works with "controlled accident.")
Indeed, one can imagine a zoning code that insisted on variation, one that said, it doesn’t matter what you build here, it just has to be inconsistent with what you build here last. But of course one would not want to imagine such a zoning code, because, generally speaking, code do much more harm that developers. I mean, there’s a reason why Boston pre-code is more interesting than Boston post-code.
All of this puts the liberals in an awkward spot. They continue to sneer at the market driven producer and the market driving consumer. They would like to control what one produces and the other consumes. But their grounds for umbrage is a world created without code, by the willy nilly of the market place.
Hmmm. Dear Mr. Valhouli, this is your rock, this is your hard place.
But finally, this is everyone’s problem. What we need are producers who get better at letting variation in, at "controlled accidents," at building communities that have variation and take on variation. And what we need are building codes that are not so busy us protecting us from commerce that they prevent this commerce from creating variation and dynamism.
By the by, sometime in conversation in Las Vegas, it occurred to me that we could create communities virtually in Second Life and allow committed and would be buyers to "live" there. This would give the powers of community a leg up. Consumers would move into their new towns with prior acquaintance. But more to the present point, Second Life creations of planned communities would give the developers a chance to see where the "variation" tolerances of this community lay.
Valhouli, Constantine. 2006. New Urbanism Revitalizes an Old Precedent. Wall Street Journal. June 14, 2006. (Letter to the Editor.) P. A 15.
For a visit to Second Life, a community of virtual communities, go here.