Thursday, February 27, 2014

The fate of cities

Recently, my friend Gerard Koskovich, rightly concerned about major changes that seem to be in store in his city of San Francisco, evoked the drastic changes that Baron Haussmann had imposed on Paris in the middle of the 19th century.  In this connection I thought of modern Rome.  To be sure the Eternal City has ranked as sui generis, for much of it, the urban heritage of imperial Rome, lay in ruins.

However, modern Rome underwent both of the processes that have transformed out major cities.  First, beginning in 1585 Sixtus V laid out a series of grand boulevards, linking major monuments.  These inevitably involved confiscations.  More serious were the private seizures of the princely families, such as the Colonna and the Torlonia, which gradually devoured the popular quarters, replacing them with great palaces.  In London  “urban clearance” was accomplished by the Great Fire of 1666.  Here in New York City real-estate greed, as seen in the tragic destruction of Penn Station, accomplished this work.  I hear that serious changes are occurring in Rio de Janeiro, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  All of our great cities, it seems, are at risk.

What hope remains to allow cities to escape these sackings?  It seems that only smallish, out-of-the- way places like Siena, Troyes, and Charleston are immune.


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