The Stranger's Opinion
Hanging out in the park yesterday with my friend, we were talking about the value of raising children in the city as opposed to pitching tent in the 'burbs. Planner types like myself get all up in arms about the evils of the suburbs: the cars, the lack of community, the lack of diversity, and so on and so forth. But I do notice that the planners that rail against the suburbs are generally planners without children, which is to say people who aren't desperate for some peace and quiet at the end of the day and who aren't overwhelmed by their children on a daily basis. Nor are they people who generally consider the quality of a school system when looking at real estate.
But there we were in Sheep Meadow in Central Park enjoying the springtime sun, and my friend says, "Do you think it's worth it to spend all that money to raise children in New York, where you have to pay for private school and worry about security? Do you think it pays off culturally for the child?"
And before I could answer, this white guy on the next towel, responding to a question posed by someone else and completely unaware of our discussion, says, "for shizzle."
And Now for Something Completely Different
Well, it doesn't have much to do with urban culture, but I wrote it and I'm proud of it so I'm posting the link to it. What is it? It's an essay explaining Jewish Weddings that my brother asked me to write for his upcoming wedding.


The Second Alternative
The second installment of the "Alternate Side of the Street" column for The New York Spirit is up online. It's already been posted on this blog, but now you know I wasn't lying - the magazine really exists.


The Threshold
For a long time, I have maintained that the threshold of good design is that it makes people ask questions. Pretty, not pretty - it's too subjective. Best not to wade into that minefield. Better yet to start somewhere else with my own criteria.
And so I did. I said to hell with whether you think it's pretty or not - does it make you look at the world in a new way? Does it make you question what you already know in a way that makes you happier, more curious, more alive?
But now I have something else to add to that, another criterium. At first, I was only applying this to music and movies. It is: do they look like they had fun while they were making it?
At first, I was using this criteria for music and movies only. I'm out of the loop on music, but I can safely say that the Beastie Boys of old qualify. The albums Check Your Head and Paul's Boutique - these are albums made by guys clearly enjoying their time in the studio; there are funny samples, strange rhythms, clever rhymes. The same goes for the Pharcyde's BizarreRide II album. (Good god. These albums are over 10 years old.)
Ditto for all the Pixar movies. For all the work that clearly goes into them, and it's clearly many late nights, the giddiness and glee is palpable. There are tricks and inside jokes. The portrait on the wall in the background, almost entirely invisible when viewed at normal speed, is a spoof of another movie. Brilliant artists are enjoying themselves while creating art.

I thought of this criterium as I was looking at this link (and thanks to Jon for sending it to me). I'm not sure who these designers are or how they pay their rent, but their work is clearly wacko in just the right way. They care enough to make it beautiful, but they don't care just enough to make it fun.

Second Thoughts
I have more thoughts on this. It occurs to me that the criterium, as stated, still stands: it's best to produce art that looks like you had fun while you were doing it regardless of how aesthetically pleasing it is. But as I mull it over, I realize that the principle behind the criterium touches on an interesting issue. Make art that reflects you.
This would seem self-evident and impossible not to do until you include urban design and architecture into the equation. Painting - yes, music - yes, cinema - still yes, but urban design? How does one incorporate their personality into urban design? After all, as I've rambled on about before, urban design, architecture, and planning are one half straight art and the other half problem solving and politics. How do you inject yourself into the final product when politics gets in the way?
It's harder, I'll admit it. And in the end whatever you produce will inevitably be a watered down version of what you started out aiming for. But it can be done. For me, it would be whimsical, well thought out, and intuitive. It would have a sense of humor. It would make people smile and think, in that order (because if you're already smiling then you're more succeptible to new thoughts).
But it doesn't have to be that way. That's just a reflection of me. Others may be more pensive, more quiet, more regimented. And that's fine with me. People are different.
The crux is that the product reflects the producer. And you can tell when it does, because it has personality; it takes on a life of its own, interacting with the city as it ages.

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