You Have to Pay for the Public Life
I couldn’t help feeling a creeping sense of irony in today’s New York Times. After first reading how the country’s single-largest economic engine, New York City — not to mention other big cities — is getting shafted in the stimulus transportation spending at the expense of projects seeking “to improve transportation to Appalachia” (that fertile hotbed of innovation, and so many centers of population), I then read a vaguely querulous piece about how the city is selling a number of commercial permits for events in the stretches of Times Square that are temporarily without cars. It’s a bit strange to read about concerns of commercialization in Times Square, whose genus loci is media and branding, a place where much of a large office building sits essentially empty, because it is more valuable to cover its exterior in advertising than to give office workers views; but it’s also a bit funny, a week or so after the Times was complaining about the tatty lawn chairs and rather dishabille nature of the place, to hear gripes that the city may try to make a little money off the place — and, by God, even spruce up the lawn chairs!
It reminds me of Charles Moore’s classic essay, “You Have to Pay for the Public Life,” which was ostensibly about Disneyland but had much deeper implications:
By almost any conceivable method of evaluation, Disneyland must be regarded as the most important single piece of construction in the West in the past several decades. The assumption inevitably made by people who have not yet been there — that it is some sort of physical extension of Mickey Mouse — is wildly inaccurate. Instead, singlehanded, it is engaged in replacing many of those elements of the public realm that have vanished in the featureless private floating world of southern California, whose only edge is the ocean and whose center is otherwise undiscoverable. Curiously, for a public place, Disneyland is not free. You buy tickets at the gate. But then, Versailles cost somebody a lot of money, too. Now, as then, you have to pay for the public life.
Of course, if the feds want to throw us some stimulus cash to turn Broadway into a world-class urban oasis (not to mention amping up the public transit dollars that keeps the whole enterprise of New York City alive) no one would complain. But then how would we get to Appalachia?
This entry was posted on Thursday, July 9th, 2009 at 6:06 am and is filed under Cities. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.