If it ever got down to specifics, I would probably agree almost entirely with the author of The destruction of Paris. But "telling" and "asserting" that something is wrong is not as effective as "showing."
What distinguishes the most recent massacre is that, under the code words of modernity and urbanisme, what animates the many culprits, in and out of government, is the same kind of contempt for knowledge, tradition, beauty, and truth that animates the enemies of the idea of a Western canon in education and of the more time-tested values of human civilization...It's reassuring to learn that Paris is/was also having problems of urban growth; there are great many people on my side of the Atlantic who seem to think mediocre response to development problems is some special moral failing of Americans and that Europeans have it knocked cold.
I do not know Paris well-enough at all to comment on the catalog of horrors which the author sets forth; I'll assume that she is dead-on right. But like many discussions of the built environment, this article from a prestige journal (The New Criterion) is full of moralistic assertions but insufficient concrete detail (and what else should an article about the built environment contain?) to show us the way. The author's understandable scorn for the use of "code words" to discuss buildings ("modernity and urbanisme" ) is hardly persuasive----even a bit grimly humorous----when she herself uses twice as many code words ("knowledge, tradition, beauty, and truth") to make her own point. Is it really plausible that the problem is that the decision-makers had "contempt for knowledge, tradition, beauty, and truth"? That would somehow imply that a person who had no familiarity with any technical issues of managing cities, but who loved "knowledge, tradition, beauty, and truth," would succeed at urban planning. I don't think so.
Instinctively I view the author, as a kindred spirit, an ally in making comfortable cities, and so I urge her and others who care to drop the grandiose language and get down to physical details. It may in fact be true that Paris (as of January '98 when the author wrote) demonstrated "the triumph of vulgarity, greed, and ignorance over the enduring aesthetic of one of the worlds most beautiful cities." But isn't that a bit ahistorical? Does the author think that the builders of the 17th & 18th centuries were socialists?
And therein lies the truly intriguing puzzle obscured by terms such as "vulgarity, greed, and ignorance": how did societies which were far more morally-corrupt than ours produce so much better cities? I don't think the answer lies in cant.
I have no sure answer. But obviously the auto -- a serendipitous social invention --- is the major pattern generator of our era. And maybe that is the end of the story of 'why?' and there is no need for high dudgeon and moralisms.
But in any case, the only way we will make any progress is by public education. The author has lots of (probably valid) complaints --- her remarks on facadisme started to go somewhere --- but many come across as simple snobbery and annoyance at change. Sneering at the hoi polloi ("Americans wearing berets") may offer a frisson but it hardly leads to enhanced public consciousness.