Terry Teachout writes a very interesting piece (and not just because my name appears in it) titled Among the fortresses (foreshadowing his conclusion) on a very contemporary subject: the "culture center" as an urban redevelopment tool. Putting aide whether packaging culture into reservations somehow subtly debases it, (I think it feels smarmy and Teachout suggests "potential confusion of artistic aims that occurs when such a center is viewed as a means, not an end)", TT's post focuses on the pragmatic question: Does it work?
He quotes at length from an article he wrote 1997 for Time but which was never published. It was bumped, ironically I'd say. (That very bumping is a fine example of the dangers of over-focus on hero-worship architecture: Teachout's article was bumped by Robert Hughes' article on the Guggenheim Bilbao! Now I think that's funny.) Anyway, the bumpee was writing about New Jersey Performing Arts Center and whether it could possibly help turn around Newwark, New Jersey.
He cites Lincoln Center in Manhattan as an example of where a cultural center worked to change a neighborhood and writes that "similar ventures have revived other near-dead urban areasmost famously New York's Lincoln Center, which turned the Upper West Side from a decaying slum into Seinfeld country" and concludes (really in passing) that "Lincoln Center has its crippling flaws, God knows, but it did succeed in transforming New Yorks Upper West Side almost beyond recognition.
Is that so? Has it really changed that much and was Lincoln Center the impetus?
Now this is a very minor question (and really a tangent from the key point of Teachout's very good post, as Lincoln Center as cited as an exception to the rule in any case) as much as a statement. I graduated from Columbia in 1967 -- yes one of the golden boys. I shared an apartment on West End Avenue and 105th Street. with a bunch of other great guys (and I can never remember that apartment without hearing Bob Dylan's Dream). My recollection of the area which became Lincoln Center ---down in the 60s --- was that it was kinda grungy but perfectly ok. Nothing even remotely as creepy as the East Village, for example at this time. And anyway my neighborhood just south of Columbia was then a bit grungy, too. Considering Lincoln Center's location with walking distance of mid-town employment centers, is it reasonable to attribute much if any of the gentrification of the West Side to it? I haven't lived in NYC since 1967 so my knowledge is skimpy. But I wonder if TT and others are offering Lincoln Center too much credit? And that truly is a question as opposed to a statement disguised as one.
Btw, there are some interesting comments on this same and very pregnant topic --- big-buck architectural spectacles as a way to catalyze urban redevelopment --- at the Better Buildings Listserve sponsored by the Project for Public Spaces. (You can signup for it here at PPS Listserves.)
This comment, which popped up on my email today, seemed particularly well-said:
Sydney was not saved by the Opera nor was Paris by the Tour Eiffel. Buildings, no matter how deep their foundations, can't possible support the weight that is too often placed on them to be "breakthrough."
The Disney monstrosity will not "turn LA around" or "rejuvenate the
cities missing core." And it shouldn't be expected to. It is one
building. A civic hall that will, by definition, sit empty most of the
time. It's the longhair version of a new stadium, with all the
commensurate ability to create "community" and "economic
revitalization," which is to say, none.
What's really sad is that nearly all of these attempts at iconic status
are not meant to serve the communities in which they exist, but mainly
to draw attention and tourists. I am reminded of the plethora of
concrete dinosaurs and other roadside attractions that once stood along
the highways of the American west....except at least the intent was
honest, not gilded in architectural, contextual doublespeak.
Finally, perhaps it is fitting that Disney money built the LA hall.
Disney's desire to create an alternate reality has finally manifest
itself in architecture. One day soon we won't have to go to Orlando, as
it will have come to us. Ugh.
As with any Listserve, it gives you back to the degree you put into it.
UPDATE: Further discussion by Terry Teachout here.