Date: Mon, 27 Feb 1995
From: John Young Architect
Subject: City Comforts -- A Review
To: Multiple recipients of DESIGN-L
For those of us addicted to city ambulation, to mind- jogging and chevy-cruising and dog-sniffing and catwalking in diurnal treasure hunt for novelties and arcana of simple pleasures, David Sucher has written a cartographic jewel in his new City Comforts: How to Build An Urban Village.
Mr. Sucher, once a member of the Seattle Planning Commission, writes, "This book is an attempt to refocus our public policy discussion from abstract generalities, colored maps and grandiose projects to the details that create our daily experience. It is about looking at and speaking about our immediate enivronment. ... the book shows examples of small things -- city comforts -- that makes urban life pleasant: places where people can meet, methods to tame cars and to make buildings good neighbors, art that infuses personality into locations and makes them into places."
Mr. Sucher has compiled for us, in a handheld-ROM, a bounteous lode of tips and nods for looking at the built environment and fostering our own good sense and sensibility about what is good and bad -- along with, should that be our bent, gentle suggestions on how improvements may bloom under our loving care.
There follows hundreds of poignant examples in photographic and textual form of precisely what we might look for in our cities -- neighborhoods and parks and streets and back alleys and shopping strips, what to make of our observations, and what we could offer if we don't like what we see and touch and smell and, yes, fall asleep upon. Smart man, to remind us at the bookend of the feral pleasure in a safe nap in a park (reading his book) and a corporeal renaissance wakeup to bright sky and leafy trees overhead.
There is an astonishing range of urban experiences sketched:
• Commercial allures for customer come-in and buy;
• Neighborhood safety and security measures, well blended;
• Urbane luminescences and auralities, built and god-given;
• Land-costuming, by construction and vegetation;
• The creation of great and small passions and delights;
• Non-destructive (to self and others) activities for kids;
• Deft tools of information by signage and architecture;
• Unoffensive public accommodations for base relief;
• Balm for property owners feeling abused by demagogues;
• Enlightened rejuvenation or camouflage of ugly illegitimacies and porkbarrel nefaria too useful to demolish (like parking garages, sanitary dumps, vain architectural monstrosities).
Professionals on a card-punching trajectory of ambition will see nothing here to frighten them -- that they may be on the wrong arc.
For this is a book for those who are disappointed with top- down design and planning, with career-mongering and evasive political machinations. But it is disguised so artfully that the self-deafened and -blinded and -desensitized egos will never perceive its quake rumbling to undermine their launch pads -- its advocacy of ground shifting of environmental responsibility from the over-trained, over- controlling, over-burdened designers and planners to the citizens who have too long suffered their conceits.
This admirable work, expanding the ground-shifting of Jane Jacobs, will give comfort to those who wish to get on with making the cities they want while the ensconced bright talents evanesce in stupor.
Read it while enjoying the pleasure of long perambulations -- and naps under greenleaves sweetdreaming of beautiful environments. Crafting self-confabulated virtual reality.