Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bethesda and Balzac

One puzzling thing about Bethesda Row, a short alley converted to a pedestrianized shopping street, is how much it recalls much older urban types.  It feels more like a nineteenth-century French passage than like an American main street or mall or marketplace.  The form of the street as well as the look of the buildings seems to roll back to a nostalgic past, when window-shopping first became an urban pastime and the streets of Paris became characters in the novels of Balzac.  It all seems quaint, albeit expensive.

Just down the street, the metro station built in the 1970s opens onto the requisite urban plaza with a fountain, surrounded by scaleless highrises with sealed strip windows and a concrete ‘arcade.’   Even when the plaza is full of people, it seems empty.  

Here’s my question: Why do we seem stuck between these two options? Nostalgia or modernistica? 

Of course we are not.  Clever architects are out there working to remake the city once again.  The challenge is to design buildings with character that make a street street worth walking.

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