"Perhaps city criticism should be recognized as distinct and necessary"
October 24, 2019 10:17 AM   Subscribe

"Given how long we’ve relied on the work of critics on film, music, food, and much else besides, as well as the ever-increasing relevance of cities in our lives, it’s time we recognised city criticism as its own distinct category of writing. But what is city criticism — or rather, what isn’t it?" 'A way of learning from everything': the rise of the city critic.

Books, videos, commentary, and criticism by or about some of the writers and critics mentioned in the article:

Reyner Banham
Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies

Reading L.A.: A Reyner Banham classic turns 40

A 'radical alternative': how one man changed the perception of Los Angeles
Walter Benjamin
The Arcades Project

Walter Benjamin’s Afterlife
Alex Bozikovic
House Divided: How the Missing Middle Will Solve Toronto's Affordability Crisis

Toronto Architecture: A City Guide
Jane Jacobs
The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Dark Age Ahead

The 1979 CBC Massey Lectures, "Canadian Cities and Sovereignty Association"

Rereading: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City

Citizen Jane: The Battle for the City (Trailer)
Karrie Jacobs
The Perfect $100,000 House: A Trip Across America and Back in Pursuit of a Place to Call Home

Talk: “The City Beautiful All Over Again”

The High Line at 10

The Smart City That Wasn't

Maurice Cox's Detroit
Owen Hatherly
Palaces for the People: How to Build a More Equal and United Society by Eric Klinenberg – review: Why libraries, parks and other endangered public spaces are essential to good city living

Radical suburbs: Owen Hatherley on the secret history of Moscow's mass housing experiment

Capital punishment: can Minsk move beyond its post-Soviet architectural malaise?

Concrete clickbait: next time you share a spomenik photo, think about what it means (previously on Metafilter)
Ada Louise Huxtable
Ada Louise Huxtable (1921-2013): Ada Louise Huxtable made history as the first full-time architecture critic at a US newspaper when she joined the New York Times, and was later awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1970

The Ada Louise Huxtable Archive: “Buildings have to stand up” said the critic, whose rich archive has now been catalogued by the Getty Research Institute

What the Critic Sees: Ada Louise Huxtable and Her Legacy
Shawn Micalleff
Frontier City: Toronto on the Verge of Greatness

Goethe-Institut Toronto presents: "Walking Bauhaus" Tour with Shawn Micallef

The Cities Podcast: Ep 101 - Strolling with Shawn Micallef

Suburbs are not a wasteland: Shawn Micallef at TEDxToronto
Jan Morris
Authors at Harbourfront: Jan Morris (transcript)
Lewis Mumford
The Culture of Cities (full text at archive.org)
Ian Nairn
'Nairn's London' by Ian Nairn (1966)

Ian Nairn and the Art of Seeing a City

Why Ian Nairn, outspoken critic of postwar modernism, is as relevant as ever

From London to Lancashire: First transmitted in 1972, Ian Nairn takes a journey to the industrial North and finds plenty to comment about in a landscape of surprises (BBC iPlayer, region-restricted to the UK)
Nikil Saval
Cubed: A Secret History of the American Workplace

Afterlives of the Bauhaus: Nikil Saval looks at what happened to the teachers and students of the Bauhaus after the closing of the school’s doors.

The Impeccably Understated Modernism of I. M. Pei

Utopia, Abandoned: The Italian town Ivrea was once a model for workers’ rights and progressive design. Now, it’s both a cautionary tale and evidence of a grand experiment in making labor humane. (NYT, paywalled)

How Bauhaus Redefined What Design Could Do for Society: A century after its founding, the German school of art and architecture remains one of the most transcendent — and frustrating — movements of the Modernist age. (NYT, paywalled)
Iain Sinclair
The Last London: True Fictions from and Unreal City

Stewart Lee talks to Iain Sinclair about 'The Last London'

Iain Sinclair - Living with Buildings walking with ghosts

London Overground - Iain Sinclair - full documentary
Alissa Walker
What's Happening on the Ground? - Alissa Walker at SAS 2018

The real reason there aren’t more kids in cities: It’s not easy to raise a family in a big U.S. city—but it’s not any easier anywhere else in this country

Every bus in this country deserves its own lane: Free the buses!

Beyond Peak Juice Bar: Reimagining neighborhood
E.B. White
Here is New York (full text at archive.org)
posted by mandolin conspiracy (8 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I do think we need better city criticism as very local newspaper in the US has a city critic who writes weekly columns about how much better the city used to be than it currently is, no matter what the past was actually like.

We could also use a second really great city critic so that Jane Jacobs isn't the only one quoted whether the neighborhood is attempting to block a freeway or prevent apartments from being built.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:38 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think Jane Jacobs still looms large in the discussion of cities because she was the first, and she was also an incredible writer and thinker. She deserves a massive amount of credit for that. At the same time, city criticism should change as cities change.

For example, a lot of Jane Jacobs' criticism could be summed up as "a good neighborhood should be more like the West Village", but that was written at a time when mere mortals could afford to live in a place like the West Village. These days, places like that increasingly have become luxury commodities. If we want more neighborhoods like the West Village, we either have to create them, or else change our whole concept of neighborhoods entirely.

Likewise, I've heard a lot of people using Jacobsean preservationist language to oppose any kind of meaningful development at all. But she was writing that at a time when Robert Moses was plowing through whole neighborhoods in the Bronx, and our best and brightest were knocking down masterpieces like Old Penn Station. The thing she was struggling against was real, but now we're dealing with a whole set of problems that weren't nearly as prominent in her day. In our large coastal cities (and their nearest suburbs), we literally don't have enough places to put people.
posted by panama joe at 1:57 PM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Cleveland Sucks!

I'm sorry.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:39 PM on October 24, 2019

Moving to the city with the greatest disparity between low critic score and high resident score on RottenTomatoes.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:24 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cleveland Rocks!

I'm sorry.
posted by Lyme Drop at 5:32 PM on October 24, 2019

Philadelphia's Inga Saffron is pretty great. Her writing is actively making the city a better place than it would be without her. She covered the war in then-Yugoslavia, and said in a TED talk that after seeing people destroy cities she wanted to understand how people build them. Here's an older but good profile of her in Philly Magazine. And some more articles.
posted by sepviva at 8:13 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Flagged as fantastic--thanks so much for putting this post together, mandolin conspiracy! This whole field was a central focus of my academic/intellectual life back in the 70s/80s, growing directly out of reading Nairn's London and Jane Jacobs in my youth, but I've lost touch with it in recent years, so it's wonderful to have this list of works. Thanks again!
posted by Kat Allison at 9:13 AM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

So many PeopleSpace links in one one place, thanks very much mandolin conspiracy. I never seem to design urban space much - here there's a marked disinterest in having real living landscapes as a real part of the urban space, which seems a big part of the point IMO.
posted by unearthed at 10:44 PM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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