Think of it as evolution in action.
August 28, 2006 5:43 AM   Subscribe

Little Citadels. "Dine, shop, live, work, and be entertained in a unique and alluring environment," says the Time Warner Center website - all without ever stepping outside your gleaming Manhattan skyscraper. San Jose's Santana Row, which at first glance seemed no more than a Beverly Center you can live in, is now being compared favorably to urban European living. And MGM-Mirage's new, mysterious and costly ($7 billion!) Project CityCenter brings the trend to Las Vegas - with gambling, of course. They're not Arcosantis - and they don't, as yet, require an Oath of Fealty - but by all accounts they're thriving. What do they have in common? Wealthy tenants, megacorporate sponsors, and a shared desire to integrate efficient, conspicuous consumption into every aspect of civic life. Paolo Soleri may have been right after all - maybe he just forgot to account for the effects of capitalism.
posted by ikkyu2 (24 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Whoopsie, bad link - Paolo Soleri^ is the innovative architect who first conceptualized the arcology as we think of it today.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:48 AM on August 28, 2006

Santana Row, while different from urban American living, is nothing like urban European living. The spaces for people to gather and do nothing in particular don't work the same. A "town drunk" would never be tolerated there.

The recent Orwell thread reminds me of this.
posted by jet_silver at 5:54 AM on August 28, 2006

Santana Row has terrible floor plans. Huge wasted bathrooms - the houses aren't big enough to have entire bathrooms given over to one bedroom. And none of your children or guests apparently will ever want to take a bath. The one bedroom with two and a half baths? Do you need a different toilet for morning than you use for night?

And the kitchen in the four bedroom! It's pathetic. A bigger house, but a much smaller kitchen? How could you live? Im not even going to start with the waste that is giving the whole first floor over to cars. (Yes, I realise everyone in California drives, but a basement parking lot or garage would have been far more space effective and leave the homes more comfortable).

I live in a modest two-up, two-down terrace house in England, and we have a much better and more comfortable layout than they have planned here.

I would fully admit - I'm a layout snob. But modern development is getting so damned ugly, and seems to think that just increasing the number of bathrooms is a good replacement for actually nice and well-laid out rooms and decent sized kitchens. Unless you spend several hours a day on the toilet, wouldn't you rather have one less superflous restroom and have a larger kitchen?
posted by jb at 6:05 AM on August 28, 2006

god, i hated santana row. it reminded me of disneyworld and the themed casinos in vegas like paris and the venetian. everything feels like artifice - just a little bit off, like a movie set that has to look like but not be the real thing. in photos you can't tell the difference, but up close i kept expecting to peer around corners and see the back side of everything.

i like the idea behind this kind of development, though.. i'd just like to see it done in a more genuine and less put-on sort of way.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 6:09 AM on August 28, 2006

Which "urban European" culture is this supposed to resemble? Are we talking Edinburgh or Dublin, Barcelona or Rome, Berlin or Zagreb, Oslo or Reykjavík? etc etc.
posted by meehawl at 6:43 AM on August 28, 2006

Cleveland has a couple of these. Crocker Park and Legacy Village. They make my skin fucking crawl.
posted by sciurus at 7:42 AM on August 28, 2006

From the Wikipedia link on Project City Center:
The Lifestyle Hotel
A 548 foot high hotel tower in a slim oval design with 400 rooms. The tower will be located prominently at the corner of the CityCenter property and is to be designed by Architect Foster and Partners.
The paranoid part of me expects MGM to, upon population of its arcology, announce "CRIPPLING POVERTY IN SWEATSHOPS IS A LIFESTYLE", seal the doors, and out come the security guards wielding machine guns.

Also, honestly, look at the thing. It's a ramshackle skyscraper with pre-junked structures heaped up before it.
posted by boo_radley at 7:51 AM on August 28, 2006

Oh, and your last link is jiggered: Paolo Soleri at wikipedia. He was responsible for this idea, which he coined (neologed?) arcology.
posted by boo_radley at 7:54 AM on August 28, 2006

Looking at sciurus's links I now realize what we are witnessing is the birth of post-mall retail, because these things are everywhere. The took your average mall, removed the roof, put condos and townhomes on the parking lot, and replaced all the stores with upscale retail and dining.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:25 AM on August 28, 2006

"San Jose's Santana Row ... is now being compared favorably to urban European living."

I'd be very surprised if these allegedly favorable comparisons are being made by anyone who's ever actually lived in an "urban European setting".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:35 AM on August 28, 2006

I'll come back for the 10 and 20-year retrospective studies of these places. I imagine they will not age well.
posted by GuyZero at 9:00 AM on August 28, 2006

J.G. Ballard wrote an excellent horror/satire novel about the upshot of all this "self-contained community" development in the 80's called High Rise (about to be re-released), which contains the best opening line in modern fiction:
“Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”
posted by mkultra at 9:17 AM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Reminds me of the Discovery special on Sky City, a similarly ambitious urban environment for Tokyo.
posted by knave at 9:39 AM on August 28, 2006

"San Jose's Santana Row ... is now being compared favorably to urban European living."

That's pretty funny. Santana Row is across the street from one of the larger malls in San Jose, 2 blocks from a freeway and sits on a road that is essentially 5 miles of big box stores and strip malls. Yep, just like living Europe.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:17 AM on August 28, 2006

The took your average mall, removed the roof, put condos and townhomes on the parking lot, and replaced all the stores with upscale retail and dining.

What's the difference with developments like Santana Row and the new urbanism efforts to integrate dense housing with stores and shops within walkable distances to the housing?
posted by gyc at 12:05 PM on August 28, 2006

While I wholeheartedly applaud the theory of mixed-use retail/residential spaces in San Jose like Santana Row, Paseo Villa, and others, I can't help but notice the reality has serious issues. If I were to rent or buy a residence in a mixed use space I would want stores on the ground level that sold things/services that I actually need, not some trendy wants. For example, I don't believe Santana Row has a grocery, drugstore, laundromat, dry cleaner or supermarket. Instead it has Salons, Spas, Sushi, and super-upscale retail stores like Coach and Gucci. No thanks, I want a livable space which might allow me to ditch my car, or at least only use it to go to work.

Also, the architecture is very faux, and at least one of the streets has the sidewalks set into the buildings with the 2nd floor coming up over the sidewalk which results in a very cramped feel.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:44 PM on August 28, 2006

I'll put in a plug for some of the developments a friend worked on in San Diego & Vegas. I like the architecture better, but I don't know what stores went in (nor is the website very informative on the subject). Interestingly, he said that the lending companies don't know how to handle mixed use buildings, so the developer had to borrow money for the residential part, but cover the costs for the retail space out of their own capital.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:50 PM on August 28, 2006

What's the difference with developments like Santana Row and the new urbanism efforts to integrate dense housing with stores and shops within walkable distances to the housing?

Jane Jacobs, and I assume others, were arguing for mixed-income neighborhoods as well; part of the idea was that mixed-use neighborhoods force you to interact with people you might not otherwise, thus creating a thriving community full of unexpected connections.

Santana Row is frighteningly upscale. I can't imagine unexpectedly meeting anyone who doesn't shop at Gucci and Cartier, or who at least feels that being able to do so is the highest good.

Also, as someone mentioned above, the public spaces feel like upscale food courts. Partly because many of them are food courts, but also because they're so superficially aping European architecture without in any way understanding *why* that architecture works that it's a little surreal.

And as others have pointed out, the retail parts are not everyday shopping; you're not going to bump into your neighbors as you walk to the hardware store. They're destination shops that require you to be actively shopping (or window shopping) to enjoy them. It's really just living in a mall, it's all about the conspicuous consumption of unnecessary international luxury goods, not about supporting the local merchant who's also your neighbor.
posted by occhiblu at 3:39 PM on August 28, 2006

I would say that Cathedraltown is a better example of new urbanism. Not the best maybe, but better than the ones in the OP. The Globe's take on it.

New urbanism is a big buzzword around the GTA and I'm not sure if it means more than building townhouses instead of detached homes, but it looks like some people are trying. Some subdivisions are using rear laneways instead of front garages, just like central neighborhoods that were built 100 years ago. More small stores, less focus on big box mega-centres. And the occasional cathedral I suppose.
posted by GuyZero at 3:47 PM on August 28, 2006

But where are all the over-eager security guards with heavy automatic weapons to keep the riff-raff from getting to close to the tenants?
posted by mk1gti at 4:22 PM on August 28, 2006

Is it possible to imagine children being raised in these structures?

In thirty years, when the buildings have deteriorated, and the health and appearance of the now aged residents has deteriorated in tandem, will any young person who has any other choice actually want to live in one? Will any young person be willing to go within 100 yards of one?
posted by jamjam at 5:21 PM on August 28, 2006

they're so superficially aping European architecture

Europeans are perfectly capable of superficially aping Euro architecture all on their own, thank you very much.

Consider Barcelona's city-centre Rambla running off Catalunya Place. It's old, and pretty, and very densely used, but is it authentic?

Go a couple km out of the city centre and you get to the new Rambla in the Poble Neu district. This is an architectural horror, made up of those rew "old" fake bricks, chintzy little mock-Catalan frontages, and horrible benches. They demolished run-down but servicable old buildings to plant this strip mall instead.

And yet the new Rambla to me feels more authentic than the touristed one. It's almost exclusively local Barcelonians, hanging out, shopping, all that stuff. There is a wide variety of stores, no real big chains but something for everyone. All ages, seems like a wide class sampling as well.

The "mixed-use" comments nail it. I do think that my experience of the new Rambla disproves Jacob's extreme dismissal of Stuyvesant as a permanent disaster because of its single architectural design, age, and frontage. The people in Poble Neu have made it work, despite the crummy mock Euro stylings. But if they were all young urbanites, with nothing but Sephora and Gucci, then I don't think it would be work.
posted by meehawl at 5:22 PM on August 28, 2006

For another dystopian take that complements the Ballard, check out Thomas Disch's 334.

I think that what troubles me the most about these is what troubles everybody about them - that they are such insular little havens. It is almost as if they are designed to prevent people from needing to have the human contacts that were once the cornerstone of city life.

Certainly, this makes sense from the perspective of the planners and lessors-to-retail, because every minute that Mr Moneybags doesn't spend casually chatting with the town drunk to their mutual amusement is a minute when he could be in Tourneau purchasing an expensive watch at a high markup.

But the other half of that equation troubles me more. What is Mr Moneybags so frightened of that he finds it needful to insulate himself in this way? Wasted time? Opportunity cost? Contacts with the wrong sort of people? Class rage? Getting his suede shoes stepped on in the subway?

I guess this is a rhetorical question, and I guess I feel like I know the answer, and yet it still troubles me.

It also troubles me that the idea of the arcology, which is so sound and reasonable on so many levels, is being offered in this way: many of its tangible personal benefits are offered as a capitalistic product for individual persons to consume, while the potential economies and wider social benefits are neglected or omitted.

And of course, it's troubling that only rich people get to partake, but really, that's a separate critique, which is a critique of the American Way and so incurs the immediate wrath of Superman.

OK, editorial off.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:42 PM on August 28, 2006

"What's the difference with developments like Santana Row and the new urbanism efforts ... ?"

It's a simple but profound difference: Absolutely nobody who works at Santana Row (or any of these mall-and-faux-luxury condo things springing up) will be able to afford to live there on their retail/food service wage slave income.
posted by majick at 11:52 PM on August 28, 2006

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