Friday, November 28, 2008

Humanity: for Lose and Fail

Zombies, nothing. Shoppers broke down the door of a suburban New York Wal-Mart as it opened early this morning and trampled and killed a worker there.

First thought: I ran cross-country in my schoolin' years, and from time to time people get knocked over at the start of races. It happened to me once in 7th grade, and it happened to Jim Mullaney at the State Meet his senior year. I've never heard of anyone being seriously injured in such a case. These shoppers must have been rabid.

That isn't to say the situations were equivalent. Cross races don't have 2000 runners, and the courses are designed to gradually funnel the wide stream of runners to a narrow one before the first turn. If the shoppers were pushing with enough force to break down the door the people at the front of the crowd probably had little choice but to keep going forward. And the ones at the back applying that pressure obviously didn't have any idea what was going on at the front.

But they broke down the door. There isn't an em tag em-y enough for that. And then how they reacted afterwards. You'd think that someone dying as a result of the crowd's insane greed would make people step back and get some perspective. Guess not.

Monday, November 24, 2008

from the Shoulders of Giants...

Not much that's long or coherent to say about this, but... I go between some very, very different worlds all the time. The only way I can keep on top and make sense of all of it is to assume as little as I can. Don't get caught up in the orthodoxy.

One thing to take away from Joel Garreau about "edge cities" is that they're new both in construction and conception. For one thing, the individual built elements are fairly new. One consequence of this is that the wheat hasn't been separated from the chaff; these places may gain a history. Another is that the constructions, at every level, haven't had many opportunities yet for repair. Here I'm talking about Christopher Alexander's Timeless Way... There hasn't been as much time for buildings to be built to provide something observed to be missing in the neighborhood as there have been in older communities. This scales up to how neighborhoods are built and changed to improve the cities and regions they belong to, and down to the same idea for parts of buildings.

The second thing is probably more interesting, the new conception. We don't know how to think about suburban life. If we're going to separate wheat from chaff, we have to be able to identify each. We don't know as many ways to think about suburbs as we do about cities. And often we don't think at all. We build, we make things work, then maybe some people think occasionally. I think we should think more. It might help.

Glenbard East High School has a terribly ugly auditorium. I doubt anyone reading this has been there, so you'll have to trust me. I sat just about in the middle. The front wall is way too big for the stage, leaving a blank white wall stretching on each side. On the wall above the stage a cluster of dark loudspeakers is mounted, looking like a bow on top of a package. Along the side walls are some big circular decorative lights that seem off for a reason I can't identify (any architects reading?). The room is very wide (which is why it has such a large front wall), has no balcony, and the outer seating sections aren't angled in towards the stage. The overall feeling is of something that's been stretched.

The Village President had to mention the names of the people that worked to bring the Elmhurst Symphony to town to "bring some culture to Lombard", and the offices they held at various points in the process. We, the audience, applauded ourselves a few times. At one point during the performance we were given a play-by-play of the middle of A Midsummer Night's Dream by an over-amplified TV announcer. Can we pretend that was high postmodernism? Anyway, my dad can't sit still for very long without getting nerve pains in his hips. And he doesn't like Shakespeare.

Yeah, my dad doesn't like Shakespeare, especially watching it cold (as we were, because we weren't expecting them to put on a play in the middle of the concert). He can't make sense of the dialog as it flies by in a language with many of the same words as the one we speak, but used in different combinations. I think I do a little better than he does, but I understand where he's coming from. I think it's for him like watching a play in Spanish would be for me. My dad is a lawyer.