Thursday, May 31, 2007
Should governments act to protect the rapidly disappearing "motel modern" style of architecture? Some years ago, a few eyebrows were raised when the 1951 Lever House in Manhattan was designated an historic landmark; will postwar motels be next?
The June edition of the Atlantic (America's most readable magazine, for my money) includes an enjoyable essay by Wayne Curtis on ideas to preserve the '50s motels, with their clean lines and Jetsons-style architecture, designed in the golden age of middle-class auto travel. Once scorned as cheesy, the motifs are now considered classic Americana.
Curtis focuses on Florida, a state that hasn't (with the exception of the '30s art deco motels on Miami Beach) been as celebratory of its Americana architecture as has California. In places such as Treasure Island (near me in Tampa Bay), which Curtis whimsically calls "a sort of Motel National Park," there exists little desire to protect the old beachfront motels from the incessant pressures to replace them with larger and more profitable condo towers. More hope exists off the beach, in the city of Miami, where there is a private effort to scrub motels and market them for "retro tourism." Up north in Seaside, the new urbanist gem, a faux old motel offers rooms for more than $200 a night -- a nice summary of the some of the criticisms of Seaside.
Will we soon see a local government designate a '50s-era historic motel district, and perhaps even redevelop an early-space-age motel as a museum of postwar travel? Mark me down for early admission ….
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Has the growth in rule-restricted communities in America led more people to believe that they SHOULD have the right to control how their neighbors live, even when they have no legal power to do so?
In the June edition of the Atlantic Monthly, this topic is addressed in an interesting essay by Virginia Postrel, who often writes provocative things about community and design. She discusses in particular a controversy in south Phoenix, where a community-wrenching battle has raged around a homeowner's decision to pain a house red, in a sea of cream-colored look-alikes. Postrel, whose sympathies appear to be with the rebel, suggests that the domination of rule-bound HOAs in America, especially in places such as Phoenix, has lead many Americans to assume that their neighbor's house color is something that they can, or should be able to, control. Unlike in decades past, she reports, most cities now hold some sort of design or aesthetic regulatory system, which can restrict even those homeowners who have sought out a private subdivision for the reason that it holds no HOA.
The pitting of homeowner rights against majority wishes reveals interesting twists in the views of many Americans, most of whom express a profound belief in "property rights" - until they hesitate when asked about whether their neighbors should have the right to paint their house purple and pink stripes. It also says a lot about the issue of whether government should be able to regulate effects, including environmental problems, that "spill over" property boundaries. Postrel notes that the issue of the red house has galvanized public opinion in Phoenix.
I'll say it again. Forget Iraq; forget high gas prices; forget health care rules. Nothing affects Americans more in their day-to-day lives than land use and community law.