Saturday, September 12, 2009

David Byrne's Essay on the Ideal City, Biking, and New Orleans

Berto and I are preparing today to ride our bicycles to the Superdome tomorrow for Our New Orleans Saints' first regular season game. Fittingly, at breakfast this morning I read a great essay by David Byrne in today's Wall Street Journal, "A Talking Head Dreams of a Perfect City."

Before I get to the really good stuff, I want to cite the lines that really grabbed me:
As someone who has used a bicycle to get around New York for about 30 years I've watched the city—mainly Manhattan, where I live—change for better and for worse. During this time I started to take a full-size folding bike with me when I traveled so I got to experience other cities as a cyclist as well. Seeing cities from on top of a bike is both pleasurable and instructive. On a bike one sees a lot more than from a freeway, and often it's just as fast as car traffic in many towns.
That's the paragraph that made me take the article seriously. Bikes are the way to come to know a city. Period.

Anyway, he cites New Orleans a couple of times, and I think he pretty much gets it right. Byrne's perfect city involves the correct proportions of the following: size, density, sensibility and attitude, security, chaos and danger, human scale, parking (he correctly doesn't much care about this), boulevards, mixed use, and public spaces.

He rates New Orleans high on sensibility and attitude. I was struck by the fact that he mentions New Orleans as often as or more often than he mentions places like San Francisco, Venezia, and Berlin.

Here's what he says about the sensibility and attitude of World Class New Orleans:
New Orleans is a city where people make eye contact. There's a more open sensuality there as well. I'd take that in my perfect city, minus some of the other aspects of that town, such as its tragic poverty, corruption, and crime.

Here's what he says about chaos and danger:
To some, security means rigid order and strict rules. I do believe we do need some laws and rules to guide and reign us in a bit, and I don't just mean traffic lights and pooper scooper mandates. But there's a certain attractiveness to New Orleans, Mexico City or Naples—where you get the sense that though some order exists, it's an order of a fluid and flexible nature. Sometimes too flexible, but a little bit of that sense of excitement and possibility is something I'd wish for in a city. A little touch of chaos and danger makes a city sexy.


Blake said...

You can read my comment here brah:

Mr. Melpomene said...

I would tend to agree with the point about Mexico City, Napoli and New Orleans. There is a different character to order that puts people over rules instead of the other way around.

Mr. Clio said...

Mr. Mel!!!!!

You're back!

Mr. Clio said...

Blake, I tried to log in but failed. I can't remember if I created a profile there, so I resubmitted a request.

LatinTeacher said...

Just remember - a little touch. I think he correctly summarizes the rest of the world - too many rules. And Mr. Mel clarifies it nicely.


i remember when mr. dave was here about 20 years ago.

he was watching a show at tip's.

he said the thing he liked about the city was no one knew who he was.

or that the folks who knew who he was just said hey and let him be.

he said he felt like the collective city vibe was that in new orleans every one was a star.