REMEMBERING THE TRUMPS

With the impeachment thankfully picking up broad public support, there has been a noticeable increase in questionable letters-to-the editors denigrating the media reports on Trump’s disastrous deficiencies, while the outraged constituents slavishly cite his hyped successes as president and as a New York developer

In such a recent letter in the malleable Malibu Times, a writer stated there was no testimony to the contrary from anyone who had worked for his family business that Trump rose to the top of the toughest real estate market in the world on his financial acumen and moral worth.

While not wanting to disclose something that is a personal family embarrassment, I felt compelled to respond that I hate to pop the writer’s hot air balloon, but he had been sadly misinformed as to Trump’s rep in NY.

My father in the last mid century was Fred Trump’s contracted interior decorator, for whom I dutifully toiled for free on Saturdays delivering furniture and draperies. Not incidentally during the week I worked as a reporter for the NYTimes, the hands on experience serving me well years later when I was the design critic for the L.A Times.

We lived near the Trumps in Jamaica Estates, Queens, and Fred used to visit our store and workshop, where I remember him giving out cheap cigars when I think Donny was born, or was it when they sent him off to military school. ( reform school for the rich) .

The Trumps were your typical cut-the-corners, slow-to-pay petty nickel-and-dime NY builders. Cheap. You gave him his due, and he, ours, after the usual threats and bargaining.

As for young Donny, he grew up in his Dad’s shadow, when I knew and didn’t like him. Ignominiously at a military school, then as a diddling developer, he was a privileged prick, in New York parlance, a schmuck.

Trump was sued for seemingly everything, including rental discrimination against minorities. He was in sum a bad joke in the local media, and an anathema in the building trades where I was later involved.

But that he was a hustler and whoremaster back then there was no argument. You didn’t turn your back on Donny, drink his Kool Aid, or give him any benefit of a doubt. And we as a nation should not now.

BETTER CITIES: FOR WHOM?

By Sam Hall Kaplan

What seems like just a few years ago a gaggle of planning and design critics and pandering politicians were bemoaning the death of public space, a victim of municipal neglect, overt commercialism and media disinterest.

Apparently we had surrendered the weaving of our urban fabric to an unholy alliance of myopic traffic engineers, duplicitous developers, disingenuous elected officials, and undiscerning pedants. Pedestrians were suspect, sidewalks shunned and parks avoided. Pervading all except perhaps a policed shopping mall or a monitored amusement park was a fog of civic unease. 

        And today, in a notable change of personal perception and popular fortune, our privileged urbanists are fervently celebrating the crafting and care of public spaces as a harbinger of a more open and inviting city, a place where people can come out from behind their computer screens to experience a rare sense of community, however fleeting, and share a cup of coffee, however pricey.

To this chorus of the mostly comfortable and civil are the swarms of ubiquitous tourists, their communal ardor feeding local coffers and conceits. As for urban designers and planners, there is an encouraging new awareness and appreciation for context and community, the purpose and potential of public space, and a need to hone the cryptic craft of placemaking.

       Cryptic indeed, for the diversity of cities, the fracture of communities, and shifting demographics are very much a challenge to those in search of a “genius loci.” and an inviting place to perhaps live, work or visit.

To that both personal and professional quest recommended is a copy of “Envisioning Better Cities,” by Seattle urban consultant Patricia Chase and University of Washington academic Nancy K. Rivenburgh.  Published by Oro Editions, the paperback is as its subtitle states, “A Global Tour of Good Ideas,” a bucket list if you will of an orchestrated journey to well grounded places, projects and programs that make their host cities more “livable and sustainable,” and hopefully inspiring to others.

       The tour is understandably derivative, and respectfully echoes the wealth of the previous insights of Jan Gehl, Jane Jacobs, Holly Whyte, and Charles Montgomery, among many others, and cites a host of the iconic landmarks, such as the High Line in New York City and the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome, and a familiar few hundreds more.

 But there also are more modest other places and projects, both novel and suggestive, though captions rather an index of credits would have been appreciated. So would have an index, as well as better photos and some illustrations.

     Whatever, there are a lot of good ideas in this practical text, presented in an informative, unvarnished narrative that the authors immodestly state hope “results in a book that will inform and inspire.” It does, not only to advocate professionally in a host city, but also to include in a personal sojourn, if you had the means.

       To be sure, these people friendly fixes focused on public places make our communities more livable. Though increasingly being raised by the authors and others is the question of how selectively is this celebrated, given the harsh reality of the nation’s income inequitabiity.

This growing gap indeed has become a principal socio-economic and political problem that in time undoubtedly will undermine the democratic hope for a diverse and sustainable city, urban design initiatives not withstanding as well as democracy itself.

Putting this and in general gentrification into a prescient perspective is the “The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America.” by Alan Mallach (Island Press)) Noted by an insightful and progressive Mallach is the demise in many major and notably middle sized, middle America cities of the middle class, pronounced homelessness and the increasing lack of affordable housing. It should be added this is very much at present grist for academic conferences, and think tanks, but little action. 

        Some varying solutions are however offered in a recently published and welcomed third book, “Affordable Housing, Inclusive Cities,” edited by Vinayak Bharne & Shyam Khabdekar, (Oro Edition.) Collected in a well-organized, informative and illustrated text are 36 essays of actual case studies and real projects tackling inclusiveness in housing and public place. Though the perspective is world wide, the focus is refreshingly local, with in-your-face and on-the-ground realities that affect a staggering nearly one billion people.

The scattered efforts everywhere, described by the discerning editors lend some hope for a more livable future and social justice for all. One likes to end these reviews not with an after thought, but with a note of optimism.

9.8.19

MALIBU CITIZEN ALERT

Received a notice that this THURSDAY at 1 PM at City Hall a council subcommittee will be taking up the controversial issue of short term rentals.
The fear of course is that a wily recalcitrant Reva smelling the $ the rentals bring to the city will somehow pervert the review process, and delude the council members.
Those concerned are urged to attend, and that unfortunately includes me,
I say unfortunately for having in the past (ad nauseam?) expressed my concerns over the pathetic governance of our small sea coast village and the need for reform, I had promised to give it a rest and turn to other pursuits. These include tending my monarch butterfly refuge, reviewing books, and pursuing some innovative urban design projects elsewhere.
But I just hate seeing the city’s residential character and its noble mission statement insidiously compromised.