“Retro cities”

A tad polemic and wistful for my tastes, but still spot-on:

Something stranger and even more disheartening to the lover of city life is becoming clear: the new in cities not only isn’t new, it isn’t very urban. Although we’ve resurrected the forms of our cities, we’ve animated them with a culture straight from the suburbs…

Today’s neighborhood is different from the older one that’s supposed to inspire it. For one thing, gentrifiers and loft-dwellers live much less of their lives in their neighborhoods than those who lived there 50 years ago… Like a postwar subdivision, today’s retro neighborhoods lack ethnic clubs, nearby in-laws or grandparents, and merchants who have watched a generation of youngsters grow up. They lack the culture that once provided city neighborhoods with a sense of continuity and identity, and forced people to develop ties over time, across generations, even across ethnic differences…

The car in itself is not suburban. But it is suburban to expect your very own parking space in the city…

By the 1950’s, American cities were losing the vitality that had made them such forceful and creative places for nearly a century. American society today, Marx might say, is about “the suburbanization of everything” — including our retro cities.

Michael Johns in today’s NYT

Speaking of retro cities, Sylvain Chomet, director of The Triplets of Belleville, has this to say about the ’50s in an interview:

From a design point of view, the ’50s were more inspiring. Town planning, cars, clothes were creative and interesting. Drawing and design were an important part of life, on posters, in schoolbooks. It was also a period when people relaxed after the trials of the Second World War. They were less cynical, keener on their freedoms.

(Well, yes, ’50s town planning was “creative,” but “interesting”?)

The film does a marvelous job at portraying both booming, de Gaulle-era Paris and the fantasy of Montr�al reimagined as New York. (Chomet points out that the bridge to Belleville is the Jacques Cartier, from Montr�al, “surrounded by typical Qu�bec architecture”: “we used many details from Qu�bec and Montr�al in trying to show how these cities might have turned into New Yorks.” The fat people, though, are American.)

The plot’s almost nonsense and the style transcends mere caricature, but particular visual moments — RER trains zooming by, a bicyclist dodging a “Mairie de XXIe” bus, meticulously computer-animated spokes whizzing by, ridiculous floats in the Tour de France, a parting shot of the basilica in Marseille, and of course a boy on a bicycle besting evildoers in their cars — make it well worthwhile.