07 May 2010

The Top Ten Things That Make New York Look Like Crap

There are many things that diminish the great beauty of New York. But some do more than their fair share. Here are a few, in no particular order.

Crapitecture. It's thrown up in a second. Cheap brick. Cheap glass. Cheap materials. Faceless, featureless, utilitarian, overwhelmingly tan and brown, Soviet. It's unbeautifies the very sky around it. Your mind is suddenly sealed in an airless vacuum as you stare blankly at its uninspired boxiness. Its aura speaks of a bloodless disregard for life's quality. Walk down ten blocks, each one lined with one piece of Crapitecture, and you're ready for the rocking chair.

All Banks: They now all have ugly, bulbous, vulgar logos, in hues of sky blue and fire engine red. They have innumerable branches. And they're on every corner, anchoring each intersection in homeliness.

Plastic newsboxes. They clutter up ever corner with bright orange, bright pink, bright green, bright purple and bright blue hunks of god-awful plastic. Each box (aside from the ones containing The Onion) are filled with instant waste material. And once they're empty, they get filled with actual waste, becoming impromptu garbage cans. Bursting Hefty bags are more lovely.

Cemusa: Newstands that look like they should be selling junk jewelry as kiosks at a low-rent mall. Bus shelters that pummel you with advertising and shelter you not at all. Each made of the silver metal and glass of anonymous modernist international everyday architecture. They say: You could be anywhere. Which leaves you nowhere.

The New Breed of New York Convenience Hotels. Don't these places care what they look like at all? I wouldn't stay in them as a mouse.

Chain Store Signage: There is nothing in this world more—nothing!—visually punishing that the pink-and-orange beacon of a Dunkin' Donuts. Chain stores signs and awnings are purposefully garish, loud and tasteless. It's the basest way to get the consumer's attention. And they ruin the aesthetic of every block they're on.

Cement: Blue stone was beautiful and resonant. Cement is flat and soul-killing.

Scaffolding. Owner of buildings that require scaffolding, either because they are being constructed, or are in danger of falling apart, should be charged for each day that these eyesores remain standing.

Roller shutters. A product of the bad-old '70s. They nullify streetlife. They shut out the light in the eye of every storefront. A necessary evil, perhaps.

Cars. Nothing to be done about this, of course. Robert Moses lassoed the city with highways and made sure we'll be saddled with cars and more cars until doomsday. But if you've ever taken a good look at one side of the street during an alternate-side parking day, you know what I mean. Suddenly, the street just looks better. The view is not blocked. Attractive buildings can be seen in full, lawns and stoops, too. Trees aren't crowded. Same thing with old tax photos of the City. What makes these old scenes so attractive? Oh! I know: no cars. Finally, let's face it. Today's cars, when compared to the autos of decades past, are mundane and just plain unsightly.

(For those of you who are all negative about negativity, I promise to list ten things that make New York looks better next week.)


Unknown said...

Feeling a little cranky today? The bad, cheap architecture of yesterday is some of what you celebrate today. Newstands made of crappy wood and other aged eyesores add character to any city and their unique regional form is what distinguishes Toronto from LA. Ban standardized signs?

That's what makes the discovery of a aged MailPouch Tobacco sign such a treat!

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I feel a little cranky everyday. Haven't you been paying attention?

I think, from your post, you kinda agree with me. Not sure.

Anyway, I do sometimes celebrate the cheap architecture of yesterday. But the cheap architecture of yesterday wasn't so often BAD. Sometimes it was. Mostly, it had a kind of integrity. And the builders cared a LITTLE bit.

Patrick Downey said...

I think even the old cheap buildings had more character than the most of the stuff going up today. But it may just be those of us who enjoy history hate to see any piece of it go under the wrecking ball. I think I remember reading Herbert Asbury lamenting the destruction of old buildings to make way for the gaudy, monstrous movie palaces, so the buildings we admire now were somebody elses eye sore.
Great blog by the way.
Spent many a night at McHale's was sorry to see it go as well.

JB said...

The cheap architecture of yesterday is so much better than the cheap architecture of today because, by necessity, they had to make quality buildings (whereas today we have the technology/know-how to throw up cheap glass and steel monstrosities). It's actually literally impossible to build a building up to par with ones constructed in yesteryear; contractors don't know how to engage in old-school masonry, materials are too cost prohibitive (partially due to less scale in production due to increased scale in production of things like form-fill concrete from japan). In areas that have frequent flooding, pre-war basements are often spotless while post-war construction inevitably leaks.

Anonymous said...

I still can't figure out why there are so many bank branches. Hasn't electronic banking and other changes made them semi-obsolete?


will hauff said...

I spend a lot of time trying to understand why this type of architecture is so uninteresting to me and it seems to boil down to this: it is too bland, you do not really see it. It disappears from the mind too quickly. I yearn for a little more shadow, a little something breaking the surface, anything to show that a human being was here. All mind and no heart.

Anonymous said...

I feel cranky too may B it's the pollen
from Madison Sq.Park and I am tired
of getting old and feeling like'
the old Professor in Bergman's
film "Wild Strawberries".

I saw a sign on a Greek orthodox
church on 22nd street off of 3rd avenue NYC that said-
"May is the apology for January".

That made me smile ,and of course
Epiphany is January 6th.

Mike of Tin Pan Alley