Towers, Monuments, And Utopia

Two friends of mine have recently visited Shanghai, and they tell me it's an incredibly large and impressive city. They were both bright enough to realize that the quality of that city wasn't an argument for adopting the Chinese system, thankfully, but I worry that more broadly speaking, people who visit places that are important as the faces of the states they're in make this mistake sometimes.

It's not hard at all to divert the social surplus from a billion people into making a large, modern city. Likewise it's not hard to bleed the people dry to make Berlin, D.C., Ottawa, or Pyongyang impressive. When monuments are built on the sweat of people all over a country, why wouldn't they be magnificent?

If you want to judge a country's political/economic system, take a look at its other cities. Take a look at what's built with private money. New York City, amazing. Chicago, amazing. They're full of impressive sights. Pyongyang, on the other hand, has the world's largest and most expensive pile of unusable garbage. See which of its buildings are monuments, and which of its buildings are actually useful. Capital cities are full of silly monuments. Important cities are full of commercial buildings.

In other words, don't just look at the sights the government wants you to see. Check out everything else—that's what's really impressive.

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Washingtons center alway

Washingtons center alway reminded me of a giant cemetery of mausoleums for giants. Ugly! Ottawa is similiar too. Both seem to have a phobia of buildings that might dare to be taller then the government structures, hence the sheared look.

Stephan, I've often thought

Stephan,

I've often thought the same thing. At night the dark windows of the squat, flat office buildings in DC stretch out into the distance like rows of catcombs.

Yeah, well whoever said

Yeah, well whoever said Atlanta was so great?

You should listen to Scott

You should listen to Scott on this one. Some of these "capital-as-in-capitalism" cities do, in fact, suck. I'm given to understand the Detroit is a disaster. And Houston and OKC are blandblandbland to the point of ugliness. And I rather like both Ottawa and DC. Ottawa is fairy-tale picturesque. DC is more imposing, but mausolea for giants can be fun. I love monumental art.

Outside of the federal

Outside of the federal triangle, DC is kind of a hole. The height restriction of Paris (with the same pernicious & squat effect on architecture) but none of the charm. And of course the insane street design, the potholes, the general air of urban decay even in the 'nice' parts. mmmmmmmmmm.

Mandos, it all depends on

Mandos, it all depends on what you want out of a city. I find OKC, Kansas City, Cleveland, and so on to be kind of "bland" to visit but quite comfortable to live in. OTOH, I would not recommend them for anyone used to S.F. or N.Y.

Detroit is it own special Hell. Calling it the East Berlin of the U.S. would be hyperbole, but the city's politics do have a unique blend of nationalist and internationalist socialism.

Something interesting I saw at Washington Dulles Airport earlier this week, greaterwashington.org is advertising massive economic growth for the D.C. area during the recent recession. That does not seem right to me.

Elaborating on David's

Elaborating on David's comments... Detroit is hardly a beacon of "capitalism gone awry". Rather, the city's been long driven into the ground by years of corrupt and heavy-handed statism by former mayor Coleman Young, and its politico-corruption continues to a large extent by Kwame Kilpatrick today. (Dennis Archer, the mayor between Coleman and Kwame who led for one term and decided to abandon the mayoral gig, was actually one who was tolerable)

The downward descent got rolling with the 1967 race riots, and continued on through the 1970s and 1980s with horrid city government. Businesses fled and took refuge in the less-corrupt and more economically friendly 'burbs, where you'll find the majority of bustling commerical epicenters and nightlife today.

detroit is effing sweet

detroit is effing sweet y'all.

Actually, I would echo many of the same sentiments. I believe that it suffered from a serious degree of central planning in the early days. I believe that only 15-20% of the city's residents live in owner-occupied dwellings. The median HOUSEHOLD income is less than $20K/year.

So you've got a centrally planned city with few/little ownership rights. You can't find a movie theater, a gas station, a grocery store, a coffee shop or a bowling alley to save your life-- why on earth anyone would want to live there is beyond me. And why any business would want to set up there, in a city that nobody wants to live in, is the next logical step in that vicious circle. We have a "mass transit" system that can move 12 people the distance of 3 blocks, on days when it isn't shut down or otherwise incapacitated. On top of that, residents and people who work therein, suffer an additional 1% tax on their incomes. The city's public services are some of the worst in the first world. Police, fire, and EMT response time is abysmal. Yet budget woes mean they continue to layoff policemen. The population today is less than half of the 2million it was back in the early 1950s. Thirty years of political cronyism under late Mayor Coleman A. Young, along with its complete and total dependence on the Auto Industry have left it pretty much an s-hole. I'm down in the "nice" part of the D four nights a week for class.

But the good news is, they just spent 850K on a SWAT tank. And Kilpatrick wants to impose a "fat tax" on fast food restaurants.

Throw another barrier to the few successful businesses in town, and make food that much more marginally expensiev to the poorest of the poor who live there. Brilliant reasoning.

Love the D.

Who is owning the buildings

Who is owning the buildings that people are living in?

My point was, though, that it's definitely a matter of taste. Worse, though: you mistake correlation for causation. How much of NYC's and SF's wonderfulness comes from the fact that it's coastal and all the history that comes with that (rather than "private money" modulo infrastructure, etc, etc)? How much of OKC'ss boringness (I have relatives there---the most fun thing I found there was the cowboy museum YEEE-HAH!) is due to its central location? DC is not quite coastal (I mean, the Poe-toe-mac is too shallow to make it a port unlike Baltimore), so it has a not quite coastal feel. Etc.