29 Aug 2007

Things Have Gotten Worse

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Lewis Mumford on The Plight of the Prosperous in the New Yorker, March 4, 1950.

I sometimes wonder what self-hypnosis has led the well-to-do citizens of New York, for the last seventy-five years, to accept the quarters that are offered them with the idea that they are doing well by themselves. Apparently those of them who have chosen to remain in New York instead of migrating to the suburbs have forgotten what a proper domestic environment is. Lest someone think that my notions are fancy ones, let me put down what seem to me the minimum requirements for anyone’s living quarters. Whether the structure is a single-family house or a thirty-story building, the first necessity is that every room have light and air. Rooms that are in fairly steady daytime use should be oriented to get the maximum amount of winter sunlight. In this latitude, that means that the major exposure should be a southern one, a fact that Socrates discovered twenty-four hundred years ago. To insure enough light and air, the distance between buildings should increase with their height. Our municipal setback regulations make a hypocritical acknowledgment of this principle, but since they were framed to keep land values high rather than buildings low or widely spaced, they have never come within shooting distance of achieving an ideal. The space between buildings should be dedicated to gardens and lawns, partly for beauty, partly to compensate for our tropical summer heat, partly to purify and sweeten the air. Bedrooms should have cross ventilation, or at least through ventilation, and should never face a street. …

The common row houses, such as those built in the Washington Square district before 1860, met most of these requirements, but the standards have been gradually whittled away…

2 Feedbacks on "Things Have Gotten Worse"

Frank Dobbs

Anti-Gotham bigotry has to go back to the time before Air Conditioning and modern HVAC, before electric lights for the home became science and art, before loft style living made the grandest suburbs green with envy, before civilized man relearned that a creative mind requires the stimulus of the theatre of the boulevard to avoid decay. The author would blanche, no doubt, if required to live for a week in a suburban house of vintage 1950.


Suburbs may be green, but I don’t think Envy is responsible.


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