the elusive reality of “places” echoing places

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone
but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me

–Lennon and McCartney, Strawberry Fields Forever

Sometimes, as illustrated in photographs of Las Vegas, the purpose of place is at first unclear. At those moments, forgotten admonitions of legendary critics such as Ada Louise Huxtable can help refresh our understanding.

Writing in the New York Times in 1997, Huxtable cast a discerning eye on what she saw as increasingly augmented, synthetic and engineered American placemaking, premised on “[t]he remarkable marriage of technologically based and shrewdly programmed artificial experience with a manufactured and managed environment”.

“The dream of pedestrianism, so valiantly and fruitlessly pursued by planners who have looked to the past and overseas for models of historic hill towns and plazas”, she wrote, “has been aggressively naturalized; the social stroll has become a sensuous assault”.

In the intervening years, have we grown towards greater authenticity? Arguably, a new, pervasive focus on sustainability and alternative modes of transportation has broadened awareness and approach.

Whatever the answer, looking toward the New Year, there is no harm in revisiting Huxtable’s frame of reference, along with associated imagery.

Consider the risks of places with a purpose only to provide–without more–an illusion of places where we may want to be.

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