Plumb Lines

April 22, 2009

Et in Arcadia Pomo

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 2:07 pm

080505632otreSince we’re talking about the effects on a city of planned demolition, I’ll point out how interesting and beautiful the effects of unplanned demolition can be. The South Side of Chicago has been visited by numberless calamities over the years, and in some areas most of the buildings have been destroyed and their lots left fallow. In some places, whole blocks have been razed or burned over the years, leaving only one or two weirdly isolated apartment buildings. The effect is strangely pastoral. Scroll around this map and see for yourself (those are two trains on the CTA’s Green Line passing each other at the top of the map, for you transit enthusiasts).

“Post-Apocalyptic” is the favored phrase for these cityscapes, but that doesn’t quite capture the effect. While there is indeed something fractured and pomo about the buildings, to which the plaster of their long-demolished neighbors sometimes still clings, most of the environment is slowly becoming Northern Illinois prairie once again. Walking around these neighborhoods on a mild afternoon in Spring is peaceful, almost bucolic. There are wildflowers and a few small mammals. You encounter other people only rarely, and they mind their own business.

glencoe2Nature is making similar inroads into Cincinnati’s own Over-the-Rhine, but most blocks have most of their buildings still, with unexpected gaps here and there. Both the street network and the architecture in Over-the-Rhine were various and diverse, in contrast to the South Side. (The coolest streets aren’t on Google Streetview yet, but this location provides at least a hint of what the neighborhood is like.) Over-the-Rhine is a mirror image of the suburbs. The suburb tries to marry nature and city, but it subjects both to outrageous demands. In a hellish, bad-taste descent from William Morris, the artificial elements of the environment must be  not picturesque (this requires some effort) but “picturesque,” while the natural elements are forced not merely to be but to signify, so that aesthetic criteria, among others, become irrelevant. By contrast, Over-the-Rhine tells the truth about the beautiful (not sublime!) violence that cities visit upon plants and plants upon cities. The neighborhood is a kind of Arcadia – 19th-century-village – Slum mash-up.

New Urbanism has often been called reactionary, and not unjustly. Even its supporters call it “traditional.” If supporting dense, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods is therefore conservative, may I call Over-the-Rhine an example of “Pomocon urbanism”?

(photos from the photobucket of the Building Cincinnati blog and from, respectively)

UPDATE: an image of the Glencoe Row Houses pictured above that’s somewhat more to the point:


David Schaengold



  1. […] Monday Movie Still: Germania Anno Zero Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 5:00 am If Jules et Jim is the filmic Dutch Bicycle, this is the filmic Pomocon Urbanism: […]

    Pingback by Monday Movie Still: Germania Anno Zero « Plumb Lines — May 4, 2009 @ 5:06 am

  2. […] @ 4:08 am The AP must have picked up on our conversation here about shrinking cities and the otherworldly beauty of desolated urban landscapes. They have a profile and photo essay of the desolate communities […]

    Pingback by Rust Belt Tightening « Plumb Lines — May 5, 2009 @ 4:08 am

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