“Every town has the same two malls: the one white people go to and the one white people used to go to.”
— Chris Rock, quoted in The New York Times

“One reason for the malls’ problems is that the suburbs have changed. When the Southdale shopping centre opened on the outskirts of Minneapolis, the suburbs were almost entirely white and middle-class. Whites were fleeing a wave of new arrivals from the South (the black population of Minneapolis rose by 155% between 1940 and 1960). Although [shopping mall pioneer Victor] Gruen could not bear to admit it, his invention appealed to those who wanted downtown’s shops without its purported dangers. These days, in Minneapolis as in much of America, the ethnic drift is in the opposite direction. The suburbs are becoming much more racially mixed while the cities fill up with hip, affluent whites. As a result, suburban malls no longer provide a refuge from diversity.”
The Economist, 22 December 2007, p. 103

The phrase “refuge from diversity” sticks with me. Is that really something people need to feel comfortable?

December 29, 2007 December 29, 2007 archives by Scott No Comments

Have a great Christmas. Stay tuned for some changes within the next couple of weeks…

December 24, 2007 December 24, 2007 archives by Scott No Comments

The grizzled man crammed into the window seat beside me was leafing through a copy of The Progressive Farmer magazine (“Get More from Your Life on the Land”). Where could he be going?

“Back to my farm in Arkansas. I’m a registered cattle farmer.”

I learned that registered cattle are used for things like breeding—not beef. Where was he coming from?

“From Delaware. I also run an I.T. consulting business, and I have a client there.”

Now that is diversification.

December 21, 2007 December 21, 2007 archives by Scott No Comments

Weekly Dig pages I still haven’t finished putting my China photos on the Web—shocking, I know! But you can see my favorite Widelux shot from that trip in tomorrow’s issue of the Weekly Dig.

December 11, 2007 December 11, 2007 archives by Scott No Comments

A concert mini-review

The Tallis Scholars (dir. Peter Phillips)
St. Paul Church, Harvard Square
December 7, 2007

I chose this event for my annual dose of live classical music primarily for two reasons: One, they are named for one of my favorite composers, Thomas Tallis. Two, the series (the Boston Early Music Festival) is sponsored by my bank, the Cambridge Trust Company, which has demonstrated exceptionally good taste in choosing what to sponsor. It doesn’t hurt that I secretly enjoy Renaissance music, and the New York Times has called the Tallis Scholars “the rock stars of Renaissance vocal music.”

Rock stars for a night, indeed they were. The audience (by my estimates 99.5% white and at least 80% over the age of 40) practically gave them a standing ovation for walking onto the stage. And it was the first time I’ve ever seen a classical group get cajoled into delivering an encore. They met our expectations though, with a set list by Lheritier, Palestrina, Mouton, Crecquillon, Josquin Des Prez, and Jacobus Gallus. I had never heard of Gallus before—perhaps because he died in 1591—but the three pieces of his that they performed were my clear favorites of the evening. The encore (an unusual version of In dulce jubilo) was awesome.

The Scholars’ blend and tone was so perfect that, as L. pointed out during the intermission, it is easy to forget that one is listening to people singing. The sound is sort of transcendental. Awesome.

December 10, 2007 December 10, 2007 archives by Scott No Comments

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong.
Was I unwise
to leave them open for so long?

The Jackson Browne tune got stuck in my head during my eye exam. I sang it the whole way home. Now this screen is driving my dilated pupils crazy—adios!

December 8, 2007 December 8, 2007 archives by Scott No Comments

Me with Cummins Engine This year, we celebrated Thanksgiving at my sister’s apartment in Indianapolis. It was a fun change from the usual routine. The food came out well and everyone enjoyed themselves.

Many families have traditions for what to do with the following Friday. We don’t. Clearly some kind of road trip was in order, but there was little consensus on where to go. I campaigned relentlessly for a tour of Columbus, Indiana—a quiet town of 39,000 about 40 miles south of the capital. Eventually everybody gave in and that’s where we went.

Columbus is home to the Cummins Engine Company, and seemingly little else. But Columbus is perhaps most widely known among architecture circles as one of America’s premier showcases of modern architecture. Cummins Engine co-founder J. Irwin Miller was an architecture lover who in the 1950s set up a foundation to cover the costs of hiring cutting-edge architects to design any new public buildings in town: government buildings, banks, schools, and churches. So it happens that Columbus’s streets are a Who’s Who of architecture. But as the visitor center’s video is quick to point out, these are not a collection of ostentatious showpieces. Somehow they manage to fit together organically—visually and functionally integrated with the community. It’s an achievement that has not been paralleled elsewhere, and it’s lovely to behold.

Among the highlights:

  • First Christian Church (1942, Eliel and Eero Saarinen). The first modern church in the United States, everything about this building is slightly off-center and way ahead of its time.
  • Irwin Union Bank and Trust (1954, Eero Saarinen). Eero Saarinen is my favorite architect. You have undoubedly encountered his works already: the one-of-a-kind St. Louis Arch, the widely-copied Dulles Airport main terminal, and MIT’s Kresge Auditorium and Chapel. This single-story bank is a gorgeous throwback to the 1950s. The built-in file cabinets and custom furniture are still being used today.
  • North Christian Church (1964, Eero Saarinen). This church is a masterpiece. The roof lines and skylights are breathtaking. The sanctuary is spacious yet intimate, and the baptismal font is gorgeous. The landscaping is so well executed that, somehow, even approaching the building by car is exciting. I also like the way that the parking lot is almost completely hidden, despite being right in front of the church.
  • Cleo Rogers Memorial Library (1969, I.M. Pei). This is how libraries were meant to be built: red brick, warm wood, and some concrete thrown in for good measure.
  • Columbus Post Office (1970, Roche Dinkeloo). Ugly and institutional on the inside, but notable for its use of self-rusting Cor-Ten steel on the facade, which gives the building a lovely texture.
  • Large Arch (1971, Henry Moore). Many of us have sat on his Three Piece Reclining Figure Draped in Killian Court at MIT. This is a fine arch, and it is large.
  • The Commons (1973, Cesar Pelli). This mall has decayed to an unfortunate level of disrepair, but you can appreciate the unusually broad gestures it makes toward community service as well as shopping. Indeed, with most of the stores gone or going out of business, the place is still abuzz. It provides a stage for performances, several large common rooms, a food court, an indoor playground, and a sunny home for Jean Tinguely‘s kinetic sculpture Chaos I (1971).
  • Cummins Corporate Office Building (1983, Roche Dinkeloo). Big, and looking a little forlorn with all the vines withered for the winter. The lobby was closed for the holiday, but through the windows one could see all kinds of enticing gems: antique cars, engines, and an incredible sculpture of exploded engine parts. Julia took the above picture of me with the engine outside their front door.

Coming soon: some photos of Columbus, and some lively discussion of my trip to Kentucky’s Creation Museum.

December 2, 2007 December 2, 2007 archives by Scott No Comments

“Cuter Scooter defined by electricity, portability”

November 28, 2007 November 28, 2007 archives by Scott No Comments