The key to creating successful cities is not building the big, attractive buildings but creating a public realm, said Alexander Garvin ’62 ARC ’67, adjunct professor at the School of Architecture.
In one installment of this semester’s urban studies lecture series, Garvin, Bruce Alexander ’65, vice president for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development, and Alan Plattus ’76, professor of architecture and urbanism at the School of Architecture, discussed the approaches to urban planning in front of about 25 people at the Loria Center.
Garvin and Alexander argued that a “civic pride” and a “public realm” approach promoted cities that were socially, environmentally and financially sustainable, while Plattus addressed the issues about replacing traditional buildings with modern ones.
Alexander, who led the reconstruction of the Baltimore Harbor during the late 1970s, kicked off the event — titled “Promoting Cities” — by recounting his experience in Baltimore.
“We try hard whenever possible to encourage identification with the city of Baltimore with civic pride and one way to do that was to tie the project with the history of the area,” Alexander said.
He said he created two glass pavilions in place of the freeway to attract suburban residents and revitalize the urban area. By adding antique signs to the two glass pavilions at the edge of the modern harbor, Alexander said he also preserved elements of the old, traditional Baltimore.
“Harbor place turned out to be an enormous success; the sales were about 150 percent of what the projected sales were to be,” Alexander added.
Garvin, the second speaker of the night, spoke about the task for an urban planner to focus on the public realm, which he described as “where we meet, play, shop or just wander around.”
“Nobody remembers the buildings they only remember the public realm,” Garvin said. “The buildings that enclose the public realm are only incidentals.”
Plattus then broadened the discussion to include a more global context. Cities like Shanghai, he said, are experiencing a conflict between old and new worlds because the explosion of modern buildings replaced the traditional structures.
“There is a maturing culture environment where people in Shanghai see new growth at the expense of the old fabric as less and less desirable,” Plattus said.
When asked about how to improve New Haven from an urban studies perspective, the speakers differed.
“The problem is that you need to have something around which to do it. Take Yale away and there is no New Haven anymore,” Garvin said. “There are whole sections of New Haven that are dead.”
But Alexander, who has played a major role in developing the Broadway district, contended that New Haven has improved immensely since the 1960s when Broadway was merely a vacant road. New Haven still has a lot of promise, he said.
Though Kristin Heintz ’11 said she had hoped the speakers would be even more outspoken, the talk was “very exciting.”
“I was secretly hoping that it was going to come to big blows, but it didn’t,” Heintz said. “But it’s a very interesting debate about to what extent New Haven is a revitalizing community or to what extent it’s just a nice college town.”
The next event in the lecture series, which was organized by History of Art Professor Sandy Isenstadt for “Urban Studies: The Mediated City,” will be held on Mar. 26 and is titled “Resilient Cities and New Orleans Recovery.”