Monday, January 11, 2010

The Fabric of a City

From an interesting piece about Jonathan Lethem and Brooklyn:

Lethem is not a mourner for the past in the way that traditional Brooklyn nostalgists are – not wailing that people were friendlier back when things were cheaper and more dangerous, or that the Dodgers should never have moved to LA. He observes continuity as much as change. When I say, walking with him and thinking about what he's written, that it's interesting how the fabric of a city creates a kind of human fabric, he responds: "Yeah. I guess I'd call myself a kind of addict of that process. Because it's the unfinished quality that's surprising. Being able to come back here and feel like it was still alive came from realising that gentrification didn't mean that it was somehow sealed in amber now, but that frictions and juxtapositions are still being generated here." He coins a lovely phrase. The Brooklyn that he loves, Lethem says, is marked by "a definitive incompleteness".

I feel the same way about St. Louis: fascinated by the swaths of old neighborhoods, the layers of development, the scars and retrofits, the palimpsest of our built environment. Ride your bike around the South Side—through Tower Grove South, Dutchtown, Carondelet, for instance—and you can see all of that, frictions and juxtapositions akin to those that Lethem finds in Brooklyn.

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