About seventy people crowded the library's community room a week ago to listen to "urbanologist" Max Grinnell. Author of Hyde Park and Frommer's 24 Great Walks in Chicago, Grinnell has taught urban studies and related subjects in Chicago and Boston's Mass College of Art, among other places. He is a fun-loving guy: at the library, he placed cards saying "You Win" on two chairs. The recipients found a Necco candy bar underneath their seats. His work's focus is "the urban condition," he explained, "the look and feel of a place." A recent on-line series he contributes to the Online Architect Blog in Chicago describes what a particular corner in the Windy City can tell you, and how to read it. He hopes to be able to do that in Boston, he added. The corner of Huntington and Longwood Avenues was one tempting example: 50,000 people come and go there each day, he says. Most of his students didn't grow up in an urban area, so being a student in Boston is a new experience for them. "Noisy, noisy, noisy," they tell him. "And no parking."
Good components of Boston's environment include a cornucopia of public amenities, a diverse setting of higher-education institutions, population diversity and density, and a robust legacy of public-sector infrastructure, also known as "the things we take for granted," Grinnell commented. What's not good is socio-economic equality; decline of investment in public institutions; restrictive covenants that, even though no longer legal, have set structural patterns of who lives where; lob-sided public-private partnerships (why are we giving money to the Red Sox and the Patriots--what are we getting in return?); and institutionalized racism.
While Grinnell praised Boston's walkability, singling out the Norman Leventhal Walk to the Sea kiosks, part
of Boston's HarborWalk, he deplored the the very traditional legacy of statues in the Commons and elsewhere, calling them "terribly old fashioned." What is the sort of art he would like to see. he was asked by the audience? "I'd like to see a public art installation devoted to the busing crisis in Boston," he answered, adding that everyone should read the non-fiction book on the subject, Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas, its definitive study. A listener suggested that Puritanism had held back good public art and suggested that, if Vienna could have an art installation of a Rectum Bar that was also a cafe, so could Boston.
Could that happen here? See for yourself in the adjacent picture. It was on location as a temporary art installation in Vienna's (Austria) Museum Quarter in 2010.