Europe as museum for rich?

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A bistro in Paris near the Sorbonne. (parisinsidersguide.com)

The late Walter Laqueur, who died last week after a long career cataloguing the sins of communism, terrorism and the Holocaust, was quoted in his New York Times obituary asserting that the “possibility that Europe will become a museum or a cultural amusement park for the nouveau riche of globalization is not completely out of the question.”

Alas, it is not. Fortunately, it still must be considered a possibility, not an actuality. Great thinkers and writers still live in Europe’s cities and towns. Laqueur lived mostly in London. One must assume that he was dismayed by the proliferation of ugly, sterile skyscrapers in what was once among the world’s most beautiful cities. Such towers are precursors to the eventual victory of totalitarianism in the West, which fought so hard in the last century to protect itself and the world from authoritarian rule.

We often hear the words museum and cities together in ridiculous claims that old cities will become “museums” if new architecture is built to fit into their historical settings. That is not what Laqueur was talking about, and I doubt he would subscribe to that fabricated modernist anxiety.

The Times obituarist, Sam Roberts, wrote:

Among Mr. Laqueur’s last books was Reflections of a Veteran Pessimist (2017). The title notwithstanding, he told Der Spiegel that he would have preferred to live during the belle époque, at the end of the 19th century, when hope sprang eternal. He then paused to reconsider.

“Hope springs eternal,” he repeated. “It’s one of the most frequently quoted verses of English poetry. The poet was Alexander Pope, a decidedly cautious man. He had many enemies, and we know from his sister that he never went out into the street without his large, aggressive dog, and always with two loaded pistols in his bag.”

Hope springs eternal that Europe will still be worth visiting after the next decade or more of modernist slab construction. Eventually, it must stop or going to Europe will no longer be worthwhile, nor will the rich have any reason to buy apartments there. In the late 19th century – the Belle Époque – the beauty of cities there and perhaps elsewhere reached its apogee. That may be why hope sprang so eternally. Is anybody a flâneur in a city that does not reward walking, that has instead submitted its future to the tender mercies of modern architecture? Certainly not.

British philosopher Roger Scruton, in The Classical Vernacular, wrote that

[Classical] streets are frequented in equal measure by the aimless and the purposeful, for they are bounded by surfaces that concede the vitality of civil life. The classical wall, which is humanly proportioned, safe, gregarious, and quietly vigilant [here Scruton channels Jane Jacobs] constantly reminds the pedestrian that he is not alone, that he is in a world of human encounter, and that he must match the good manners of the wall which guides him.

A few days ago I read in The Irish Times that a law to ban tourists from sitting on steps is being considered by the Venetian authorities. It is already illegal there to sit on the steps of monuments and on those of the portico of St. Mark’s Square. NBC Evening News had a segment last night reporting that 300 bistros had closed this past year in Paris, so ubiquitous have the fast-food merchants proliferated there. That’s terrible news, but I would rather be forced to pay for a seat on the Champs-Élysées or on St. Mark’s Square than be free to sit on a patch of hallowed ground surrounded by McDonald’ses, let alone skyscrapers.

Has the death of the European city already occurred? I don’t think so. But the death rattle can be heard.

Don’t even ask about American cities. A couple days ago I read an article (“What is developer Fane’s track record in Toronto?“) that defended The Fane Organization, which proposes a 600-foot tower in Providence’s Jewelry District, by bragging on Fane’s projects contributing to the towerization of Toronto. Utterly unconvincing, but it demonstrates sadly how thing are going that such claptrap gets serious attention even in Providence.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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7 Responses to Europe as museum for rich?

  1. LazyReader says:

    Take a religious culture that for nearly 1,400 years expanded almost solely via the sword, ran the largest and most brutal slave trade in human history, combined with a society whose sexual depravity (just look at their internet history) allows them to reproduce at the rate of rabbits, Tends to rank last in human rights records among nations where it’s predominantly practiced and has steady access to readily available Soviet and Chinese military surplus….shining example of civilization? Islam and Communism are a lot alike. – Once you’ve been raised into it, it’s very difficult to leave. – You alienate those that have left. – You resent the people around you who have better stuff and fewer restrictions on what they’re permitted to do like living life free to pursue leisure and in some cases frivolity or as they call it “Western decadence” which ironically was in no short supply in either societies. – The elite live like kings but expect the flock to live free of the distractions and exuberance that would actually motivate them to possibly abandon the ideology. Look no further than the Shieks with fleets of Ferrari’s or communist elite who resided in the former palaces of the people they overthrew. – Both have shown little regard for the lives that were spent to perpetuate it’s expansion. – The nations that adopt it’s teachings are usually on the low end of human development scale; well at least Soviet Russia gave us vodka, rocketry and great authors. – Both societies often place substantial restrictions on the amount of personal liberties it’s citizenry engage in.(the soviets censored photographs, newspapers, broadcasts and printed works or outright banned them. Islamic countries have religious police, sharia law and fatwa against cartoonists and authors) – Both indoctrinate the young via the school system (THAT THEY CONTROL) And lastly the people that do leave the ideology will tell their stories to the Western World that actually listen about the horrible conditions the mainstream media refuses to listen to. Seeing society progress while you get left behind generates behavior of animosity and shame and they address that in one of two ways, One: get your act together, change what’s afflicting your life and make due to society or Two: Tear society down either purposely or obliviously. Which is exactly why the political left loves both…..only the threat of death can prop up a left-wing dream, because no one in their right mind would volunteer for this stupidity. Western Civilization is not perfect….but didn’t fall into the ash bin of history because it adopted the teachings of Spinoza, Thomas Paine, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson….despite their flaws. But the teachings of Mohammed, Marx, Engles…led to the downfall of whole societies. Western civilization progressed and achieved in five centuries what the rest of the world couldn’t do in 50.

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  2. leveveg says:

    What happened to my long comment?

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  3. A mosque can be very attractive, but too often its inhabitants need to be watched closely.

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    • leveveg says:

      That’s because they’re financed my the Saudis and their Wahhabism. By the way, the Mosque in Oslo is not attractive at all, almost as ugly as new churches, which I don’t visit. The one in St. Petersburg seems very nice though.

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  4. stanleyxweiss@gmail.com says:

    Just be ready for a lot of mosque’s and their Islamic redounding horn call to pray …

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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