|A portion of New York City's "grid"|
While acknowledging that the grid was in a way "heartless" and even "monotonous," he remains convinced that it was a positive development: it proved responsive to the city's changing compass orientation; profitable for property owners; ecologically beneficial; conducive to sociability and building variety; "oddly beautiful"; and--a virtue that Mr. Kimmelman gives special weight and attention--made the city instantly comfortable and knowable, even for strangers.
|A model of the Roman Forum|
|A portion of a c. 1910 Rome map. At lower left,|
on the right side of the river, a grid-based
Testaccio, waiting to be developed, and above it,
the Aventine, in a similar state
Rome appears in a second context, in an interesting and revealing comparison to New York. "In the same way," Mr. Kimmelman writes, "that tourists who come to New York can easily grasp the layout and, as such, feel they immediately possess the city, outsiders who move here become New Yorkers simply by saying so. By contrast, an American can live for half a century in Rome or Hamburg or Copenhagen or Tokyo but never become Italian or German or Danish or Japanese. Anybody can become a New Yorker. The city, like its grid, exists to be adopted and made one's own."
There's some hyperbole here--"half a century"?--and the argument that a feeling of belonging can be traced to the grid, rather than to the city's (and the nation's) function as a cultural melting pot seems forced, to say the least. We could make the case, too, that New York City's most creative folks have preferred the old city, below the grid, and especially Greenwich Village: Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jackson Pollock Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Eugene O'Neill, Henry James, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jane Jacobs, and [fill in the blank].
In one sense, though, we couldn't agree more. Rome is a much more complex city than New York and much more difficult to learn. It's full of curves and unusual angles, of piazzas, square and round and oval, that surge with energy, of parts that fit oddly and subtly into a whole that remains an intricate puzzle, replete with mystery. It has hills (more than 7, actually) and a river, one that runs through the center of the city and whose twists and turns and bridges contribute to a sense of organic complexity. Rome's cityscape--its imprint, its pattern--could never be described as "heartless" or "monotonous" or damned by the faint praise of "oddly beautiful." That's why we can visit year after year and each time feel a kind of rebirth, as if we were seeing, and knowing, the city anew. That's why being on a scooter is Rome is a pleasure and a thrill, no matter how often we do it. And that's why we wrote--why we felt compelled to write--Rome the Second Time. You're interesting enough, New York City, but you're no Rome.
from Dianne: for another of Bill's "exchanges" with Kimmelman, see his post on MAXXI, Italy's 21st century art gallery - designed by Zaha Hadid - in Rome.