Interboro Talks to Lars Lerup

10-12-2009

Interboro just returned (again) from Rotterdam, where it introduced and had a discussion with Lars Lerup. Lerup, best known for his book After the City, gave an enjoyable, interesting, irreverent, and somewhat sprawling talk about his forthcoming book, One Million Acres and No Zoning, which is about his home: Houston, TX. Sometimes it sounds like Lerup wants to be to Houston what Jane Jacobs was to New York City, or Reyner Banham was to Los Angeles, namely, a ghostwriter, a gifted interpreter who understands (and loves) his subject and can reveal how readers should understand (and love) it. Lerup is right on when he says that Houston can’t be understood using older urban frameworks, just as Banham was right when he insisted that to learn Los Angeles “in the original,” one has to learn how to drive. And in his talk, he went a long way towards articulating an original language for Houston, talking about mobility, weather, metabolics, activity surfaces, and other things that seemed like an appropriate and original redescription of Houston. Moreover like his colleague Albert Pope, Lerup spoke of the tyranny of (the concept of) sprawl, insisting that it had become a meaningless word that, presumably, serves to make metropolises like Houston sound less interesting and original than they are. However, too many times, Lerup stopped short, and either returned to familiar frameworks (i.e. Jacobs, Rossi) or infused his descriptions with criticisms that suggested a nostalgia for the denser, more mixed-use, “atrium” city of the east and of Europe. For example, while at points he sounded like he wanted to celebrate the fact that in Houston, “everything must move,” at other times, he was very critical of mobility, stating that there could be no community in a mobile city whose neighborhoods experience rapid turnover. There may be some truth to this, and neighborhood turnover presents a challenge to community as it is traditionally conceived, but isn’t the point about Houston that it is not a traditional city, and therefore might support non-traditional forms for community? None of this is to detract from a very engaging talk on a very important topic; it is rather to make the point that as bold as Lerup can be, in some ways, Interboro would like to encourage him to be bolder, to embrace and love Houston for what it is: a novel kind of city that, though troubled, might point towards a new way of understanding and experiencing the city.

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