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Fixation On City Skylines Detracts From City Streets

City life happens at street level. But some of our most iconic images of cities are focused hundreds, or even thousands, of feet in the air. Our streetscapes are the worse off for it.
May 31, 2017, 2pm PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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"Before the invention of the camera, we could behold the world only through our own eyes. That which pleased us and functioned for us took place in fine detail. There was no distinction between sight, touch, and presence. Anything we could see, we could probably touch. Anything we could touch was by definition within our presence, ours to behold, control, and, cherish."

"However you spin it, the rack at the drug store holds all sorts of images: barnyard animals, points of interest, thinly veiled advertisements for tourist traps. But if the rack is in a city, one type of image is bound to dominate: that of the skyline. From Manhattan and Los Angeles to Wichita and Toledo, there is, essentially, no American city that is not defined by its skyline—that is to say, by a photograph of its skyline."

"Skylines appear on nearly every city’s website. They adorn the backdrop for nearly every local newscast. They accompany promotional materials and magazine articles. Their synecdochal power is nearly limitless. The Midwestern massif that culminates in the Willits Tower is to Chicago what the telephone booth is to London. Peachtree Plaza and its fellow Portmans are to Atlanta what the sushi bar is to Tokyo. Even the most unremarkable skylines—Des Moines, Fresno, Rochester, whatever—represent their respective cities for lack of imagination or of anything more distinctive to portray."

"The world has plenty of impressive skylines: Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Toronto, and so on. Even London now has a skyline, with the addition of the Shard. But most are impressive only superficially, more for the capital that went into them than for their aesthetic merit. Many of these skyscrapers seem to be competing with each other for some unnamed award for garishness."

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Published on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 in Common Edge
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