Friday, September 22, 2006

The Politics of Privilege (The Masses are Asses!)

A piece from the New York Times, July, 2003, entitled, "For a Shaper of Landscapes, a Cliffhanger," by Patricia Leigh Brown, former City Councilperson-At-Large Susan Barnes-Gelt was quoted--with regard to Lawrence Halprin's now defunct (erased) Skyline Park: "The park was never loved. Denverites do not warm up to modernism. We don't really get the built environment, and we for sure don't get it if it's not red brick and at least 75 years old. Against that, Halprin's esthetic [sic] was not respected or frankly, enjoyed."

Okay. So, Ms. Barnes-Gelt's perception of those not privileged to breathe the rarefied air of so-called "citizen's" committees or commissions, is clear: We--the rest of us, the taxpayers, just don't get it with regard to what's best for our city, our parks, our public buildings, our streets, our zoning issues... I could go on.

Actually beside the point, but let me point out that the old Skyline Park--which I actually liked--became the victim of city neglect and the virtually undisputed realm of the 16th Street mall rats, their skateboards, Goth nihilism, drugs, alcohol, garbage, begging. Interestingly, Halprin (the architect of the original Skyline Park) views/viewed his work as contributing to the rejuvenation of urban communities; designs that were/are, in his words, "...memorable, intense, passionate rather than pretty."

Forgive me, but I kind of like "pretty." The view of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains from Thirteenth Avenue and Grant--a high point on Capitol Hill--used to be "pretty." Now, from that vantage point, one sees Daniel Libeskind's big old beige phallic, scrotum and all, jutting through the view where once mountains reigned supreme.

Ms. Barnes-Gelt, writing in the Denver Post on September 9, 2006, (Playing all the angles - Art museum's twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity) tells us that, "The seed of the Denver Art Museum's new wing [the Libeskind abortion enshrined as the Frederick C. Hamilton Building] was really planted in 1965, when trustees of the the Denver Art Museum, at the urging of museum architect James Sudler, hired Italian architect Gio Ponti to work with Sudler on what they believed was a 'once-in-a-lifetime building project.'"

Ms. Barnes-Gelt continues:
Sudler persuaded the trustees that Gio Ponti was the right high-profile architect to use. ...[Art Museum] Board member Willaim V. Warren pointed out the advantages of hiring..."the glamour that a famous international name such as Ponti will add to our program. This should add greater saleability locally, and most certainly nationally, and could attract substantial figts from outside our immediate area."

Ponti, Sudler and museum trustees were committed to giving Denver an iconic building, a museum very different from a more predictable classic Beaux Arts jewel box or modernist white cube.
Again, okay. I really like the Ponti building. It's great. It's different. It's utilitarian and, forgive me, it doesn't really give rise to the regular guy/gal (folks who are not privileged to have received an appointment to a "citizens" committee or commission) standing there at Thirteenth and Bannock, studying the Libeskind "thingy" (as one person described it), scratching their head and wondering, "What the fuck!"

Now, here's Ms. Barnes-Gelts description of how Libeskind's "vision" was chosen by "city committee" to be the architect for the Art Museum addition:
Libeskind--cerebral, articulate and a brilliant marketer--dressed his presentation team in black T-shirts with DAM [Denver Art Museum] emblazoned in bright white. He delivered a message everyone in the room could understand. With two markers, one bronze and one silver, he drew intersecting lines on a white board to illustrate his concept, describing it as "two lines taking a walk."

Nearly everyone in the room nodded in understanding, as if thinking, "I get it. All this archi-babble really comes down to something quite simple--two lines taking a walk."

"Two lines taking a walk." What the fuck! She continues:
Perhaps it's time for Denver to concentrate its energies on strengthening the structure and character of the broader city to provide a worthy setting for the eureka moments of Libeskind, Ponti and other star architects.
"Eureka." What the fuck!

Ms. Barnes-Gelt is, I believe, infatuated with diadems like the word "iconic." If you wrap the concept, the person, the "vision," within the idolatrous cocoon of "icon," then no more needs to be said; no more needs to be studied; no more needs to be considered; regular folk need take a fucking hike, 'cause the politics of privilege have spoken.

Interestingly, shorty after the commencement of the Hickenlooper administration, I believe it was Denver Magazine that showcased hizzoner's mug on its cover with the caption--something like--"Instant Icon."

What this post is really about is Civic Center Park and the Libeskind "vision" for the rejuvenation of that space, that has become the rock upon which the city mothers and fathers--including those "citizen" commissions and committees--are making their stand.

In spite of immense and reasonable objections to shamelessly glitzing up (ala Libeskind) that venerated icon of an open space right smack dab in the middle of Denver, city mothers and fathers keep telling us to relax; the process will be transparent; citizen input will be considered but, BUT, the final decision on the fate of Civic Center will be left to the Manager of Parks and Recreation, Kim Bailey. (You remember Kim Bailey. One of the "stars" of Hick's administration who, in the name "City Beautiful" spent what was probably a veritable fortune on assuring park fountains (the kind you watch, not drink from) spew their pretty spray while the infrastructure of Denver's park system is so disgracefully neglected that it will probably take the next twenty years to even put a dent in dilapidated irrigation systems, not to mention bathrooms, recreation centers, walkways, trees, swimming pools.

I do go on.

Let me end with two lists that hint, oh, just a wee bit at the nature of the politics of privilege.

The Civic Center Conservancy (Those folks who hired Libeskind for $75,000 to provide his "vision." You might want to take a look from whence that vision comes, in Libeskind's own words.

Take a look a who makes up the Conservancy at this site. Nope, no regular folk there. But, then, us regular folk are artistically and probably intellectual lightweights who have no business being involved in this (winky-wink) public/private partnership. Oh,but Ms. Barnes-Gelt is there.

And, just for the fun of it, let's take a look at the task force that has been/will be redoing Denver's zoning code; you know, that codified mass of edicts that control the what, where, when, how; the cans and cant's that apply directly, intimately, at times oppressively, to what you may want to do with your property.
Appointed to the Zoning Code Task Force are:
Stephen Kaplan
Attorney/Partner, Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell; former City Attorney
Diane Barrett
Recently retired Attorney/Partner, Holmes Roberts & Owens
Stephanie Garcia
Real estate investor and developer
Susan Barnes-Gelt
Former Denver City Councilwoman, At-Large
Brad Buchanan
Principal, Buchanan Yonushewski Group; Member, Denver Planning Board
Michael Henry
Zoning and Planning Chair, Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation
John Hindlemann
Member, Board of Adjustment
John Lucero
Board of Directors, Denver Board of Realtors; Broker, Keller Williams Realty
Rich McClintock
Program Director, Livable Communities Support Center
Peter Park
Manager of Community Planning & Development, City & County of Denver
Jeanne Robb
City Councilwoman, District #10; Chair, Blueprint Denver Council Committee
John Ross
Vice President/Denver Division., Gillis Thomas Company
Molly Urbina
Director of Governmental Affairs, Oakwood Homes
Ken Walker
Principal, Walker-Dilworth, LLC
Carolynne White
Land Use/Real Estate Attorney, Brownstein Hyatt & Farber PC
A.J. Zabbia
Principal, 68 West Engineering, Inc.
Yeah, Barnes-Gelt is there, too. No, Joe the carpenter, Jake the electrician, Marene the plumber, Al the small shopkeeper, Jules and Norma the homeowners aren't there.

The masses are asses, ya'll. Plain and simple.

P.S. Susan Barnes-Gelt has a remarkable record as a public servant and civic activist. She is one of the brightest and most articulate persons ever to serve on the Denver City Council. That said, public policy should not, must not continue to be pretty much exclusively within the purview of good people who, somewhere along the way, have lost touch with the realities, the likes the dislikes, the everyday drudge of the common man/woman who have not been "blessed" with the ability to know what's best for the rest of us.

1 comment:

roger m. said...

Well, Georgeindenver, it's a noble cause--getting the hoi polloi more involved (or involved at all) in civic matters and public policy. But, really, it ain't going to happen. It's a money game. Very few have the time or the interest. Think about a homeowners association. The vast majority of the members rely on a few to govern and make decisions. Occasionally corruption and abuse sneak in, but it's rare. The best that the average folk can do in a city is attend neighborhood association meetings. Maybe a few of the best and brightest of those groups might POSSIBLY have a shot at getting a token slot on an important government or civic committee to eradicate houselessness. But, who, by the way is running that show? Another former member of the City Council. Otherwise, it's always been insider's game. Lot's of the insiders have personal gains or interests in the outcome, but that is part of the price.

Gelt is one of the good guys, I suppose. Term-limited and wondering in the wilderness. But have you ever seen her and John Andrews doing their version of a point-counterpoint on channel 12? Yuk!