Karrie Jacobs on the comeback of beauty in American cities in the past decade without any coordinated effort or even any consensus on what the word means:
Just look around. Our newly landscaped waterfronts, from New York’s Hudson River Park to Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park, are surely beautiful. From an affordable housing complex in Harlem planted with a lush green roof to the rolling artificial hills atop Renzo Piano’s California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, natural and man-made beauty are intermingling in ever more sophisticated ways.
Referencing the City Beautiful movement of the 1890s:
[I]t’s miraculous that we’ve come back around to a City Beautiful way of thinking, that once again we see the value of expansive, public-spirited urban gestures but manage to do so without a single governing aesthetic. Our much maligned cities still lack the old sort of beauty, that harmonious European quality, but they’re getting better at serving up the more democratic kind: the beauty of the pleasant surprise.
“You see beauty where others can’t,” I remember she said, the first time my mother visited me in Brooklyn.
Proudly touring her through neighborhoods — the magic of a particular alley, the little-known view of the canal, the way the subway rushes above ground after a long haul under the river — I let her in on the secrets of underground beauty. To me. This wasn’t the uniform aesthetic of our hometown, but a place where stitching together each new moment was the beauty itself. “New York is always somewhere else, across the river on on the back of the front seat, someplace else, while the wind of the city just beyond our reach rushes in the windows,” Adam Gopnik points out. “We keep coming home to New York to try to look for it again.” No matter if we’ve been here a year or a life, its beauty — in architecture, in people, in media, in food, in simply observing — is in its surprise.