Letters

Havana Spared Most of the Worst
I read with interest Paula Park's article "The Quintana Plan" (January 22), about architect Nicolas Quintana and his ruminations on the development of Havana. I feel a sense of consternation over the many vicissitudes he had to endure thanks to Fidel Castro.

I am not familiar with his specific architectural achievements (although anyone anti-Le Corbusier can't be all bad). In general I can breathe a sigh of relief, in this context only, that Cuba and particularly Havana went into a "deep freeze" at the dawn of an era that encompassed some of the most mediocre, inhumane, and -- yes, this is important too -- unadorned architecture in the history of mankind, both in the realm of theory and actual built structures.

One can only gaze in disbelief at the wanton destruction of downtown St. Louis for the sake of a silly arch; at the square miles of eighteenth-century buildings (the hemisphere's largest such collection) that were taken down in Caracas and replaced with glass-and-steel behemoths; at the laughable plans for Brasilia; at the permanent stunting of the Manhattan skyline with rectangular Mies-erable buildings and their unspeakable "plazas"; at the routine insults of plastic panels in building facades; at the Dadeland-era Canary Wharf in London; at the creeping mediocrity even in 1950s Havana (especially East Havana); at the complete disregard for human psychology and social interactions before the altar of ill-conceived utopian ideals. And don't get me going with expressways and urban renewal!

I am increasingly grateful for merely adequate, sustainable, pedestrian-scale neighborhoods. But aren't we glad that Guanajuato and Savannah and Key West and South Beach squeaked by unscathed, whether through neglect or design.

People might not realize that of the hundred best-loved (I did not say most visited) structures or built environments in the nation, only one has been constructed since 1960: Disney World. Worse, probably none could be built under today's regulations. One of the reasons for this sad turn of events is that architects and landscape architects have become somewhat marginalized, thanks to their obsession with showcasing projects that relate to technology rather than the psyche, the ego of the designer taking precedence (and receiving applause) over even the most mundane human needs. (Shouldn't there be a law against benches without backs?)

Architects have become further marginalized by their disregard for the ultimate maintenance costs of their projects and by sustainability issues; by their maddening brushing-aside in most urbanist plans of the hard fact that community development is incremental; by their emphasis on impractical "prettiness" (often visible from a helicopter only); and, even if they grant a nod to siting and regional context, by their silence about whether a property is fit for development in the first place (not a word from Mr. Quintana on the environmental consequences of the new Venezuelan town of Caricuao).

To this I might add the failing of society, which tolerates obsolete building and zoning codes and allows designers, developers, and bankers to get away with all they have been doing. Just ponder the coming tragedy in Coral Gables with the Rouse project ("Show Them the Money!" April 10, 1997).

Yet amid this litany of sins from the past, which we will be stuck with for decades, there is a glimmer of hope that other regimes -- incorporating new urbanism, native-plant landscapes, the better aspects of harmony in Chinese feng shui -- are beginning to take hold. But these ships do not turn on a dime, particularly now that the accountants are in charge. The worry remains not only whether Mr. Quintana will outlive Castro but whether the new ideas will percolate through fast enough to save Havana from the chaos that surrounds us in Miami.

George Childs
Miami

Cage Match: Madonna vs. the Spice Girls
Say it isn't so! Miami's premier alternative newspaper has been not once, not twice, but thrice bitten by that insidious tickling bug known as the Spice Girls. It was only a matter of time.

But far worse than the mere mentions of, to quote Mr. Blackwell, "the only spices in the world with no taste," was the fact that Keith Lee Morris ("Lighten Up Already," January 22) frivolously associated Madonna with the Spice Girls in his list of artists who "will try to fool you into believing they're fun in an effort to mask their inadequacies."

Mr. Morris, what kind of spice are you smoking? Madonna is no Barbra Streisand, but her sheer ability to outlast such snarky (and errant) comments as yours for well over fifteen years hardly puts her in the same category as a bunch of hyperactive tarts who just happen to have a better publicist than Milli Vanilli did.

Lesley Abravanel
Miami Beach

Guilt-Free Devil Music
I must admit that I agree with Keith Lee Morris's plea to adopt guilt-free fun music. I am one of those thirtysomethings who keep up on the latest music trends. And while I definitely enjoy artists such as Fiona Apple, Rage Against the Machine, and Tupac Shakur, I do not make the claim that the only good music is "devil" music, heavily laden with dark images of death and dissonance.

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