A Plan: Barring All Planning
by Michael Ragolia
I had the displeasure today of being invited to write a brief piece on urban planning at the behest of a barkeep. I am not entirely certain why this request was made or why anyone for that matter would be interested in reading about such a fruitless discipline. Why would he want to start a literary magazine in the first place? Perhaps his first order of business should be to wipe the dust off of his bottles. It is my belief that my mention of attending the prestigious Academia de’ Structure of Rego Park warranted such a request. I must first state what he does not know is that my training came to an unexpected halt when after my second year, my child Beatrice was born. I mention this not only because of my love for her, but because children or for that matter, people, generally are why towns and cities are developed in the first place; and why planning does not necessarily constitute perfection. And just for the record, I would never trade in my daughter for architecture.
While my renderings never saw the light of development and no structures have the great name Tartuffo embossed on them, the potential was obvious to my professors. I am told that my geometric edges and polychrome marble cut-outs are still stored in the basement of the Academia. I did not intend to mislead this barkeep, although in hindsight, I did allude to participating in the design of the Sealy Metropolitan Hotel.
In any such case, I will explain urban planning not because of any guilt I feel for this misunderstanding, but to clarify what the role of a planner, or better yet, these contrived, impediments have been since western culture decided God should not dictate space.
Urban planners are your everyday city residents who frequently demand that street furniture be moved or development sites purged. Urban planners are urban noisemakers who simply complain without having the capacity or skill to implement anything. Implementation begins and ends with physical change, the structural ebb and flow which creates and reduces the space in which we live. Urban space is created by objects, inseparable from the architecture of cities; space delineated from stone pavements, large rooms with coffered ceilings and angular views of monumental rectangular forms; God’s geometrically ordered universe! And what is urban planning you ask? It is a process, only a process I tell you, a process seeking to sustain and improve the inherent relationship between humans and the environment. Does this definition clear things up? Of course it doesn’t! I ask you, reader, whether you’d prefer to walk on a ceramic beam or gesture towards one in process, a process that potentially can create peace, economy and cultural value by the would-be and maybe factor of its presence.
The barkeep was obviously piqued by my architectural knowledge and intuition. The man who assumes that my training correlates to the abstract notion of planning, knowing well that the architect is king and the planner his servant, evident in that he does not have the confidence to write about the very discipline he associates with.
My plan is to bring my daughter Beatrice to this man’s bar in the next few days so that I can read this directly to him. I want Beatrice to learn about such feckless sciences that concern themselves with social matters so that she does not make the grave mistake of choosing one. Beatrice, by the way, is an excellent, confident high school student who will with most certainty follow in her father’s academic footsteps. I have written a letter to the Academia requesting that she be accepted to the very same program that I was, explaining that her aptitude and diligence is as strong as her fathers’. Beatrice must decide her field of study soon, and it is my belief that hearing this explanation of urban planning and seeing this poor, dense barkeep’s reaction will illustrate how weak social scientists are. Who knows? Perhaps instead of thinking about how the City should be planned, he may actually create a model for a new bar. I will convince him to allow Beatrice to redesign it.
Just the other day, I clipped a number of letters I have written to the New York Daily News, Times and Post. The purpose is to encourage editors to focus more on architecture rather than criminal justice matters, which I believe, only perpetuate crime. The dominant force to anything political is our physical landscape. If the public could only see this, understand that building is the missing spirit in our souls, we might not have to search for someone to place our own troubles on.
I am torn between father and Martin. I had no idea what I was getting into yesterday when father brought me to his bar. I am not old enough to be in bars anyway. Initially, I thought father and I were going to have a discussion about my passion for calligraphy and the possibility of me attending the Canarsie Calligraphy Institute (CCI) next year. He knows that I appreciate structure, design and space, but I do not think that mathematics and technology are my strong suit. Calligraphy, on the other hand, is a field of study which encompasses history, art and functionality that I hope will satisfy him; the elements of life that father stresses time and time again. Instead, I found myself in a bar listening father debate urban planning and architecture.
Daddy can be so convincing sometimes. In one sense, I was so pleased that Martin agreed to let me redesign his bar in exchange for a story from dad, yet I have led father to believe that I have changed my mind about calligraphy so that I can be with Martin. Am I really in love? A masterful design is the only way to ensure father will not interfere with our relationship. Perhaps a design whereby Martin would lose agency over his own business so that he can focus on me? My renderings can release him free from ownership and control, some sort of unclaimed space. I will make Martin love me.
Michael Ragolia is a planner with the City of New York by day and runs a bar at night. Both offices are in Brooklyn.
Art by Margarita Korol.