"The future form of the city will arise, not from the computer printout, not from standards and guidelines, not from legislative action, but from the work of the artist." So Ed Bacon, architect and planner, testifies yesterday at a meeting of the National Council on the Arts.
Bacon, a member of the National Endowment for the Arts Architecture and Environmental Arts panel, spoke on the subject of the A&AE's new million-dollar program, "Livable Cities."
The program will act as a catalyst to encourage design studies to solve city problems. A ceiling of $30,000 for each project must be matched from the community. "The beauty of the program," said Roy Knight, acting director of A&AE, "is that it has so few regulations and restrictions. We're asking the cities to tell us what they need and how they're going about it."
Bacon, who is credited with much of Philadelphis's renaissance, went on to tell the council that "all of my work in Philadelphia was done without the aid of economic studies . . . the one criterion for successful research in the urban field would be that it involved neither numbers nor word."
The endowment's program, Bacon said, "augurs well for the future and will help to restore the balance so terribly dominated by statistical analyses, by categorical dissections and by gray and dusty concepts of legal and administrative procedures."
Large urban plazas, created by urban renewal, were denounced by Bacon as "bare and barren monuments to misguided aspirations to grandeur." He called instead for city-centers that would be lively with art, dance, people coming together. "Give the artist elbow room, encourage the new and the unfamiliar, nurture the impulses not of today but of the future. This means that you, inevitably, (as was I in all my career) will be unpopular because you deal in the future and nobody wants the future hanging about to bother them. The crucial thing . . . is that it is from art that will spring the practicalities of the new Livable City."
Nancy Hanks, endowment chairman, told the council that the new program is "aimed at making cities more livable - more responsible to people who like to work, picnic in a park, ride a bus, or shop near their homes."
Major goals of the program include energy and resources conservation by renovating and using old buildings and neighborhoods, encouraging cooperation between government and business, preserving historic identities, arousing citizen interest in their environment, emphasizing livability in design, and scaling projects to human size.
Like previous Arts Endowment architectural programs - City Edges, City Options, City Scale - the grants are given as seed money for research, planning and, essentially bright ideas. Funds are not given for actually building or repairing anything.
As Bacon pointed out, programs like the endowment's have enormous potential - for waste as well as worth. If the money goes for yet another Meaningful Interface Study, it will serve only to give employment to people whose only talent is grantmanship.
If the expenditure is to be worthwhile, it must serve to pay the rent on an ivory twower for imaginative artists, to give them time to stop and think about the verities:
Why do people come to the city? Why do they leave it? Why are some sections of town crowded and others desolated? What will the monuments of tomorrow look like? Which will be the 21st-century slums? How will the shortage of energy affect where people live? How can the city be born again?
The endowment's chance to answer these questions is enhanced by the decision to strip the program of as many guidelines and regulations as possible. Imagination doesn't fit neatly into the lines of government forms.