Soturday, July 9, 1977 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Seven
Whyte: The urban spaceman
By STU McCONNELL
WILLIAM HOLLINGSWORTH WHYTE doesn't get
excited atout urban renewal, new skyscrapers, home-
steading, welfare reform or declining city tax bases.
What our ailing American cities need, according to
the 59-year-old author of The Organization Man and
The Last Landscape, are more places to sit down.
Whyte, writer, social scientist and urban spaceman,
was in town for a land use conference in May and
aired his views on citigs suburbs, land, and the prob-
lems of Detroit
"Some people are more intejligent in their use of
space," he said. "For example, we studied 17 office
buildings and i'e'd make little maps of how many
people were sitting, where they were sitting and so
on. We did this over a two- or three-month period
and it became obvious that certain plazas people
sat on and enjoyed - they had a good time, they
ate lunch, they talked. Other plazas, nobody was
"Now you ask does the design affect this. Yes
it does, because wo found, for example, that one of
the most important things was that people tended
to sit where there were places- to sit ... Another
important thing is that it's adjoining a street. It's
amazing how many plazas are cut off from the street
- the Renaissance Center is just cut right off."
DETROIT'S RENAISSANCE CENTER, a multi-mil-
lion dollar skyscraper in the heart of downtown, has
been a continuing source of controversy. Supporters
of the building say it will lure people downtown; op-
ponents say that even if it does, the Ren Cen is an
isolated "fortress" development.
In his urban studies projects, carried out with
grants from the National Geographic Society and oth-
ers, Whyte found that a good index of a downtown's
viability is the number of people who walk by in a
given period of time.
"If you're in the center of downtown on one of the
main streets and your count in under 1,000 an hour,
forget it," he said flatly. "You can put gold out there.
You can put champagne in the fountains for all the
difference it'll make because these simply aren't enough
There are plenty of people- in downtown Detroit,
Whyte conceded but called it "the most under-seated
city I've ever seen."
"THERE'S A BIG WHITE BUILDING - Michigan
Gas, I think - but you can't sit there. It's a fine
looking building, all white and steel reflecting and
everything, but they've the ledges canted so you can't
sit there. Or take the City-County: big office, lots of
people are there, but nobody's sitting because they're
not allowed to. There's not even a bench to sit on."
"I do think that these so-called 'fringe amenities'
are vital to a city,' Whyte concluded. "The Renais-
sance Center, all right, I salute the bravado of things
like that but there are some relatively easy things
that can be done first. Cities should be nicer to their
work force and there are a number of small ways
they can be nicer by providing them with a better
To those unschooled in the study of urban space,
things like benches and street access seem like the
height of irrelevancy. Whyte, however, is firmly con-
vinced that even minor facets of an urban environ-
ment can affect behavior.
IN THE ORGANIZATION MAN (1956), Whyte an-
alyzed the suburban Chicago community of Park For-
est - in particular how the "planned" suburban en-
vironment and "organization" work habits of commu-
ters affected ther lives.
Since then he has concentrated on urban, rather
than suburban development, but hesitates to draw
broad distinctions between the problems of the two.
"Suburbia is built much more around the use of
the car; in the city you tend to walk," Whyte said.
"They're sort of different cultures, but I don't be-
lieve in hideous comparisons - I grew up in a sub-
urb myself, but I live in a city.
"Their land problems are really remarkably sim-
ilar. In both cases the challenge is really more in-
tensive and more effective use of the space that's
WHYTE SUGGESTED A PROGRAM to reward
developers for creating new open space, but cau-
tioned that such a program in New York has some-
times led to developers providing unusable space.
He also noted that in the case of his pet suburbh,
Park Forest, too much space improperly used has
created problems not apparent when The Organiza-
tion Man was written.
"(Park Forest's) shop'ping center at the time I
wrote The Organization Man was a very successful
shopping center which is now in big economic trou-
ble, like so many other centers. And here's the rea-
son: it's too suburban in scale ... it's spread over
a tremendlous amount of land. At the time it was
built land was very cheap, gas was very cheap.
Now it's suffering from competition with a huge,
enclosed shopping mall next to an interchange.
"This is what is knocking out all your rather dis-
persed shopping centers - they're going bankrupt
one after the other. The problem is they're neither
fish nor fowl. They don't offer what a dowptown
does, which is a tightly-knit sort of thing."
Thus, says Whyte, too much space can hurt as
much as too little. He now lives in New York City,
which he says has "one of the liveliest downtowns
I've ever lived in."
"URBAN SPACE is a fairly compressed, critical
mass of activity," he said, "and despite what people
say, this is what they like; it's surprising that peo-
ple like best (places) where there are a lot of peo-
ple. If people really wanted to get away, as they
say they do, there are a lot of plazas where they
could go where no one would bother them."
But despite his books, which some considered to
be mildly anti-suburban, Whyte is a champion of
neither the big city nor the wide open prairie.
Speaking again of Park Forest, he said "I'm very
impressed with it. It's a very different place from
when I was there - it's no longer a pioneer commu-
nity, the pioneers are older - but it's kept its vi-
tality and spirit admirably. Now the last four or
five years I've been intensely concerned with the
center cities, but I don't see anything antithetical.
I don't see why one has to be at the expense of the
Stu McConnell,. a Daily Co-editor-in-chief.
Ren Cen: No place to sit.
AUTHOR WILLIAM WHY.TE on the Renaissance Center:
"I salute the bravado of things like that, but there are
some relatively easy things that can be done first. Cities
should be nicer to their work force."
Travesty, by, John Hawkes,
New Directions, 128 pp.
I'm looking for characters
who Lind life so precious that
rather than give it up, they'd
die. No such luck with John
Hawkes, whose latest, Traves-
ty an ironically revealing title,
s about a character who'd ra-
ther snuff it.
He's at the wheel of a car,
driving through the night, in
Southern France, taking along
his daughter and his wife's and
Books in Brief
daughter's lover as hostages on tragic format in modern fiction,
their own death trip. The car's and so it is no surprise that a
ride has been pre-arranged, it typical Hawkes protagonist will
hurtles towards its destination see several, if not all, of his
- -a brick wall - while the nar- relatives succumb to some sort
ration trails behind, limping for of carnage. The pity of Traves-
at least 100-odd pages. ty is that Hawkes' prose suf-
Hawkes must reign as master fers the same gruesome fate.
cf the Oedipal, the classically Amateurs, by Donald Barthel-
me, Farrar, Strauss and Gi-
roux, 184 pp.
As for Amateurs, all I can
suggest is that it is read widely
-and toderstood with sage nod-
dings of the bearded puss.
Here, langunageg and plot go
hand in hand. Life in the city
is cauterized in the brilliant
"110 Wesst .61st Street, in which
a man tries to console his wife,
after the death of their child,
by buying her a swordfish
steak, soaked in its own bloody
Barthelme has always had
the power to shock with his
phrases, fully expressive in
even the shortest excerpts from
"Paul and Eugenie went to
many erotic films. But the
films were not erotic. Noth-
ir.g was erotic. They began
cooking at each, other and
'hinkingn about other people.
The back wall of the apart-
ment was falling off . . ."