From the Publisher
“This walk through the city shows Michael Sorkin at his witty and knowledgeable best. [Twenty Minutes in Manhattan] takes us on a journey through eras and worlds in the space of just fifteen blocks.” Sharon Zukin, author of Naked City
“[Michael Sorkin] turns his walk from his apartment in Greenwich Village to his studio into an erudite but utterly engaging reverie on the nature of cities.” Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker
“This book captures architect Sorkin wandering through lower Manhattan, where even the most banal-seeming sights send the author into casually fascinating digressions about urban planning, the history behind New York's grid, stoops and parks. After looking at the city through this ambler's eyes, you'll never look at a tenement building--or a stairwell--the same way again.” Michael Miller, Time Out New York
“Should inspire anyone who cares about the future of cities.” The Philadelphia Inquirer
“With this book Michael Sorkin secures his claim to succeed Jane Jacobs . . . [He] brings to bear an eye every bit as acute, a pen nearly as trenchant, and a political understanding perhaps a little bit more sophisticated of the never-ending struggle over New York's neighbourhoods.” D. D. Guttenplan, The Times Literary Supplement
“I am glad Sorkin doesn't take the subway: this is the most brilliant epitome of Manhattan ever written.” Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Planet of Slums
The walk from his West Village apartment to his Tribeca office provides a springboard for architect/urban planner Sorkin (All Over the Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities, 2011, etc.) to reflect on the changing nature of city life. Anyone who has read Variations on a Theme Park (1992), the groundbreaking collection of essays edited by Sorkin, knows the basic argument: The diversity and vitality of America's cities are threatened by a rapacious real estate industry, enabled by permissive municipal governments, that creates a bland, homogenized environment composed of luxury condominiums, high-end shopping and expensive restaurants. Restating it as an accompaniment to his daily walk gives Sorkin the opportunity to illustrate his argument with specifics, beginning with the health and safety codes that dictated the layout of his 19th-century apartment building and ending with his enforced move from the loft that housed his office when the building was being converted into (you guessed it) luxury apartments. Sorkin is a fount of information on everything urban, from staircases (gracious public spaces in Europe; unwelcoming, grudging fulfillments of legal mandates here) to large-scale International style on superblocks, about some of which he is surprisingly positive. He doesn't favor any particular style so much as the "accumulated forms and rituals" that give cities their eclectic appeal. Native New Yorkers will recognize the cranky tone of a classic Village bohemian in Sorkin's zestful accounts of battles with his landlord and his blunt disdain for members of the gentrifying elite. This tone can get a little grating sometimes, but many will share the author's dismay over the ongoing transformation of America's cities from centers of production and sources of shared wealth to places of unbridled consumption by a privileged few, "yet another zone of high-priced good times." Overstated and overheated at times, but an important cautionary note to counter the national embrace of gentrification as the solution to every urban ill.
Architecture critic and CUNY professor Sorkin (Against the Wall: Israel's Barrier to Peace) sets out with the simple task of narrating the daily commute from his Greenwich Village apartment to his studio in Tribeca. The result, a book of essays that's both memoir and sociohistorical study, is anything but pedestrian. Sorkin covers a range of material, from the history of NYC tenement laws to the sociological ramifications of Disneyland to his own battle with an avaricious landlord. Taking the torch from late urban activist Jane Jacobs, Sorkin discusses the ideological function of the urban neighborhood and its citizens, particularly as an antidote to the commercializing, gentrifying, homoginizing effects of capitalism. Historical and architectural details are considered at length; the Washington Square arch, for example, was "erected to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of George Washington's inaugural," but later used by Marcel Duchamp and John Sloan "to declare the independence of the 'Republic of Greenwich Village.'" Sorkin also profiles current residents like his elderly neighbor Jane, "an active presence at the community garden" who once "propelled herself from her chair to thwart a mugging across the street." Delightful and informative, this romp will please anyone with affection for the big city.
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Sorkin (architecture & urban design, City Coll. of New York; Indefensible Space: The Architecture of the National Insecurity State), formerly the architecture critic for the Village Voice—sections of this book were previously published there and in Architectural Record—offers a potpourri of personal, if not always original, observations on the urban environment gleaned from his daily 20-minute walks from his home near Washington Square to his Tribeca office. He contemplates philosophers (e.g., Friedrich Engels, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord), praises Jane Jacobs, and disdains Donald Trump's architectural developments. Most key topics relate to Manhattan urban design surface, from the removal of Richard Serra's highly controversial Tilted Arc from Federal Plaza to the history of the 1916 zoning law. By situating his discussion in two high-income neighborhoods, Sorkin avoids more challenging questions of urban poverty, sluggish economic development, culture conflict, and education. VERDICT This book is essentially a romantic epilog to Jane Jacobs's more universal The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and, on the topic of public space, it does not measure up to Kristine F. Miller's Designs on the Public or William H. Whyte's The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.—Paul Glassman, Felician Coll. Lib., Lodi, NJ
"This walk through the city shows Michael Sorkin at his witty and knowledgeable best. From the stairs of his small apartment house to the pyramids of Chichen Itza, from Local Law 45 to the motto of the Hanseatic League, Sorkin takes us on a journey through eras and worlds in the space of just 15 blocks. Better to spend 20 minutes with him than 24 hours with a standard tourist guide!"
"I am glad Sorkin doesn't take the subway: this is the most brilliant epitome of Manhattan ever written." – Mike Davis
"Not since the great Jane Jacobs has there been a book this good about the day-to-day life of New York. Sorkin writes like an American Montaigne, riffing freely off his personal experience (sometimes happy, sometimes frustrating) to arrive at general insights about New York and about cities everywhere."
"Sorkin comes from a neighborhood of great urbanists—Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Grace Paley—and he belongs in their company. A short walk with him through the West Village turns into an adventure. He is one of the smartest and most original people writing about New York and about city life today."
Next American City - Daniel Brook
"His architecture criticism is best understood as a series of jazz solos. In each chapter, Sorkin takes a structure or a place and riffs on it, taking the theme to unanticipated places, his lifetime of experiences as architecture professor, practitioner, critic, and world traveler all informing his work."
Metropolis POV - Julia Galef
"Lively and throught=provoking. . . . Would anyone really trust the ruminations of a self-styled New York expert were he not obstinate, curmudgeonly, and opinionated?"
"Originally intended as a 'low-keyed memoir of the everyday,' Twenty Minutes in Manhattan delivers a far from mundane cache of urban insights."
"In his delightful book, Michael Sorkin writes about New York from a flaneur’s perspective. Focusing on a 20-minute walk from his apartment to his studio, the author – one of architecture’s most consistent and consistently interesting critical voices – meanders through architecture, urbanism, sociology, politics and history . . . Quirky, erudite and occasionally frustrating in its movement between the personal, the political and the physical, every city should have its Michael Sorkin."– Financial Times
"The trove of thumbnail sketches and obscure facts is augmented with fascinating ruminations about the socio-political ins and outs of the business of construction and urban renewal in New York City, the intricate socioeconomic consequences that result, and the ethical ramifications of these undertakings."– James Sclavunos, Times (UK)
"If you want an introduction to what has been said and thought about the city around the world, and also what has been built and unbuilt as a result of all this theorising, this is probably as good a guide as can be had. Follow Sorkin on his walk, and you will certainly be better informed and perhaps a bit wiser as well."– Joseph Rykwert, Architects’ Journal
"No one writes better about architecture and urbanism in the United States than Sorkin. He is a tireless campaigner against cliché . . . perhaps his most personal book to date."– Blueprint
New York Observer
"Michael Sorkin has long been the bad boy of architectural criticism."
Los Angeles Times
"Michael Sorkin is fascinated by the myriad ways architectural details foster or inhibit community, neighborliness, safety, diversity, and intimacy. Sorkin has a light hand with history (he is never overbearing) and a worldly way with facts and anecdotes."
Time Out New York
"This book captures architect Sorkin wandering through lower Manhattan, where even the most banal-seeming sights send the author into casually fascinating digressions about urban planning, the history behind New York's grid, stoops, and parks. After looking at the city through this ambler's eyes, you'll never look at a tenement buildingor a stairwellthe same way again."
Times Literary Supplement
"With this book Michael Sorkin secures his claim to succeed Jane Jacobs . . . . He brings to bear an eye every bit as acute, a pen nearly as trenchant, and a political understanding perhaps a little bit more sophisticated of the never-ending struggle over New York's neighborhoods."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Sorkin's architectural criticism can be smugly iconoclastic, but this is a wry and illuminating provocation: New York seen from the perspective of the author's daily stroll from his Greenwich Village apartment through Washington Square to his office in Tribeca. Along the way enjoy reflections on the privatization of public space, the uses and abuses of preservation, the ambiguous legacy of modernism - ultimately, all the strands of urban life."John King, San Francisco Chronicle
"His observations about buildings, parks, urban design, and city planning should inspire anyone who cares about the future of cities."
"The architecture critic turns his walk from his apartment in Greenwich Village to his studio into an erudite but utterly engaging reverie on the nature of cities."—Paul Goldberger, New Yorker Bookbench Blog