Excellent throughout, Alain put on an amazing performance for the live audience at the top floor of the Observatory at the old World Trade Center site. Here is the audio and transcript, most of all we talked about cities. Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Will America create any new cities in the next century? Or are we just done?
BERTAUD: Cities need a good location. This is a debate I had with Paul Romer when he was interested in charter cities. He had decided that he could create 50 charter cities around the world. And my reaction — maybe I’m wrong — but my reaction is that there are not 50 very good locations for cities around the world. There are not many left. Maybe with Belt and Road, maybe the opening of Central Asia. Maybe the opening of the ocean route on the northern, following the pole, will create the potential for new cities.
But cities like Singapore, Malacca, Mumbai are there for a good reason. And I don’t think there’s that many very good locations.
COWEN: Or Greenland, right?
BERTAUD: Yes. Yes, yes.
COWEN: What is your favorite movie about a city? You mentioned a work of fiction. Movie — I’ll nominate Escape from New York.
Here is more:
COWEN: Your own background, coming from Marseille rather than from Paris —
BERTAUD: I would not brag about it normally.
COWEN: But no, maybe you should brag about it. How has that changed how you understand cities?
BERTAUD: I’m very tolerant of messy cities.
COWEN: Messy cities.
COWEN: Why might that be, coming from Marseille?
BERTAUD: When we were schoolchildren in Marseille, we were used to a city which has a . . . There’s only one big avenue. The rest are streets which were created locally. You know, the vernacular architecture.
In our geography book, we had this map of Manhattan. Our first reaction was, the people in Manhattan must have a hard time finding their way because all the streets are exactly the same.
BERTAUD: In Marseille we oriented ourselves by the angle that a street made with another. Some were very narrow, some very, very wide. One not so wide. But some were curved, some were . . . And that’s the way we oriented ourselves. We thought Manhattan must be a terrible place. We must be lost all the time.
COWEN: And what’s your best Le Corbusier story?
BERTAUD: I met Le Corbusier at a conference in Paris twice. Two conferences. At the time, he was at the top of his fame, and he started the conference by saying, “People ask me all the time, what do you think? How do you feel being the most well-known architect in the world?” He was not a very modest man.
BERTAUD: And he said, “You know what it feels? It feels that my ass has been kicked all my life.” That’s the way he started this. He was a very bitter man in spite of his success, and I think that his bitterness is shown in his planning and some of his architecture.
COWEN: Port-au-Prince, Haiti — overrated or underrated?
Strongly recommended, and note that Bertaud is eighty years old and just coming off a major course of chemotherapy, a remarkable performance.
Again, I am very happy to recommend Alain’s superb book Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities.
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