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"The Avengers" Proves Movies Aren't Necessarily Better than Television

TV critic David Bianculli has some thoughts on the Fall TV season's new "That '70s Show" and the movie version of "The Avengers," which is out in theatres now.


Other segments from the episode on August 20, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 20, 1998: Interview with Brian Wilson; Interview with Roberta Brandes Gratz and Norman Mintz; Review of the film "The Avengers" and the television show "That '70s…


Date: AUGUST 20, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082001np.217
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Brian Wilson has his first album of new songs in 10 years. It's called "Imagination." In his days with the Beach Boys, he came up with most of the harmonies. Now he sings all the parts, as well. There's about 90 vocal tracks on the new CD and Wilson sings every note on them.

During the days of the Beach Boys' surf hits, many people wrote them off as kid stuff, but Wilson is now considered a great songwriter and one of the most influential producers in the history of rock-and-roll. He's also one of the music's most eccentric geniuses. He spent years as a recluse and has suffered from depression, nervous breakdowns and other psychological demons.

He's no longer involved with his controversial therapist Eugene Landy. Wilson is remarried and has adopted two babies.

Before we talk with him, let's hear a song from his new CD. This is "Your Imagination."



Another car runnin' fast
Another song on the beat
I take a trip through the past
When summer's way out of reach

Another walk in the park
When I need something to do
And when I feel all alone
Sometimes I think about you

Take my hand
Smile and say
You don't understand
To look in your eyes
And see what you feel
And then realize
That nothing's for real
'Cause you know it's in

Your imagination
Running wild
And running (INAUDIBLE)
Your imagination
Running wild
And running (INAUDIBLE)
Your imagination
Running wild

Another bucket of sand ...


GROSS: Brian Wilson, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's a great pleasure to have you here.


GROSS: This is your first CD of new songs in 10 years. Why now?

WILSON: Well, because I was a little bit hurt because the first one didn't sell very well. So I kind of felt hurt about that, so I laid off for quite a long time. In the meantime -- but in the interim, I wrote a lot of songs with my friends. I have about 45 songs that I've written that we didn't put on the new album.

GROSS: When you say that you were hurt that the other record didn't do so well -- I mean, how exactly did it affect you?

WILSON: Well, I expected it to be a very big album, because it was a good album, and it didn't sell very much at all. So I felt kind of hurt by that.

GROSS: Now on your new CD, you've recorded all the vocal parts yourself. You do all the voices on it.

WILSON: Right.

GROSS: What's your technique for doing that?

WILSON: Well, the technique is just many things. One technique is we do one track. Then we do it over again and again and again -- four times -- the same track, reinforcing each note stronger and stronger. Yep.

GROSS: So you're not singing harmony yet. You're singing the same note on each of these tracks.

WILSON: Well no, we sing harmony, but each note of the harmony has four on the same. You know what I mean?

GROSS: Yeah -- why is that? Just to make it kind of bigger?

WILSON: To make it bigger, fatter and it's nicer sounding, yeah.

GROSS: Mmm-hm. So it makes it sound almost like a whole curtain of voices, like a whole background of voices, instead of just a couple of people singing harmony.

WILSON: Yeah right, exactly.

GROSS: Now do you always hear songs and harmony? As you're writing, do you hear harmony?

WILSON: Sometimes I do, yes. Most of the time I don't. I usually hear the melody and the chords, but then the harmony and the voices comes later as I arrange it.

GROSS: I want to play another track from the new CD, and this is a song called "Happy Days." And I understand this is a song you started many years ago.


GROSS: When did you start it?

WILSON: In 1970, I wrote two verses and we recorded it, by the Beach Boys, and we shelved it. We junked it, because it wasn't appropriate music for us.

GROSS: What was inappropriate about it?

WILSON: Well, it just didn't sound right. It had the wrong kind of sound for the Beach Boys. It was too much of a departure.

GROSS: Was it too sad?

WILSON: Yeah, it was too sad. It really was.

GROSS: Would you recite one of the verses for us from the early part of the song that you thought was too sad for the Beach Boys?

WILSON: "I once was so far from life; no one could help me; not even my wife." That's sad lyrics.

GROSS: Yeah. "I once felt so far from life" -- you don't feel that way anymore?

WILSON: No, no, and I feel much a part of life. Yeah.

GROSS: Why don't I play the song, and then we can talk about how you've produced it. And as our listeners will hear, it has an unusually discordant beginning. Here it is.


Dark days were (INAUDIBLE)
Never ending sorrow
Only the past (INAUDIBLE)
And turn to (INAUDIBLE)
Oh God, the pain
That I've been going through
Raining in my heart
To my emotional rescue

I used to be
So far from God
No one could help me
Not even my wife
Oh, God the pain
That I've been going through
Raining in my heart
To my emotional rescue


GROSS: That's "Happy Days" from Brian Wilson's new CD "Imagination."

The beginning is so discordant. It's such a different kind of sound for you, both in terms of the vocal harmonies and the music behind the voices.


GROSS: Tell me about why you wanted that sound on this?

WILSON: I wanted it to sound like something I was going through.

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

WILSON: Depict -- I wanted it to depict the mood of my life at that time. And then it did. It depicted it.

GROSS: In the record it almost sounds like there's a newscast or a radio broadcast mixed into the background.

WILSON: Oh yeah, that was meant to depict the confusion in my life. That was the "confusion" part of it.

GROSS: So as if you were like picking up different signals that didn't belong?

WILSON: Right. Exactly.

GROSS: Is that what you were feeling then, that you were hearing things that you shouldn't have been hearing?

WILSON: Yeah, absolutely.

GROSS: What kind of things were you hearing?

WILSON: Voices in my head, auditory hallucinations and stuff like that.

GROSS: Did that interfere with your music?

WILSON: No. No, I was able to isolate the music from the voices.

GROSS: Tell me more about producing "Happy Days" and what else was in your thinking about how it should sound.

WILSON: Well, I wanted it to sound mellow, with a little bit of love, but not too much love. And I wanted to depict the mood of my life. You know, as my life got happier, the voices got happier.

GROSS: How has your life changed in the past few years?

WILSON: Well, it's changed quite dramatically with my new wife and my new babies. I have a whole new lease on life now. It's wonderful.

GROSS: I think you got married in 1995?


GROSS: And you've adopted two children since then.

WILSON: Right. Right.

GROSS: What's it like for you being a father the second time around? You're daughters are grown now and are famous in their own right. Yeah.

WILSON: Oh, right. Well I wasn't a very good dad to my early -- my original daughters. I wasn't really a good dad to them. But I'm a lot closer to my new babies now than I ever was. It's like a brand new world has opened up.

GROSS: Now also you're -- another thing that's changed in your life is that you're no longer in therapy with Eugene Landy.

WILSON: Right.

GROSS: And I'm wondering how that relationship ended up splitting up.

WILSON: Well, he was forced to leave. He had controlled my life for like nine-and-a-half years. And that was a long time to go.

GROSS: His relationship with you is very controversial. Several people in your family thought that he was taking advantage of you financially and controlling you psychologically.

WILSON: Right.

GROSS: And they even sued him because of that. So how has it changed your life to no longer be in therapy with him?

WILSON: Well, it's made it a little bit easier for me, not quite as hard to live day-by-day, you know; day-to-day. But I miss him, you know, in some ways too.

GROSS: Mmm-hm. What do you miss about him?

WILSON: His personality.

GROSS: Are you still in any form of therapy now?

WILSON: No. No. I have a doctor. I see a psychiatrist. Yeah, I do.

GROSS: My guest is Brian Wilson. He has a new CD called "Imagination." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


Back with Brian Wilson. He has a new CD called "Imagination."

You're seen so differently now than you were when the Beach Boys got started. You know, in the '60s, I think a lot of people saw the Beach Boys as, you know, great performers, but you know they were a teenage act that sang about surfing. And now, of course, you're seen as one of the great geniuses of rock-and-roll, both as a songwriter, as a performer and as a producer. And I'm wondering how that change in how you're seen has affected you and how you see yourself?

WILSON: I see myself as primarily a singer, and after that maybe a producer and a writer, songwriter. But my main forte in life is singing, of course.

GROSS: Now why do you see yourself primarily as a singer? I mean, you've written so many great songs and ...

WILSON: I know. I know.

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

WILSON: But I just -- I feel the need to sing more than I do anything else. You know, it's kind of like that.

GROSS: So when you're not working on a new record, when you're not in the studio, are you still singing a lot?

WILSON: Oh, yeah. I sing every day at the piano. I go to my piano at least once a day and sing.

GROSS: Mmm-hm. And do you always sing your own songs? Do you ever sing songs by other people?

WILSON: I sing all kinds of songs. I sing songs from Phil Specter, from myself and other people.

GROSS: What are some of the songs that you particularly love right now, by other people, that we might be surprised that you like?

WILSON: Oh, I like Burt Bacharach "Walk on By."

GROSS: Uh-huh.

WILSON: I like Phil Spector, "Walking in the Rain" -- "Walking in the Rain." Records like that -- really cool records.

GROSS: Mmm-hm. Mmm-hm. Do you feel like you learned things from Burt Bacharach's production too?

WILSON: Yeah, actually I did. I learned about chord changes and melodic thought. And Chuck Berry, of course, was probably the biggest influence on my melody writing.

GROSS: The Beach Boys, without you being part of them, have managed to, you know, continue their career by singing their old songs in performance. You never made yourself into an oldies act.


GROSS: And I'm wondering, you know on the one hand, it's easy to do that, you know, to kind of get by on work you've already done; songs you've already written.


GROSS: On the other hand, you always have new songs that are going through your head -- new songs that you want to ...

WILSON: Right.

GROSS: ... write and record. Do you ever wish that you were the kind of person who could be happy playing the old songs?

WILSON: Yeah, all the time. I think of that all the time. I'm wondering why I can't be happy with those old songs. It's just a strange feeling. I mean, it's like a nostalgia thing, you know. It's just that I need those old songs a lot. I really do.

GROSS: You do need them.

WILSON: Oh, yeah. I need to listen to them all the time.

GROSS: Do you really? You know, when you say "listen to them," you mean play them at the piano or go back and play the records?

WILSON: Go back and play the records, I mean, yeah. I need that.

GROSS: But what is your current favorite of your old songs?

WILSON: I like "California Girls" the most, I think. I'm partial to "California Girls."

GROSS: Why is that?

WILSON: I don't know. I think the sound of the record -- the way the record starts out; the choruses in the record I thought were really good.

GROSS: Why don't I give that a spin? But before I do, would you tell us a little bit about producing that record?

WILSON: Yeah, I was 23 years old, and I went in the studio and I said: I'm going to cut a number one record. So before I went into the studio, I went to my piano and I said: I want to cut a shuffle beat, like "puh-chu-puh-chu-puh-chu" -- like that. And I kept working and working on it until I got a "bomp-a-doo-puh-domp-a" bass line. And then all of a sudden, it just -- the song just fell together like magic. It fell together.

GROSS: Did you write the lyric for it?

WILSON: Mike Love and I did, yeah.

GROSS: Mmm-hm. And were you going through a period of girl watching, so to speak?

WILSON: Not really going through a period; we've always been that way. Mike and I have always been girl watchers.

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

WILSON: You know, so it made it easy to write those lyrics.

GROSS: Right. OK, well let's hear it -- "California Girls."


Well, East Coast girls are hip
I really dig those styles they wear
And the Southern girls with the way they talk
They knock me out when I'm down there

The Midwest farmers daughters
Really make you feel all right
And the Northern girls
With the way they kiss
They keep their boy friends warm at night

I wish they all could be California girls
Wish they all could be California
I wish they all could be California girls ...


GROSS: That's the Beach Boys and my guest is Brian Wilson.

You had a chance to remix some of your old music for ...

WILSON: You mean, with "Pet Sounds"?

GROSS: ... with "Pet Sounds," yeah, 'cause there was a new CD box ...


GROSS: ... of that that included a remixed mono version ...

WILSON: Right.

GROSS: ... a new stereo mix, as well as outtakes. What was it like for you to rework old music of yours?

WILSON: What was it like? It was like a big nostalgia trip, a sentimental trip that really took a lot out of me to go through that. It was probably the best album I ever produced, so I was very -- I was very into it.

GROSS: What were you going through in your life while you were producing "Pet Sounds"?

WILSON: I was going through a happy time. It was just a very happy time in my life.

GROSS: What was happy about it?

WILSON: It was very -- well, I -- my -- I was very happy about the Beach Boys' success and I was very much in tune with the competitive aspect of life and the business. And just -- just -- from there, I rambled on, you know.

GROSS: What were the new techniques that you tried in the studio for "Pet Sounds"?

WILSON: I tried to mix different instruments together to make a third sound, like organ and a piano mixed together to make a third sound. I just did a lot of mixing of instruments together. And I used echo very well.

GROSS: Is there a track that you think is your favorite from the record?

WILSON: Yeah, I like "Carol, I Know" the best.

GROSS: Oh, that's a great song, too. Yeah.

WILSON: It is.

GROSS: Before we hear it, I just have a couple of more questions.
The -- "Pet Sounds" was originally issued in mono and you remixed it for stereo for the recent box set. I believe you're deaf in one ear?

WILSON: Yeah, right.

GROSS: Can you hear in -- I mean, what's the difference for you when you're working in stereo or in mono in the studio?

WILSON: Well, in stereo -- I can't hear stereo.

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

WILSON: 'Cause it takes two ears to hear stereo. So I mixed it in mono. That's the only way I know how to make music is mono. But then when I started mixing stereo records, I could mix them, but I couldn't get the benefit of hearing how they sound, you know, with two ears. I just have the one ear.

GROSS: So how do you work now for new records? Do you mix them in mono and someone else does them in stereo or?

WILSON: No, I mix them in stereo now. I mix in stereo.

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

WILSON: You know, I can hear, but I can't hear the exact way it is, you know.

GROSS: Right.

WILSON: I hear enough of stereo to be able to mix it in stereo.

GROSS: Do you end up turning down the sound on one speaker so you can isolate the other speaker?

WILSON: Yeah, yeah. Actually, yeah. It's all a case of mixed -- in the mix.

GROSS: OK. This is "Carol, I Know," from "Pet Sounds."


Where did your long hair go
Where is the girl I used to know
How could you lose that happy glow
Oh, Carol I know

Who took that look away
I remembered how you used to say
You'd never change but that's not true

Oh, Carol I knew
Break my heart
I wouldn't want to (INAUDIBLE)
It's so sad to watch you (INAUDIBLE)
Oh, Carol I know
Could I ever ...


GROSS: That's "Carol, I Know" from "Pet Sounds." My guest is Brian Wilson.

Let's go back to your new CD and hear another track from it. And I thought this time we could hear the ballad "Cry."


GROSS: And I think this really has a sense, too, of what you were talking about before, about recording each part that you're going to sing four times to make it ...

WILSON: Right.

GROSS: ... really thick. Is this a good track to illustrate that?

WILSON: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah, 'cause it's like a very mellow, sad song and the more voices, the better. You know what I mean?

GROSS: Mmm-hm. Mmm-hm. So how many -- how many different tracks would you estimate you laid down for this song?

WILSON: Tracks vocals, you mean? Or ...

GROSS: Yeah, vocal tracks.

WILSON: About 20, 20 vocal tracks.

GROSS: Huh. And is it fun to do that? Does it get tedious after a while?

WILSON: Oh, it's very tedious, of course, but after you're done, you go: wow, I did that? How could I do that?"

GROSS: Tell me about writing this song. And you wrote the words and music for this.

WILSON: Yeah. It happened one day when my wife started crying. She was upset about something and she was crying.

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

WILSON: And I went to the piano and started writing a song called "Cry" because I couldn't deal -- I couldn't deal with how hard she was crying, so I wrote this song called "Cry." And I -- it just -- it just came very spontaneously and very naturally.

GROSS: And what does she think of this song?

WILSON: She loves it. It's her favorite song on the album.

GROSS: Well let's hear it. This is "Cry." And Brian Wilson, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

WILSON: Thank you very much.


She seems so fragile
I really should have cared
And that (INAUDIBLE) crying
You broke my heart
Broke it in two
How could I have left you alone

Oh,. Cry
So alone.
Leave her alone
Leave her alone
Oh, leave her alone


GROSS: Music from Brian Wilson's new CD "Imagination."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington DC
Guest: Brian Wilson
High: Legendary composer, producer, arranger and performer Brian Wilson, formerly of the Beach Boys. He's just come out with his first solo album of new material in ten years. It's "Imagination" (Giant).
Spec: The Beach Boys; Brian Wilson; Music Industry
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 Cable News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Prepared by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Cable News Network, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material; provided, however, that members of the news media may redistribute limited portions (less than 250 words) of this material without a specific license from CNN so long as they provide conspicuous attribution to CNN as the originator and copyright holder of such material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Date: AUGUST 20, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082002NP.217
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:36

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Cities across the country are trying to revive their downtowns. Many of them are hoping that downtown shopping malls, stadiums, aquariums, and convention centers will do the trick. My guests are two urban experts who are skeptical of the mega-project approach.

Roberta Brandes Gratz and Norman Mintz have studied downtowns across the country and have written a new book called "Cities: Back From the Edge: New Life For Downtown."

Gratz is a journalist and urban critic. Mintz is a design director at the Grand Central Partnership in New York City. He's consulted on downtown revitalization projects across the country.

I asked about some of the trends they're seeing in the attempts to revive downtowns.

ROBERTA GRATZ, JOURNALIST AND URBAN CRITIC; CO-AUTHOR, "CITIES: BACK FROM THE EDGE: NEW LIFE FOR DOWNTOWN": It's kind of interesting. There's sort of the good news, bad news -- all happening at the same time. The bad news is that there are too many cities chasing the same magic bullet -- the stadium, the casino, the big -- the big mega-projects; what we call in the book "the project plans."

And they just don't work. They don't regenerate a city. They replace a city. They -- they displace the opportunity for the kind of multiplicity of actions and activity and people and uses that make up a genuine city. At the same time, wherever there is a traditional urban neighborhood left, usually an old warehouse district, a manufacturing-industrial area, there are people of all ages, all stages of life, and all ethnic and religious backgrounds moving back into these urban neighborhoods and enlivening them in ways that we haven't seen since before World War II, much on the pattern of SoHo in New York. And we, in the book we call this the "SoHo syndrome." And it is clearly happening everywhere and that's the great news.

GROSS: There seem to be two goals that are coming together right now in a lot of cities. One is to revitalize the downtown and the other is to bring in lots of tourists and all those tourist dollars to help revitalize the economy in general. Do those two things go together well, bringing in the big tourist dollars and revitalizing the downtown?

GRATZ: They only go together well when there is a real balance. And in very few of the most celebrated places is there a balance, because what we're seeing is a pattern of big tourist attractions that bring people in and out of town directly, usually in their car, into a garage, and out of the garage, that doesn't really connect them to the city itself.

It also requires great public investment. And I don't care what place we're talking about, where they tell you it's built with private funds, you're not looking at the full story. There's a lot of private investment, but there is public infrastructure money. There is public tax forgiveness money. There are all sorts of public investment that are going into tourist attractions instead of into the kind of things that make a city -- that actually regenerate a city.

In Cleveland, for example, which is one of the most celebrated, they've spent several billion dollars on a stadium, on a museum, on a people -- a light rail connecting in-between. But the school system is just about bankrupt. The public dollars that have -- that go into the big tourist attractions are in one way or another not going into the city itself; not reconnecting the urban fabric; not stimulating local businesses, local economy; the connections among people; the residential patterns.

Yet in a place like Cleveland, which is such an interesting contradiction because there is a pattern of rebirth in the warehouse district and downtown; people wanting to move downtown, not because there's a stadium there and not because there's a museum that they don't go to, but because there are urban areas left to really regenerate. That's where the city should really be focusing its investment and attention if the goal is truly to regenerate a city.

NORMAN MINTZ, DESIGN DIRECTOR, GRAND CENTRAL PARTNERSHIP, NEW YORK; CO-AUTHOR, "CITIES: BACK FROM THE EDGE: NEW LIFE FOR DOWNTOWN": So many of these cities seem to rely on formula-type of thinking. They become desperate in their desire to want to do something, and then just reach out and say: well, gee, tourism is something that we should do a lot for; building a baseball stadium; building a convention center; and so forth.

And that's, you know, it's obvious and it's again thinking that it's going to happen overnight. And by all means, cities just don't happen overnight. They took hundreds of years to develop and it does take a long time to achieve the things that we talk about in the book. And it's basically, perhaps in many cases a lot more difficult to achieve and it does take some thinking and creativity. But it gets at the essence of what a city is all about.

GRATZ: Also, if I may add one last thing. There's a very simple bottom line that I like to say about this. And that is: if you do something, anything, everything, for local people, the tourists will come. If you do it for the tourists, you will lose the local people and eventually you will lose the tourists, as well.

GROSS: Why is it that tourists will come if you do something for the local people, 'cause for the local people, what you're doing might be, say, a nice farmer's market, some nice shopping, restaurants or something. And I don't know that people would travel from another city for that.

GRATZ: But that's where people are going. People are coming into cities from everywhere for the nightlife, for the shopping life, for the cultural life. They're coming in where there are places of activity. You look at where the tourist attraction, those cities that tourists go to in this country today are the cities, the downtowns that have been regenerated over time and are the ones that are probably the longest at the re-borning game, so to speak.

It's Savannah. It's Charleston. It's Santa Fe. It's San Antonio, San Francisco. These are places that have regenerated incremental, unplanned, accidental kind of regeneration that have been piece by piece, block by block, people by people; no grand plan; no big public investment.

We tell in detail the story of the rebirth of SoHo because it is such a model of how this rebirth process actually works. And we point out what people have either -- don't know or have forgotten, that SoHo was destined to be replaced by a lower Manhattan expressway. SoHo emerged because a highway was defeated.

Once the area -- once the highway was defeated and artists were able to move in to the cheap spaces that had been vacated by businesses leaving because the buildings were condemned and due to be torn down; there was no public investment. There was no plan. It was people moving in who got the city to pay attention, and then the city responded issue by issue, policy by policy -- designating it an historic district; making it legal for artists to live in industrial buildings; doing all these things following the lead of the citizens who moved into the place.

If you look at the plans in a lot of cities today, for example, in Detroit, which has gone crazy, out of its head, with three casinos and two stadiums in a city where there is really a fabric left to rebuild. If you were to wipe out SoHo and put in a stadium, that's the choice that they're making in places like Detroit. They're giving up the opportunity for a genuine city to regenerate for the people and the economy of the place; to trade it in for an occasionally used either stadium or casino for outsiders.

GROSS: Do you think artists and young people in general aren't given enough credit for revitalizing neighborhoods?

GRATZ: Absolutely. They should be given more credit than some of the experts and the professionals who like to claim the credit after it's already happened. When in fact, if they've done anything right, they have followed the citizens who have been in there when the experts said this was not going to happen.

MINTZ: Artists have long been in the vanguard and have really paved the way for the type of development we're talking about. They've always been grave. They've always been creative -- pioneers, often. But they see and have the imagination to understand what the real issues are about and are willing to invest and put up with some of the things that many -- perhaps many people might not like, but they see as being minor to the quality of life that they see in living in a city.

GRATZ: But also, I think you have to think back that the nature of art really took a shift in the '60s when artists went for big outdoor and big indoor pieces, and needed the kind of big space that even outgrew the usual sort of artist's atelier (ph) kind of thing. And that's how places like SoHo and other industrial neighborhoods around the country became so popular because of the space they offered and the loading docks they offered.

But you know, historically, it's very interesting, but Greenwich Village was the artist place in the '30s and '40s, and even through the '50s. But a lot of artists were being displaced from Greenwich Village in the renewal days of '50s and '60s.

So we've seen this pattern happen before. And the mistake, actually, a lot of places are now making is they're trying to do it -- do things for artists, with the idea that if we get the artists in, everything else will be great.

Well, you cannot reduce success to a formula that can be applied everywhere. Each place has its own character; its own local assets -- and those are the things that need to be built on for a genuine regeneration to take place.

GROSS: Well, are you arguing that cities just shouldn't do anything and let things happen?

GRATZ: Not at all, but we're arguing -- you can reduce it to two fundamentals, and then a lot of additional points. But one is not to give up on a place -- not to ignore its local assets; not to think that just because a place somewhat degenerated over a period of time has no value for the future -- for future regeneration, and therefore you wipe it out and you replace it with a stadium.

That's the thing that you don't do. The thing that you do do is follow, build on value and invest in what you already have. It is pro-active, but it's not massive. It's not as expensive and requiring of big mega-plans. It's much more down on the -- down on the ground, community-based, community-involved, people-involved in a process that one must give time to sort of take a certain direction and let it evolve, not pre-plan it all.

MINTZ: Downtown revitalization certainly just doesn't happen by itself. It's a big effort, but it's one that we want to remind communities -- in so many communities we go to, large and small, people seem to have a bad feeling about their own neighborhoods: oh, it'll never happen here; or: it's gone too far." And I do feel that they need to be positive in every case. They have to look at their community and feel hope for it, and to realize that their community is different from every other community, and to wrest their meetings and their planning and their efforts in the regard that they've got something that's worthwhile saving -- something worthwhile enhancing.

It does take a long time, but to just use that positive attitude and to recognize the fact that their community is different. And that will help them in recognizing that their community, because it's different, will make a big difference for people who live there and who are going to visit.

GROSS: My guests are the authors of the new book "Cities: Back from the Edge: New Life For Downtown." Roberta Gratz is a journalist and urban critic. Norman Mintz is a consultant on downtown revitalizations across the country. We'll talk more after we take a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Roberta Gratz and Norman Mintz. They're the co-authors of the new book "Cities: Back From the Edge: New Life For Downtown."

It seems to me some of the most kind of flourishing stores now in downtowns are the cafes. There seems to be a cafe on every corner in a lot of cities not -- sometimes two; and bookstores -- and most of those bookstores have cafes in them. What does that say to you about what people are looking for now?

GRATZ: It's so interesting. At the time of the Internet, when so many prognosticators are telling us that we can all live this solitary life with our computer out in the woods, and not be in a city or a downtown and not need all that, we seem as a people to be showing that the opposite is true. We need -- we are a social animal. We need to be together. We need even to be at the same table with a stranger reading a book in a bookstore.

There is something about gathering places that defines a downtown. What a lot of the bookstores have done is fill a vacuum. As cities have built these mega-structures with atriums that have placed stores inside and then they've closed the street entrance, and they've taken away the coffee shops and everything, we've lost the kind of street life in a lot of cities that makes -- that defines a city.

So bookstores have shown us that that need is still there; that the pattern can be revived. And we're seeing in more places than not a rebirth of the street-wide cafe which is the most important street feature in a city.

GROSS: Now you think that an intelligent parking policy is an important part of downtown revival. For example, in a lot of cities, including the one I live in, you can't park in the downtown during morning and afternoon rush hour, which is exactly the time that you're most likely to want to stop on your way home or your way into work to pick something up.

On the other hand, if you can park, that would really bottle up traffic ...

GRATZ: Right.

GROSS: ... particularly in a city like the one I live in that has narrow streets.

So tell me more about what you think an intelligent parking policy is in a downtown.

GRATZ: Well, let's put it another way, Terry. When our cities function best, they function best because parking was not the ultimate goal. Transit was. We have -- we have totally erased, in this country, the greatest mass transit system the world saw, in our post-World War II rush to build highways, cars, and become an auto-dependent society.

We have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. In your city, Philadelphia, you were able at one time, and from some of your neighborhoods you still can get to downtown by transit, but you can't get there fast and efficient and cost-efficiently like you used to be able to. That should be your goal, not to make more parking, because once you are car-dependent, you reduce your pedestrian activity.

The object is to be pedestrian-oriented and transit-oriented, and then your car -- your parking problem, to some extent, solves itself because again, it's like we said early-on about tourism and local residents and businesses: It's all a matter of balance. You don't eliminate the car, but you minimize the dependency on the car. You have to give people the option of being able to come downtown by transit, as well as by car.

GROSS: Leave us with a description of one of your favorite revitalized downtowns.

MINTZ: Hmmm.

GRATZ: Well, it's hard to choose 'cause they're all -- they all have different aspects. But I think the one that surprised me the most and I seem to use the most as an example of the way things work well is Denver -- downtown Denver; lower downtown Denver. And Denver is so much a story of local people fighting to preserve and re-use the remaining part of its downtown that wasn't wiped out and urban-renewed during the hey-day of pave-over planning.

And you have everything from a marvelously recycled department store to wonderful industrial buildings now being used for both business and residents; to street level shops that have been recycled; to restored hotels.

And lo and behold, you even have a stadium that was built adjacent to it, right up to it, on street side -- not surrounded by heavy parking. You have a re-institution of transit. You have parking spread out around the city, not concentrated. You have new and -- nightlife -- a lot of pedestrian activity.

It's got its downsides, but it -- I think it says it all.

MINTZ: I'd like to vote for a smaller community -- Holland, Michigan is a favorite of mine because it is a small community and shows that small communities can do some of the things that large cities can do. And that is to bring people downtown to enjoy, to shop. The fascinating thing about Holland are the shops. They're all independently-owned shops. You've never seen them before. Many of them come right from the local resources -- the towns, the people themselves.

And walking down the main street of Holland is just a unique experience. And there are little cafes on the sidewalks; lots of nice shade trees. But again, it's the stores -- the quality of the stores, the size of the stores -- and the people that own the stores that make a big difference.

GROSS: Well, thank you both very much.

GRATZ: Thank you.

MINTZ: Thank you.

GROSS: Roberta Brandis Gratz and Norman Mintz are the authors of "Cities: Back from the Edge: New Life For Downtown.

A lot of listeners ask us about the "Microscopic Septet," the group that performs our theme music. Well, the band broke up a few years ago and their records have been out of print. But now their l983 record, "Take the Z Train" has been reissued on CD. I thought you'd like to hear a track from it, so this is "Chinese Twilight Zone," composed by Philip Johnston.


That's the Microscopic Septet. Coming up: "The Avengers."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington DC
Guest: Roberta Brandes Gratz, Norman Mintz
High: Journalist and urban critic Roberta Brandes Gratz and an expert in downtown revitalization Norman Mintz. The two have collaborated on a new book: "Cities: Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown." (John Wiley & Sons). In the book they look at downtowns throughout the country that have come back to life and examine what revived them. Their recipe for success includes: preserving or introducing trolley traffic, developing farmers' markets, promoting short blocks, keeping government buildings downtown, and ensuring citizen involvement in civic life. They also say that renewal efforts should happen one step at a time, and respond to the real needs of real people.
Spec: Cities; Infrastructure; Government
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 Cable News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Prepared by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Cable News Network, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material; provided, however, that members of the news media may redistribute limited portions (less than 250 words) of this material without a specific license from CNN so long as they provide conspicuous attribution to CNN as the originator and copyright holder of such material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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