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Thread: Jane Jacobs dies

  1. #31
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    Quote Originally Posted by estryker
    I am still curious to hear other views on whether L.A. really does offer any good lessons in urbanism . . .
    One that comes to mind is that LA exists to prove -- and to shove it in your face -- that it sucks to be poor.

  2. #32


    Oroussof is a fraud and a vandal. A tireless cheerleader for the most anti-human urbanism and critic of beauty and human scale. Makes Mumford look positively enlightened. Maybe he can get together with that chap from Tulane and build a nice dystopian, logan's run sort of ville radieuse modernist s#!/#0l& and then live in it. BUT LEAVE NYC ALONE.

    Sorry 'bout the rant. I'm crabby about J Jacobs passing away. She was a great person.

  3. #33
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    the village..born/raised


    Quote Originally Posted by ManhattanKnight
    So, my dim memory of riding the bus UP Fifth Avenue on my first visit to the Met ca. 1964 isn't hallucinatory after all . . .
    your dim memory is right on target. i can't tell you what year it changed but it was a 2 way street through my whole childhood.
    i'm proud to say that my mom was one of those housewives back in 1961. me..i just got dragged along for my first protest march ever, but it left a lasting impression on me.

    this pic with the cars going back up 5th is from 1961

  4. #34


    The danger of Jacobs's legacy lies with developers who co-opt her ideas to justify their megaprojects.

    By Paul Goldberger
    Posted June 19, 2006

    There has been no end to the rhapsodies about Jane Jacobs in the weeks since her death, at 89, forty-five years after the publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, one of those few books that truly did change the world. Predictably there has even been a bit of a backlash against the prophet of small-scale urban street life. After all, Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote in the New York Times, Jane Jacobs had little understanding of Los Angeles, few ideas about how to control suburban sprawl, and not much sympathy for urban forms that did not grow out of a dense, squat nineteenth-century model.

    True enough. But looking at Jacobs's legacy, I am less concerned with the things she missed or failed to understand than about the things she saw and the way the ideas she cared passionately about seem to have been misunderstood or deliberately misused for purposes that would have appalled her. Jacobs's view of cities became the common wisdom of our time. Once that happened, the risk lay not with people who argued with her but with those who claimed to agree with her and then proceeded to use--or abuse--her ideas for purposes deeply inconsistent with her values.

    Who could have imagined back in the 1960s that shopping-mall developers would start putting up pseudo villages with pseudo streets, proclaiming them like real cities as if these places were the natural outgrowth of Jacobs's ideas? Who could have imagined that "mixed use," originally a sharp-eyed writer's observation of what underlies a strong and organic urban fabric, would become a developer's mantra? Who could have envisioned the day when politicians and developers trying to sell New York on a gigantic football stadium beside the Hudson River would propose surrounding it with shops and cafés so that they could promote it as an asset to the city's street life?

    This is what happens when radical ideas move into the mainstream--they are corrupted. Jacobs's own words are being used as fodder for the contemporary equivalent of the vast, overbearing urban interventions that she so valiantly opposed in the 1960s. The advocates of the football stadium stopped short of literally claiming the project was in the mold of Jacobs, but they clearly wanted to suggest that this gargantuan project would help make New York once again the vibrant and energetic place that she celebrated. I'm not sure they were being totally cynical either. If you are in your 40s or 50s today, you grew up on Jacobs, which meant that you grew up believing that street life and mixed use were almost invariably good things. If you are also a developer who is operating in the economy of the twenty-first century, it might seem perfectly natural to combine the fiscal realities of our age with what you take to be basic truths about how people experience cities.

    And so you put together a gargantuan mixed-use complex that does all the right things, sort of, so long as one ignores a couple of Jacobs's guiding notions: her belief in small-scale and pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods, and her commitment to the diversity conferred upon a neighborhood by the presence of small businesses and multiple landlords. Today economic forces seem to push us relentlessly toward larger and larger buildings and more and more corporate development, away from the modest scale and diverse ownerships that Jacobs believed were critical for human interaction in a neighborhood. In downtown Brooklyn a single developer is now proposing an enormous complex of multiple towers, shops, and public space around the centerpiece of a sports arena, and he is trying to present it--like so many megaprojects today--as not just an effort at economic development but an enabler of a fine-grained urban life.

    Jacobs herself had little patience with much of what was presented as an extension of her views; she knew better and understood instinctively the difference between the real street life of an old New York neighborhood and the packaged synthetic urbanism of the new make-believe streetscapes. She was never fooled, but plenty of other people were. But whatever else we can say about it, the ways in which developers have contorted Jacobs's observations about the city at the very least show us that there is a kind of desperate urban impulse in this culture struggling to break out. While people seem to want their urban experiences safely packaged--suburbanized, we might say--they want them nonetheless. I don't know if Jacobs would have said this meant that the glass of urbanism was half full or half empty--and you can surely argue that one either way. What you can't argue, however, is that the market has come to demand something remotely resembling an urban experience, however sanitized it may have become.

    If the tendency of developers to exploit Jacobs's ideas for their own purposes is one price of her success, there is another troubling part of her legacy: the frequency and ease with which her words are taken as pure and absolute gospel by well-meaning, earnest followers who don't have half her imagination or boldness. Just as Mies was not always served well by the Miesians, who interpreted his architecture with the dutiful precision of pure acolytes, or Freud by the Freudians, Jacobs is not always well served by urbanists who insist that there is no model but Greenwich Village, and that there is simply no other way for a neighborhood to look and no other way for a city to work, period. Jacobs subtly encouraged this by engaging in what I have often called the fallacy of physical determinism, suggesting that the physical form of a neighborhood determines everything about how it will function. But as anatomy is not always destiny, neither is architecture. High-rises in open space are usually not right, but Stuyvesant Town works just fine, thank you, despite Jacobs's misgivings. And there are plenty of other examples of places that do not fit within the Jacobs mold and succeed anyway. Yet Jacobs could often see beyond the formulaic, but the same cannot be said for too many of her followers.

    Underlying all of this is a bigger question: Has the city simply become too big, and too gentrified, to continue to operate as Jacobs wished it to? So far as a great deal of Manhattan is concerned, and particularly Greenwich Village, the answer is probably yes. Jacobs could not afford to live on her beloved block of Hudson Street today. The real limitation of Jacobs's thinking is in her belief that since a relatively natural process gave us the city we love--the old neighborhood-rich, pedestrian-oriented, exquisitely balanced New York--then planning would not be of much use in the future. Today, however, the natural order of things yields something very different from the vibrant street-oriented and highly diverse world Jacobs taught us to admire. The natural process of growth now gives us sprawl, gigantism, economic segregation, and homogeneous, dreary design. In Jacobs's day the intervention into organic urban growth was symbolized by Robert Moses. Today the forces trying to intervene are those set in motion by Jacobs.

  5. #35
    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Manhattan - UWS


    This woman was amazing. She was a true warrior in defending the old New York when there was so much destruction happening before and after her crusade. I am glad that distrcits like 'SOHO' and the preservation of beautiful buildings were save from the recking ball.

  6. #36


    Jane Jacobs Revisited
    On finally reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities

    By Karrie Jacobs
    Posted July 17, 2006

    I have a confession. Despite the fact that I consider myself a hard-core urbanist steeped in the gospel of Jane Jacobs, until recently I had never actually read her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Sure, I owned a copy for decades (and dutifully replaced it every time it was permanently borrowed). I’d referenced it on occasion, reading passages that seemed relevant to whatever I was working on at the time, but never sat down and read it cover to cover.

    I decided to read it—really read it—about a year ago, after New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff pinned opposition to developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards megaproject in Brooklyn on “acolytes of urbanist Jane Jacobs.” Something about that turn of phrase seemed wrongheaded, as if Jacobs devotees (she and I are not related) were too quaint and insular to appreciate the grand gift that Ratner and his chosen architect, Frank Gehry, wanted to bestow on them. Predictably I didn’t sit down with the book until after Jacobs died in April.

    Like many people, I’d made plenty of assumptions based on second- or thirdhand readings. For instance, because Jacobs is repeatedly cited in Suburban Nation, the New Urbanist tract by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck, I assumed that she would have been a willing accomplice to that movement. It seems logical that Jacobs—with her reputation for advocating “close-grained” detail and mixed use—would support the calibrated street life meted out by Duany and his ilk. But as I read Jacobs it became clear that she never intended her ideas to be applied to smaller suburban settlements. She was writing only about big cities, with all their native grit and mess. Moreover, she consistently ridiculed the Garden City movement of the nineteenth century, the clearest precursor to New Urbanism, attributing to it the notion of “harmony and order imposed and frozen by authoritarian planning.”

    The Jacobs I thought I knew—an advocate for small-scale thinking and an opponent of large-scale projects—is not the one I discovered when I actually began to read her text. Her main argument was quite different: she used the example of her own Greenwich Village neighborhood to make the case that all planning and development should “generate city diversity”; but she did so to contrast the rich detail of urban life with the bold strokes then typical of planners. “The main responsibility of city planning and design should be to develop—insofar as public policy and action can do so—cities that are congenial places for this great range of unofficial plans, ideas, and opportunities to flourish, along with the flourishing of the public enterprises,” Jacobs wrote.

    Like many absorbers (as opposed to readers) of Jacobs, I had long thought that she wanted cities to look and behave like her beloved little block on Hudson Street. And I’d always assumed the knee-jerk opposition to anything new that inevitably surfaces at community board meetings—along with the plague of “contextual” faux historical architecture—could somehow be traced to her town-house door. Now I don’t think so.

    Yes, Jacobs was articulate about her contempt for Le Corbusier and his vision of the Radiant City, which, she wrote, “had a dazzling clarity, simplicity, and harmony. It was so orderly, so visible, so easy to understand. It said everything in a flash, like a good advertisement.” Her target, however, was not his architectural style per se but rather the idea that vast stretches of green space were automatically beneficial to urban life, that Corbu’s brand of reductive thinking could produce a genuinely urbane place. I was delighted to find that Jacobs didn’t have a problem with new construction or contemporary architecture as long as it was well integrated into the urban fabric. She praised the new office towers of Park Avenue, such as Lever House and the Seagram Building, calling them “masterpieces of modern design.”

    Ouroussoff’s dismissal of the critics of Atlantic Yards is a misreading. I don’t know whether Jacobs, circa 1959, would approve or disapprove of Ratner, circa 2006, but her take on the project would likely be a bit more nuanced than the simple declaration “too big.” In certain ways the Ratner plan, with its arena, density, and mixture of residential and office uses is influenced—albeit indirectly—by her thinking. The project’s substantial number of “affordable” housing units adds to its overall heterogeneity. On the other hand, a huge project by one developer and one architect cannot be diverse, and it’s possible that Jacobs would have reacted to Gehry’s irregular forms much as she reacted to Googie-style coffee shops: “virtual sameness trying, by dint of exhibitionism, to appear unique and different.”

    The biggest drawback to Atlantic Yards, according to my reading of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is that it will be constructed atop a rail yard that currently separates the neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. The new development is unlikely to knit together those two neighborhoods; instead, lacking the cross-streets that Jacobs thought were key to urban vitality, it will exacerbate the division, generating more of what she termed “border vacuums.”

    In a more recent bad-boy postmortem headlined “Outgrowing Jane Jacobs,“ Ouroussoff continued to lump her in with the progenitors of faux historicism, classifying her as an advocate of the twee and charming instead of what she actually was, a champion of big cities and the opportunities they represent. Her ideas may be nearly 50 years old, penned as American cities began a long decline, but they didn’t come into vogue among planners, architects, and developers until nearly 30 years after the book was published. The urban renaissance we’re currently experiencing is young—10 years, maybe 20, in the making—and was built on groundwork laid by Jacobs. (Although she wrote with great prescience about the tendency of the most vibrant neighborhoods to be undermined by their own success, I don’t think she could have anticipated how a process she characterized as “unslumming” would eventually play out as a raging real estate boom.)

    Admittedly I could be the one misreading Jacobs—cherry-picking her book for the ideas that support my own penchant for density, diversity, and complexity—but it’s clear from the book’s final chapter, “The Kind of Problem a City Is,” that she was arguing above all against reductive thinking. Jacobs concludes by declaring that scientific methodology was finally sophisticated enough to take on the city, that we’ve at long last achieved “the ability to deal with problems of organized complexity.” She explains that the city-planning strategies she opposed—the urban-renewal projects of the postwar years and onward—were based on the notion that cities and their residents represented “disorganized complexity,” and that their movements and actions could be plotted statistically, as if they were electrons or billiard balls. She predicted that new ways of thinking and seeing would allow future planners to better analyze the complex web of interactions that cause urban neighborhoods to succeed or fail. She was writing in 1959 and 1960 as if she’d seen a preview of today’s computer-modeling capabilities.

    The mistake made by Jacobs’s detractors and acolytes alike is to regard her as a champion of stasis—to believe she was advocating the world’s cities be built as simulacra of the West Village circa 1960. Admirers and opponents have routinely taken her arguments for complexity and turned them into formulas. But the book I just read was an inspiration to move forward without losing sight that cities are powerful, dynamic, ever-changing entities made up of myriad gestures big and small. The real notion is to build in a way that honors and nurtures complexity. And that’s an idea impossible to outgrow.

  7. #37


    Quote Originally Posted by Kris
    ...the book I just read was an inspiration to move forward without losing sight that cities are powerful, dynamic, ever-changing entities made up of myriad gestures big and small. The real notion is to build in a way that honors and nurtures complexity. And that’s an idea impossible to outgrow.
    Saint Jane sez: "Atlantic Yards."

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