April 25, 2006

"She bulldozes out of existence every desirable innovation in urban planning during the last century..."

Ah, to write a truly great, truly influential book!

Goodbye to Jane Jacobs.

"The Death and Life of Great American Cities."

16 comments:

dick said...

I read the NY Times obituary and it reminded me of the Kurt Weill show Street Scene with the variety of scenes she talked about - how the people interact seems to have been the catalyst for what makes a city. I think she was absolutely right.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

I know little about architecture and urban design, but from her book I learned to see things happening in city life that I had not known existed. What a treat. She was remarkably insightful.

My impression is that a lot of today's "planners" no more understand her arguments than did the people she criticized in her book.

Seven Machos said...

I have a "vintage: condo on a nice, quiet street in Chicago. A short street called "Mies van der Rohe" crosses mine. I always wondered why that was the name of the street when, in fact, his famous set of Glass Box condos is actually a bit north and a few streets over.

Well, as it turns out, the street is called "Mies van der Rohe" because it runs right by 200 E. Pearson, where the ultra-modern architect lived for most of his life.

Why is this significant? Because 200 E. Pearson is a small, truly beautiful, understated, classic buiding from the turn of the century, bursting with beautiful Old World details. Mies, it seems, was quite content to design modern crap for others but when it came to decide where he himself would live, he chose the very kind of building that he and the architects of his era wanted to bulldoze in favor of The Glass Box.

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, should read Jacobs's book as well as "From Bauhuas to Our House," b Tom Wolfe.

HaloJonesFan said...

I dunno. All things considered, she sounds exactly like the loonier kind of loony-left people who symbolize every minority movement. Perhaps the problem isn't that she was forceful or different, but that she didn't have any clue how to get her message to the public. "I am right," she figured, "and that is the only thing that I need to be, because the essential rightness of my message will show through and it doesn't matter how I act."

Ann Althouse said...

I love "From Bauhaus to Our House."

Jack Wayne said...

Anyone who seriously espouses "urban planning" is a loon. No matter which direction they are coming from.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Perhaps the problem isn't that she was forceful or different, but that she didn't have any clue how to get her message to the public. If that were the case, lower Manhatttan would today be bisected by a large highway.

I often have occasion to think of her when walking to work through two sets of public housing projects: one a high-rise and one low. Whenever I heard about a stabbing or some other violent crime, it always took place in the high-rise.

Seven Machos said...

Jack -- I used to feel that way. I'm a libertarian/conversative kind of guy.

But spend a day in a place with relatively good zoning -- like Chicago -- and spend a day in a place with relatively bad zoning -- like Detroit or many of its suburbs, and tell me honestly that you feel just as happy, that you think the quality of life is the same in both places.

Seven Machos said...

I am conversative. Also conservative, or what passes for it since the death of classical liberalism.

Truly said...

DC's main public library was designed by Van der Rohe--apparently the only library he designed (http://www.dclibrary.org/mlk/).

There's currently a debate here over whether to tear it down and build a new one or preserve the building as an important architectural landmark.

It's a dreary building, entirely indistinguishable from the average strip-center office park. Worse, though, it doesn't even work well as a library. The wiring is bad, it smells funny, the elevators don't work half the time, and it's become a de facto homeless shelter. When I first started working downtown I thought it was be a nice place to go during my lunch break--shows how much I know.

HaloJonesFan said...

Yeech. As I read further into the article, I find that she is the patron saint of the New Urbanists, who believe that we should all live in tiny little happy boxes and never ever leave, or even look outside for that matter.

Also, I like how she moved to Canada because she didn't like the United States, and promptly started agitating for Quebec separatism.

Seven Machos said...

truly -- It looks like everything else that one-trick pony ever designed. And his one trick was bad.

Halo -- I don't know who the New Urbanists were, but I can tell you that Jacobs stood for the kind of vibrant neighborhood that you see in Greenwich Village -- a place where all different classes intermingle, and with businesses and homes, a place where children can play and the old can enjoy the fresh air. A place that's nice to take a walk through. The exact opposite of Jacobs is "garden architecture" projects, with tall buildings, lots of green and concrete spaces, and no small business.

Was Jacobs a loon? Yeah, probably, in a lot of ways. But on cities and architecture, she got it mostly right. We are talking about a little old woman who, largely singlehandedly, changed the future of American architecture for the better and ended the blight that was the Internationalist style.

jeff said...

The problem with her theory is that generally people don't like to be all jumbled up together...

Urban Renewal seems to consist of "gentrification" now - so instead of bulldozing slums, the rich move the poor out and rebuild them.

And then call the cops if the poor take one step back into the neighborhood.

tjl said...

Jacobs' own politics may have been on the leftish side, but she deserves credit for having struck a huge blow against one of the most egregious forms of big-government overreaching -- the Urban Renewal Project in which the city or state comes in, levels an entire neighborhood, and builds vast lifeless examples of government design. Jacobs believed that the residents of the neighborhood, if left to themselves, would create urban vitality through their own choices and actions. What could be more libertarian than that?

Hey said...

Her work is completely separate from her own politics and actions.

She had a number of excellent insights that were so true they seem to be common knowledge. Foremost amongst these is that "eyes on the street" improve the security of a neighbourhood. Oh my God yes, as evidenced by the horrow that is high rise projects or tower in the park architecture (with the utmost despair coming from high rise tower in the park projects).

As to zoning... the only good zoning is no zoning. The most interesting things have happened in areas where zoning was non-operable in the hearts of excessively zoned cities. NYC is the best evidence of this: so much rehabilitation was done completely illegally, but because the neighbourhoods were abandoned no one did much about it, until they ended up grandfathering people. Now that areas are liveable again, of course, zoning has descended with a vengeance and projects are hampered, stalled, and encumbered. Oy!

Mies did some absolutely wonderful work in terms of office buildings, with the best example being Toronto's TD Centre. The brutal winters and joyful summers in Canada help alleviate much of the problems of tower in the park, as does the recent, very unorthodox, restaurant patios that pop up once Toronto becomes liveable again in the spring. There are vast expanses of the project that just don't work as public space but thankfully haven't been conquered by the homeless. But in general, yes he was a horrendous architect that did very bad things.

The worst part is that there is a movement to preserve modernist architecture. I know I sound like a modernist discussing Victorianism, but there is so much vile, vile sh.. modernist and internationalist architecture that people are trying to protect. I'm cringing for the fights about brutalist architecture, which I'm sure will come. Some architecture is just so bad, all of it needs to be excised. I hope that my fight is against the effects of this architecture, rather than simple fashion. I think that my love for some modernist work is evidence that I only hate bad work, but one can never be sure.

The best stories about her actions contradicting her theories: she recently fought tall buildings on the major street several blocks from her house (note that there already numerous tall buildings in the neighbourhood, in bad 60s architecture 2-3 blocks from the major road) that were across the street from a subway station, as well as fighting against an expansion of a public school 1 block from her house. The private school's problem was that it was converting a parking lot into a gym and other facilities, depriving the neighbourhood of the recreational use of the parking lot, and the fact that it was an elite private school for the priviliged. Never mind that the semis and single family Victorian houses in her neighbourhood are worth between 800k and 2.5M. Bunch of annoying, idiotic, faux hippy professionals and professors.

That neighbourhood is one reason why so many young people viscerally hate leftist hippy children of the 60s. I imagine that her neighbourhood resembles much of the population of Madison or Boulder.