May 4, 2016

It's the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jane Jacobs, author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities."

1. TIME: "Jacobs was not just a writer who had big ideas, she was also the champion of those ideas in the real world. At the time city planning aimed to make cities orderly, with tall buildings and open space, and had no qualms about demolishing large swaths of neighborhoods to make their ideas reality, as with New York City’s Cross Bronx Expressway. A similar highway was the subject of what remains perhaps her most famous battle: The Lower Manhattan Expressway, proposed by city planner Robert Moses, which would have been a 10-lane road cutting across what is now SoHo and Little Italy. At a public hearing on the proposed expressway in 1968, Jacobs was arrested and later charged with 'second-degree riot, inciting to riot and criminal mischief'...."

2. The Guardian: "Washington Square Park anchored the Village, offering 10 acres of green space to a steadily changing set of neighbours, from Edith Wharton to Bob Dylan. In 1880, Henry James wrote in Washington Square of its 'rural and accessible appearance' – a quality that had not entirely dimmed by the 1950s. Moses, however, upon looking at the park, was convinced that the amenity it most sorely lacked was a four-lane road through its centre." Below: "An artist’s sketch from 1959 of the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, a 10-lane highway through SoHo and Little Italy that required the demolition of 416 buildings."

3. HuffPo: "Even though Jacobs had no training in the field (let alone a college degree), she turned urban planning upside down and led cities to embrace mixed use development such as what transformed Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from urban decay to a major tourist attraction. Just as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 raised awareness over the misuse of pesticides and sparked the beginning of the ecological movement in the U.S., Jacobs’ book fueled the New Urbanism movement."

4. Treehugger: "Jane Jacobs did her research just by looking around and watching the sidewalk ballet, but others are now using more sophisticated methods to show that she was right. [Marco De Nadai] at the University of Trento and his team have examined six cities in Italy to test Jacobs' four conditions of multiple functions, small blocks, mixed age and relatively high density. Instead of eyes on the street, they used big data...."

5. Tech Insider: "6 ways the ‘Mother of Urban Design’ has transformed American cities.... 100 years after her birth, many urban dwellers are living in the kind of American cities she imagined and fought for."

6. Vox: "Her fight with [Robert] Moses has been turned into an opera called A Marvelous Order, drawn from a Jacobs passage about the logic under the chaos of urban life: 'Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city.'"

7. Slate: "Bulldoze Jane Jacobs/The celebrated urban thinker wrote the blueprint for how we revitalize cities. It’s time to stop glorifying her theories.... Thinking through how to make cities truly equitable is harder than uncritically reaffirming a small selection of the work of Jacobs. If Jacobs remains an almost-deific figure in urban planning, the profession will end up perpetuating what Jacobs fought so hard against: doing things to cities simply because they replicate the ways they’ve been done in the past. If we want to celebrate Jacobs, it’s time to move beyond her."

8. Gothamist: "Confirmed: Bob Dylan Did Co-Write Protest Song About Robert Moses With Jane Jacobs."


Michael K said...

Just as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 raised awareness over the misuse of pesticides and sparked the beginning of the ecological movement in the U.S., Jacobs’ book fueled the New Urbanism movement."

Interesting that Rachel Carson's book was based on a myth and has led to millions of deaths from malaria. Now, we have Zika virus,.

Bring back DDT or die.

dreams said...

The ban of DDT wasn't based on science, it was done because of ignorance.

Jane Jacobs has her critics too.

"With the formation of EPA, authority over pesticides was transferred to it from the Department of Agriculture. The fledgling EPA's first order of business was whether to issue a ban of DDT. Judge Edmund Sweeney was appointed to examine the case and held testimony hearings for seven months. His conclusion was that DDT “is not a carcinogenic hazard to man" and that "there is a present need for the essential uses of DDT". However, Ruckelshaus (who had not attended the hearings or read the report himself) overruled Sweeney's decision and issued the ban nevertheless, claiming that DDT was a “potential human carcinogen” [1]"

virgil xenophon said...

Jane Jacobs had a utopian viewpoint which did some good for sure, but today her vision is DEAD.DEAD.DEAD insofar as the actual facts on the ground are concerned. Almost any inner city east of the Mississippi is a virtual hell-hole with a crumbing infrastructure happening all at once like the one-horse shay because it was all built within a 25 yr period at the turn of the 20th Century and its all at the end of its useful life, plus out-migration to the suburbs continues unabated EVERYWHERE far exceeding what in-migration is occurring by yuppies in a few selected cities (despite what "Urban Planners" preach) e.g., even the 22-39 crowd is abandoning S.F now due to high real-estate costs and the influx of imported Google PhDs from India, etc., not to mention the smells from public urinals and the homeless one finds everywhere with their drugs, asssoc crime and aggressive panhandling. Also too we are a far more multicultural society than in Jacobs day (e.g., in 1970 LA was 90% white, in 1960 East St Louis Ill was 95% white and designated an "All American City" for "Good Government" but is now 95% black and a miserable shit-hole) and the cultural glue that comes from a largely homogenous population that holds a civic culture together has greatly dissolved.

Bob said...

Robert Moses was one of the truly evil people of 20th-century America.

Nichevo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rhythm and Balls said...

What Jacobs did was, I suspect, no less important than what Edmund Bacon did in Philly. New Urbanism all the way!

Rhythm and Balls said...

Almost any inner city east of the Mississippi is a virtual hell-hole with a crumbing infrastructure happening all at once like the one-horse shay...

Lol. You ain't never been to Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Beacon Hill, etc., etc., etc. Cities and sections thereof that seek to preserve what's good of their heritage - architectural or otherwise - thrive. Those that don't, don't.

Bill Peschel said...

I suspect, admittedly, that Jacobs was correct in favoring livable cities, but when you have Democratic politicians boosting the minimum wage, restricting new construction, making it more costly to do business, combined with the flight to the suburbs, you make it difficult to let cities change organically based on local conditions.

Laslo Spatula said...

I loved this post.

Still reading my way through the links, but just have to say that this is why Althouse is Althouse.

I am Laslo.

Christopher said...

I live in a vital, walkable urban neighborhood. It's probably not to the taste of most of Althouse's readers, but I love it, and it probably wouldn't exist without Jane Jacobs.

Howard said...

DDT loses it's effectiveness at a geometric rate because evolution. You tools will believe any myth that confirms your religion.

Laslo Spatula said...

A Letter from Miss Harriet Tubman, Kansas, 1954:

No, I am not THAT Harriet Tubman.

I fear for my little town.

Mr. Hampton -- the Grocer who hired the first Mexican -- is talking now about us needing to widen Main Street so he can expand his Store.

Why a bigger store, Mr. Hampton? How many more Mexicans do you plan to hire, instead of the white town folk who could use a stable job?

And Main Street: isn't it just beautiful as it is? Do we really need to raze the Chink's Laundry to make more room? They work hard, despite God making them yellow and all.

None of the white folk in town are going to want to tear down our beloved Main Street. What are you going to do -- hire Negroes?

I am ashamed of our town's Men Folk for even letting this be considered.

When I was a girl the Men were men: now, I wonder.



I am Laslo.

Howard said...

Jane Jacobs vision is dead dead dead evidenced by the millennial hipsters living in cities and congregating at gastropods.

William said...

I didn't read the links. Do any mention that Robert Moses was at one time considered a progressive social planner by the New Deal types?

Jack Wayne said...

Any "city planner", even those that are "on the right side" are full of crap. The greatest cities in the world grew without any planning; they just grew. Just another example of crony capitalism being lauded under the guise of "what's good for us".

J Lee said...

Moses actually did get a section of his Lower Manhattan Expressway built, but not the elevated part, but a small piece of the underground section that was to connect the Holland Tunnel to the Williamsburgh Bridge. The city put the vehicle tunnel in near Grand and Chrystie streets when they were building the new Sixth Avenue subway connection to the Manhattan Bridge (the section Jacobs objected to was the Holland Tunnel to Manhattan Bridge part pictured above, which was to be entirely elevated).

virgil xenophon said...

@Jack Wayne/

Agree, as a denizen of New Orleans I can certainly attest to that. The greatest thing New Orleanians ever did was defeat the "improvement" to the city in the form of a riverfront expressway that would have cut off the French Quarter from the river. We also lived in Louisville for 18 yrs and one can see the baleful effects of their riverfront expressway on the city on the left or western side of the JFK bridge (a 50s N-S bridge going thru the heart of Louisville connecting southern Indiana as part of the Interstate Hwy system) connecting the city with southern Indiana further downstream and cutting the western part of the city off from the Ohio river. Luckily the eastern side of the riverbank was not included in the original scheme and all the development (the new AAA baseball stadium, boating docks, etc. have occurred there.)

A great urban planning site to visit is one called The Antiplanner "Dedicated to the sunset of government planning" by a guy who lives in Portland. He has a great post up today about Jane Jacobs. A concluding pull quote: "The Industrial Revolution made skyscrapers possible. The Digital Revolution is making them unnecessary." A great essay--Go read.

David said...

Sounds like she should have her face on the $2 bill.

Virgil, Seattle is spending multi billions to remove their waterfront expressway and put it underground. Except the hugely expensive tunneling machine got stuck. I don't know if it's unstuck yet but that's going to cost another billion.


David said...

Meanwhile, in Houston (no zoning) all is well and thriving (sort of) except for the floods. It's nature reclaiming wetlands.

David said...

""6 ways the ‘Mother of Urban Design’ has transformed American cities.... 100 years after her birth, many urban dwellers are living in the kind of American cities she imagined and fought for."

Except for the part about the white working and middle class being driven out and black underclass being miseducated for over half a century by "reformers."

Michael Fitzgerald said...

Laslo Spatula said...5/4/16, 9:25 PM

Better stick to your degenerate pornographic fantasies, asshole.

tim in vermont said...

It's time to try stuff in service of our theories of social justice for which we have no empirical evidence that they will work, and the consequences of which we have not even the dimmest understanding because justice!

Michael K said...

"You tools will believe any myth that confirms your religion."

No, I don't believe in global warming.

tim in vermont said...

DDT loses it's effectiveness at a geometric rate because evolution.

So there was never any reason to ban it because it is now harmless to insects? Or are you saying that DDT doesn't work right now so no lives will be saved, but this ineffectiveness will surely appear in the future because mathematical models?

You know that mathematical models are great, as long as the underlying assumptions, which cannot be proven mathematically, are absolutely correct. The reason they are called "underlying" is because they cannot be proven, though if the model does accurately reflect what later happens, a pretty solid case could be made that the assumptions were correct, you know, like the climate models... Oh wait...

Crazy Jane said...

Sometimes planners get things right. The Haussmann boulevards turned late 18th century Paris, then a large series of tight medieval warrens, into a modern city.

Sometimes planners get things wrong. At the edge of downtown Boston, a bustling neighborhood was razed in the 1960s and replaced with a 1/4 (or maybe 1/3)-mile-long Government Center building, done in the brutalist style and surrounded by a big, empty plaza; it is as plain an assertion of government-as-the-boss-of-us as could be imagined.

Roger Smith said...

HUD Secretary, has the regulatory regime and a program called “Affirmatively Affirming Fair Housing.” next year local zoning boards will be rubber stamps for our local public housing authority ...section 8 in your cul de sac

Jon Burack said...

If Dylan actually wrote that utterly lame song, I can easily understand why he's not said anything about it. I suspect if he were to speak, he'd say: "Shots rang out. I didn't know whether to duck or run, so I ran."

virgil xenophon said...

@Crazy Jane/

Or when "Urban Renewal" destroyed Pittsburgh's black business and nightclub/restaurant district in the early 70s..

Peter said...

"Robert Moses was one of the truly evil people of 20th-century America."

Was he? He was surely flawed, and power-hungry, and dismissive of those who didn't fit into his grand plans. Although his view of the place of automobiles in American life, and in American cities, was the common wisdom until the anti-highway protests of the 1960s. As was his view of New-Deal style big government (with its big government projects).

Nonetheless, he achieved a good deal. Somehow I don't see many who want to tear down the Tri-boro bridge, or restor Jones Beach to its natural state, for example.

The 20th century had plenty of "truly evil people"; if Robert Moses was evil (other than in the sense that we are all sometimes, somewhat evil) his brand of evil surely was very small-time when measured against the varsity.

Hagar said...

A failed doctor; we call him a quack.
A failed lawyer; we call him a shyster.
A failed architect; we call him a city planner.

TML said...

Wow. No Google Doodle for Jane today. Really, really surprising.

Fernandinande said...

I read those excerpts yesterday and wasn't sure what they were supposed to mean, if anything.

A re-reading:
1 - She was arrested for either supporting or opposing a road.
2 - Someone else wanted a road through a park.
3 - She supported "mixed use development".
4 - She didn't do serious research.
5 - She would like some existing cities.
6 - Sometimes apparent disorder isn't all that bad.
7 - Her ideas aren't the only valid ones.
8 - She contributed to a song.

Did I miss anything?

Sigivald said...

Is there, at this point, any reason to take any "urban planner" seriously?

The only urban planning we need, as far as I can tell, is making sure sewers and roads have more capacity than people think they need right now, which is something mere city planning engineers can do, without pretending they're Saving The World or Redefining Our Urban Environment.

When people start viewing their job as things like those, well, they're pretty much always wrong, and as far as I can tell literally always wrong when their desired changes require forcing people to go along with it.

(Also, re comments: DDT loses it's effectiveness at a geometric rate because evolution

And yet mosquito nets with DDT seem to be saving lives by the scores of thousands in Africa right now.

Less assertion, more primary sources; surely if DDT rapidly becomes useless at killing bugs you can show us the studies?)