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September 25, 2007

Jane Jacobs, Foe of Plans and Friend of City Life

JacobsMAs-NYT.jpgThe NY Times
By Edward Rothstein

Since NYC is on the precipice of radical change in some neighborhoods, now is as good a time as any to revisit Jane Jacobs. "Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York" opens today at the Municipal Art Society:

Under Jacobs’s influence, there arose new ways of thinking about cities; community groups became active participants in city planning, and new developments started to take street life into account. Jacobs died in 2006, receiving encomiums from both the political right and left.

But as New York seems to be revving up for another generation of urban development — including the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s environmental projects — as new neighborhoods have taken shape, like Battery Park City, and old ones change in function and status, like Dumbo in Brooklyn, the issues that Jacobs and her opponents raised remain as vital as ever.


Two heads up:

  1. "Last year’s series of major exhibitions about Moses at the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art and Columbia University," was actually early THIS year.

  2. The Times critic mischaracterizes Jane Jacobs's mistrust of 20-Century city planning orthodoxy. Rothstein states, "Jane Jacobs did not believe that planners could ever restore life to American cities. Instead she put her faith in the chaos of urban life, in diversity, in people."

This is the enduring characterization Jacobs, but a closer reading of the Introduction of , "Death and Life of Great American Cities," will reminds us that first and foremost Jacobs was promoting an observational approach to planning, where the qualities of a successful community could be measured, studied and allowed to persist.

On page 13 she writes:

"The pseudoscience of city planning and its companion, the art of city design, have not yet broken with the specious comfort of wishes, familiar superstitions, oversimplifications, and symbols, and have not yet embarked upon the adventure of probing the real world."

Simply, she was promoting the idea of introducing the scientific method to the art and science of urban planning, and, from real study, deriving an understanding of what really works.

Jacobs even understood and hoped that her own observations and ideas would be "corrected" in the future when she wrote ("Death and Life," page 16), " I hope any reader of this book will constantly and skeptically test what I say against his own knowledge of cities and their behavior. If I have been inaccurate in observations or mistaken in inferences and conclusions, I hope these faults will be quickly corrected," which is probably more than we can expect from the NY Times.

Posted by lumi at September 25, 2007 1:20 PM