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September 26, 2007

The great Jane debate: Opening salvo

BruceJacobs.jpg Time Out NY Blog

After reading portions of Jane Jacobs' “Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Dustin Goot from the Time Out NY blog has heard enough to declare that “Jane Jacobs would approve of Atlantic Yards,” though he admits he’s not “intimately familiar with the plans.:

If you’ve looked on newsstands at all this week, you know that we’ve posed the question, “Has Manhattan lost its soul?” (and attempted to answer it). What you may not know is that our criteria for assessing the “soul” of each neighborhood derived largely from the ideas of Jane Jacobs, the famous urbanist–Robert Moses opponent–West Village savior. We did some research on her and everything. To wit, many of us read (portions of) The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her seminal 1961 tome on what makes cities work. The book puts forward some interesting assertions about what’s good for cities (e.g., parks tend to be useless), and sparked a lot of discussion among the edit staff. So we thought it would be fun to draw out that exchange and share it with you, our beloved readers. (There will be multiple updates later today and tomorrow.)

Since the goal is to make this interesting, I’m starting it controversially: I think J.J. would approve of Atlantic Yards. Actually, she was a cranky broad who no doubt would have found many faults with it. Let me rephrase. I think Atlantic Yards largely follows Jacobs’s principles and would enliven that neighborhood in a way she would admire.

Let’s look at it through the J.J. lens. That neighborhood right now is an ugly traffic confluence and not much else. It’s full of chain stores and terrible for pedestrian traffic. Atlantic Yards would add an amenity where there is none. Though I’m not intimately familiar with the plans, I know it includes extensive mixed-use and varied street-level commercial space, along with many residential units (and a hotel, I believe). It would increase the density of that area, as Jacobs prefers.


NoLandGrab: That’s so-o-o-o-o keuwt! Thanks for being honest Dustin, we would have NEVER figured out that you weren't "intimately familiar with the plans" by reading your curious Jacobsian defense of Bruce Ratner's megaproject.

For the record, Jacobs submitted a friend of the court brief in favor of the homeowners in the landmark eminent domain case of Kelo vs. New London; she was highly skeptical of removing streets to create gigantic superblocks; and she would have figured out by now that it’s an “arena,” not a “stadium,” which would represent only a fraction of the entire largest-single-source private “megaproject” in the history of NYC. Call it a hunch, but we highly doubt that she would have favored increasing the density of the neighborhood to the extent that it would be more than two times the density of the densest residential community in the nation.

Also, the chain stores Dustin cites are owned by Bruce Ratner. Though they may seem blighted, they are not part of the Atlantic Yards plan and there isn't much hope that Atlantic Yards would be very different.

We could go on, but that's really Norman Oder's job. [Click here for his response to Dustin's post and subsequent commentary.]

Posted by lumi at September 26, 2007 10:15 PM