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A new tool lets users see a city’s health through the density of its retail storefronts
Here's a tool Jane Jacobs would approve of: The Storefront Index, created by Joe Cortright and Dillon Mahmoudi of Portland, Oregon–based think tank City Observatory, measures the quantity and density of retail storefronts in cities throughout the Unites States as a proxy for urban desirability. The Storefront Index is predicated on the assumption that the amenities of the "consumer city"—places to get manicures, burritos, a nose piercing, a picture framed—encourage walkability, connect public spaces, and make cities desirable places to be. Mahmoudi and Cortright posit that "the presence, number, and size of storefront businesses in a neighborhood is a new, key indicator of urban economic health and neighborhood vitality." City Observatory hopes planners can use the Storefront index to assess the efficacy of small business growth and retention strategies, as well as plan for walkable retail development in downtown corridors.  The index maps every store that provides the goods and services that facilitate everyday life, but excludes banks and hospitals, as well as stores that sell goods to other manufacturers. Nationwide, there are approximately 2.6 million storefront businesses. In the 51 largest metro areas, there are about 537,000 storefront businesses. What makes a storefront cluster? By Cortright and Mahmoudi's count, storefronts had to be within 100 meters of another storefront. They drew a three-mile radius around each city's Central Business District (CBD), but mapped storefronts outside of that, too. The concentration of storefronts varies drastically from city to city, and confirms what you may instinctively sense from strolling through St. Louis, say, or Philadelphia. The former has a low density of storefronts in the urban core and large areas with no storefront clusters. St. Louis has 426 storefronts in its CBD, coming in front of only Detroit (91) in 51 metro areas surveyed: Philly, on the other hand, has high density clusters scattered throughout the city. The metro area has the fourth-highest number of storefronts in the CBD: Planners, urbanophiles: Rejoice in this new spatial analytic tool, and see how your hometown's storefront index stacks up against neighboring cities.  
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Death and Life

How best to use, abuse, and criticize Jane Jacobs
[Editor's Note: Peter L. Laurence, author of Becoming Jane Jacobs, noted on Twitter that some of Jane Jacobs's 100th anniversary coverage mischaracterized her contributions to the field of city planning. AN reached out to Laurence for comment, and he responded with this essay.] May 4, the centennial of Jane Jacobs’s birth, was a big day for her fans. Thanks in part to a Google doodle, Jacobs trended hard against Star Wars Day (#Maythe4thBeWithYou) and gained some new fans and readers; to the benefit of all interested in cities and urban design, sales of her 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities spiked on Amazon. May 4 was also a field day for Jacobs scholars and students, because it was an opportunity to see how her reputation has changed over the past five or six decades and whether new scholarship in the decade following her death has made any impact on this. It has been an opportunity, in other words, to observe how Jane Jacobs is deified and demonized, and how the Gospel of Jane is now interpreted. In at least one overarching respect, little has changed in fifty years: Jacobs, playing the biblical David, is still frequently defined in opposition to a Goliath. When her great book came out, Goliath took the form of an amorphous beast called City Planning, which was then synonymous with Urban Renewal. In the postmodern decades, it was Le Corbusier as the embodiment of modern architecture. Today, the monster is Robert Moses. This is not new. “Bob Moses’s block-busting method” was criticized years before Jacobs wrote about it; Moses was already notorious and she didn’t need to say much about him in Death and Life. However, Moses’s shadow continues to loom over her, despite the fact that her true adversary was a leviathan composed of city halls, city planning and redevelopment agencies, real estate developers profiting from urban renewal policies, highway authorities, suburbanism, and public inertia. Among her major battles in Manhattan, Moses wasn’t behind the scheme to redevelop the West Village; and the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which received support from picketers who saw short-term gains in construction jobs, among others, was bigger than Moses and outlasted him. Fueled in part by the anger that activism took away from writing her second book, The Economy of Cities (1969), Jacobs described LoMEx as a beast that had to be killed three times, in 1962, ’65, and ’68, by which time Moses’s political power had been also fatally wounded. Today, the Urban Renewal Administration and its regime, which she helped to kill, are long dead, and the field of city planning, which she helped to change, is a very different field than it was a half century ago. However, we glory in the story of heroes and villains. Like the forthcoming opera about Jacobs and Moses, these can be subtle and beautiful works of art that help us to remember the past and introduce its history to a new generation. But the passage of time has also distilled Moses into a mythological figure, symbolizing all top-down planning and the whole complex but largely forgotten history of postwar urban renewal itself, making it appear that urban renewal was the work of an evil individual, rather than public policy driven by market forces, racism, and widely shared desires to live in suburbs and commute into cities. (The same has been done with Le Corbusier, as if he singlehandedly invented Modernism.) Once a dualism is constructed (e.g. Jacobs vs. City Planning/Modern Architecture/Robert Moses), certain conclusions must follow and, because this is the way dualist mythologies work, if Moses represents top-down planning, large-scale infrastructure, and urban change, then Jacobs must represent bottom-up forces, anti-development, anti-change and NIMBYism, preservation, the small scale, and the domestic. Moreover, because a dualism is necessarily reductionist, today, in an era experiencing an urban renaissance that neither city planning theorists of the 1930s nor city dwellers of the 1970s could have imagined, Moses’s villainy reflects not only the success of Jacobs’s ideas, she is blamed for the excessive accuracy of her ideas. A great observer and theorist of urban dynamics, it was not Jacobs’s idea to use historic preservation laws to turn cities into museums; her argument for old buildings had historical and esthetic aspects, but it was primarily concerned with the low-profit and no-profit activities and affordable housing that could take place in them, and it did not exclude new construction. Jacobs opened Death and Life with something simple and “small scale” for her readers, the lyrical “sidewalk ballet,” primarily to illustrate the ways that urban design can enable non-authoritative self-policing and contribute to urban safety, the foundation for any city life; after systematically discussing sidewalks, streets, blocks, parks, neighborhoods, and urban form in increasing scales, she concluded it with something conceptually beyond even the “large scale:” a discussion of the relationship of the history of science with urban history and theory, to which she made the unprecedented contribution of applying the nascent science of complexity to the study of cities. This was decades before chaos theory and non-linear dynamics developed in scientific circles. And while today “self-organization” has become some kind of truism, Jacobs understood well enough that people also self-organize into the suburbs and into more insidious forms of social organization.   Because an analysis of Jacobs’s legacy would be incomplete without a criticism, this week we also saw Jacobs accused of being a pioneering gentrifier because her Greenwich Village home and neighborhood, which she identified as a good place to live, increased dramatically in value, most substantially after she moved away. Ironically, Jacobs was not only a pioneering theorist of the dynamics of gentrification, she was an activist against urban renewal projects specifically designed to replace ethnic, working-class “slums” with middle-class and upper-income housing in Greenwich Village and elsewhere. Although she was a harsh critic of middle-class values, she is considered by some to be too bourgeois (while, contradictorily, others cheer, “Less Marc Jacobs, More Jane Jacobs”).   Jacobs has been accused of not having enough to say about race in a treatise about urban and suburban diversity, in which she discussed discrimination, racial and economic segregation, redlining, and spoke of American society’s “tendencies toward master-race psychology.” And she has been made out to be an advocate of deregulation and apologist for “so-called ‘urban sprawl’,” despite warning against it as early as the late 1950. But her fights with city hall did not mean she was an anarchist or libertarian; she believed in democratic government free from financial influences, well-applied regulations (including zoning) and taxes, support for mass transit and other public services, and public intervention to counteract free-market forces that threatened city diversity and vitality. She was interested in metropolitan government, but understood that great cities were already terribly difficult to govern. Speaking of a city council members’ struggle with “problems which are out of the control of everyone,” she wrote, “These are not boys sent on a man’s errand. These are men sent on a superman’s errand.” When Jacobs finished writing Death and Life, someone observed that it was a long book and suggested that she cut it back substantially to make it easier for the public to absorb. She recoiled, stating, “My own view is that this country is full of digesters, reviewers, and summarizers, and those who do not care to read a book as long as this will get some of the drift of its ideas through those means anyhow.” Jacobs was right about this. There are many Jacobites today, both fans and critics. However, how and why Jacobs is praised and criticized is important. This past week was often a celebration of not only of myths, but cartoons and intellectual shortcuts, among them well-worn ideological pathways to predetermined destinations. Not only do these lead to funhouse mirror portraits of Jacobs (e.g., she was a libertarian), they lead to such slogans as “More Moses, Less Jacobs,” an invitation to despotism that reflects a dangerous historical amnesia, among other forms of ignorance. We have come a long way from the sexist condescension of Lewis Mumford’s 1962 review “Mother Jacobs’s Home Remedies.” She was right about the death and life of cities; her ideas have prevailed and endured. But rather than think that we have reached “peak Jacobs” and that the best way to advance is to circle around to the other side of a false dichotomy, her ideas should be criticized for not going far enough in practice and theory. Her activism to improve car-dominated urbanism and suburban thinking, for example, must continue; there is no sidewalk ballet where there are no sidewalks. Meanwhile, the questions and theoretical paradoxes in her writing must be explored: How do we reconcile Jacobs’s concerns for residential tenure and neighborhood stability in a highly mobile society? How do we manage gentrification and other “self-destructions of diversity” in a capitalist framework? How do we challenge still prevalent forms of racial and economic segregation? How do we reform the governance of great cities? How do we advance cities in an age where nineteenth-century nationalism is still a prevailing ethos? How do we create new forms of knowledge about cities with complexity science without falling into the trap of scientific positivism that ensnared early modernists? There are many good ways to celebrate and criticize Jane Jacobs. Cartoons and slogans aren’t the best ways—unless perhaps these include “More Jacobs, fewer slogans” or “Fewer slogans, more questions.” Peter L. Laurence is the author of Becoming Jane Jacobs and director of graduate studies and associate professor of architectural and urban history, theory, and design at Clemson University School of Architecture.
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Skins, Deep

Glass breaks, shines, and shares spotlight at Facades+
The 18th conference in the Facades+ series was presented by The Architect's Newspaper (AN) at Metropolitan West on April 21. With YKK AP as 2016 conference chair, a record-breaking attendance of over 500 design professionals, 60 other sponsoring organizations, and additional workshops held at New York Law School on April 22, Facades+ explored the potentials of new materials, fabrication processes, and design strategies on scales from single windows to urban districts. Facades+, a mobile event offered several times a year since 2012 (hitting seven U.S. cities during 2016), offers regular updates on high-performance enclosures. Contemporary technologies and materials, participants noted, allow increasing control of light and heat as well as expanding design options; at the same time, specialists argued for tempering expectations about parametric design and renewable power generation. “Glass is really the material of the 21st century,” asserted morning keynote speaker and 2016 Jane Drew Prize winner Odile Decq, discussing innovative combinations of laminated glass with external sunscreens, embedded textiles, and other elements. Decq led the audience through a series of projects employing transparency, color, and stylistic contrasts, including the Banque Popular de l’Ouest in Rennes (with Peter Rice), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, the Garnier Opera House restaurant in Paris, and the Fangshan Tangshan National Geopark Museum in Nanjing. Architecture can look to the auto industry, she added, for advances in safety, self-cleaning, and energy management that are adaptable to buildings. In contrast, rising energy concerns mean that “glass is no longer king,” said Buro Happold's Jonathan Sakula; it is part of a broader material repertoire. Stringent codes often make triple glazing difficult to avoid, he noted, despite disadvantages in weight, acoustics, and cost. Responding to an audience question about curtain walls as media for power generation, NY conference co-chair KPF's Shawn Duffy suggested that building-integrated photovoltaics are not yet realizing their potential. Among featured buildings with concrete or masonry façades, standouts included DDG's 12 Warren Street condo clad in Catskill bluestone, discussed by Peter Guthrie, and S9 Architects' 205 Water Street, a gritty neo-brutalist grid of board-formed concrete and exposed steel where, in engineer Stephen DeSimone's pithy phrase, “the structure is the façade.” Technical briefings covered distinctions between fire-resistive and fire-protective glazing (Tim Nass of Saftifirst), woven-metal shading (Tom Powley of GKD-USA), and a dramatic breakage test by Kuraray's Mark Jacobson comparing polyvinyl butyral and SentryGlas ionoplast interlayers (hammer blows to the edge shattered both panes, but only the latter resisted crumpling). YKK's Bang Ting Tan described a top-down curtain-wall retrofitting method that outperforms conventional procedures in safety, weathertightness, and work-cycle efficiency. Tension between design ideals and constraints of economics, zoning, context, and client input was a recurrent theme. In a panel on Related's 17-million-square-foot Hudson Yards, William Pedersen commented that “the ability to achieve structural purity in a speculative office building is almost impossible” because dimensional requirements guide formal gestures. Yet the Yards hardly shortchange aesthetics: KPF's chamfered-cornered north and south towers will “perform a choreographed dance” near the High Line and the ETFE cushions of the Culture Shed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro / Rockwell Group, and Tower D by the latter team plus Ismael Leyva Architects will morph from a rectangular base to a quatrefoil as it rises. Neil Thelen (Thelen Design Group) hailed the subtleties in this tower's residential entrance of CNC-milled stone and the curtain-wall panels' complex geometries. Another high point was Thomas Phifer's afternoon keynote presenting designs from the Salt Lake City U.S. courthouse to the Corning Museum of Glass, augmented by a Q&A with AN's Matt Shaw considering local variations in light quality. “The light is the one thing that always surprises you when you build,” noted Phifer. Enclos's Mic Patterson provided a sobering note in the concluding panel on digital fabrication. Despite impressive recent projects—Hoeweler Yoon's Sean Collier Memorial of milled granite, James Carpenter's Fulton Center Sky Reflector-Net, and Kreysler & Associates/Enclos's fiber-reinforced plastic rainscreens for Snøhetta's San Francisco Museum of Modern Art—the gap between “those buzzwords we have in our industry” and seamy real-world transitions between programs or contractors can be alarming. “The obvious trend is accelerating complexity of the building skin.... How much complexity is sustainable?” Patterson asked. “All you have to do is visit a university architecture program: kids go nuts with Rhino, but nobody's talking craftsmanship.” The precise woodwork in Kahn's Escherick House, he added, “screams, 'Digitize this, sucker!'”—a challenge for everyone to take home.
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Keeping it 100

Jane Jacobs: 100 and Timeless as Ever
In most cases, a century provides a round, nostalgic number. It is an arbitrary marker, offering a chance for living generations to contemplate a past beyond their firsthand comprehension. A century is not just a convenient marker for remembering Jane Jacobs. It is a crucial interval for appreciating the world she grew up in, the urban devastation she witnessed, the forces she fought against, and the future she hoped for. Even as the planning profession has roundly embraced Jacobs’s ideas, the resurrection of the American city remains a work in progress. This is not your grandmother’s city. But it may yet be. Though Jacobs passed away 10 years ago and published her masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961, urbanists do not celebrate her for some distant, reverenced work. Contemporary movements such as smart growth, pedestrianism, public transit, New Urbanism, tactical urbanism, and the Millennial sunburst of enthusiasm for urban living all hearken back to Jacobs. Even so, the historical moment that gave rise to Jacobs is still happening, with the momentum of a nuclear meltdown still spitting out radiation, half-life after half-life. "Orthodox modernist city planning...refuses to die,” said Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture. "She did a very good job of trying to kill it, by turning attention back to city streets and the people who inhabit them." When suburbs were swelling and freeways were tearing through cities in the mid-20th century, few planners or architects recognized, or cared, that cities were dying. Planners followed the European model of Le Corbusier and the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM), which advocated the demolition of neighborhoods and the erection of sterile towers and pointless open spaces. In the United States, this program evolved into highways, tract housing, and “urban renewal.” Jacobs celebrated life, not objects. She was eloquent, rebellious, endearing, and superficially unassuming—in part because she was a woman in a field that was, and remains, dominated by men. A tenacious activist, Jacobs not only lived her ideals but actually prevailed, staring down New York City’s infrastructure czar Robert Moses and saving Greenwich Village from the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway. Jacobs arrived at her radicalism by looking backwards—and looking around. She uncovered the great things about cities that had been known, if not fully articulated, for millennia. She contended that “scientific” modernist planning and design was little more than a rationalization to justify the enshrinement of (white, male) egotism in the landscape. Jacobs was the real scientist, using powers of observation and deduction to describe what she saw as the natural environment in which urban humans thrived. “Her only qualifications were her eyes and her social conscience, and she started telling people there is a horrendous gap between your forms and your social ideals,” said architect Stefanos Polyzoides, a co-founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism. “The architectural profession was dominated by this idea that modern is good and everything else is rotten." (Jacobs had at least one major like-minded contemporary in sociologist William H. Whyte. Otherwise, Jacobs dominates planning like few have dominated any field. In 2009 the urban planning website conducted an unscientific poll of history's 100 "greatest urban thinkers.” Out of 14,000 votes, Jacobs took the top spot with five times as many votes as the runner-up, New Urbanist Andrés Duany.) It’s almost impossible to point to specific examples of Jacobs’s influence. If anything, Jacobs signifies negation: the absence of a superblock, the highway that was never built. Or she embodies the ephemeral: the evening stroll, the chance encounter, the purchase of a bagel and coffee. “She was really about ways to experience a city rather than what a city was supposed to look like,” said Richard Sennett, professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, who knew Jacobs in her heyday. Today, it is the rare urban designer who gets to develop a city, or even a neighborhood, from scratch. In mature cities, change happens over the course of decades. By working at the level of the discrete parcel or building—for better or worse—and on projects that typically take mere years architects, rather than planners, face more ample and direct opportunities to realize Jacobs’s lessons. Fifty-five years later, architects are still debating what those lessons are. Short of Lou Reed, perhaps no one is more closely associated with Greenwich Village than Jacobs is. She is often assumed to be both a preservationist and a historicist, forever promoting bricks and brownstones—likely an unexciting prospect for contemporary designers in pursuit of the new. "Because she defended the Village…by extension she defended the historicity of the city,” said Polyzoides. Jacobs did not, however, explicitly promote a certain architectural style. By embracing diversity, she avoided the fate of her modernist nemeses. "She’s against singularity and for diversity, diversity of all kinds: economic, social, physical,” said Polyzoides. "In that sense she might be very pleased with a modern or contemporary building in a traditional street." While Jacobs may have been agnostic about how a building looks, she was anything but when it came to how it relates to its surroundings. Jacobs makes architects think about all the elements of cities that aren’t buildings. Lorcan O’Herlihy, founding principal of Los Angeles-based Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, said that this perspective compels architects to pay attention to how buildings relate to street life and with surrounding buildings. His design process includes literal interaction: extensive community dialog through which he tries to understand a project’s role in the human environment. While non-residents may never enter a building, its influence still extends, for better or worse, beyond the property line. "It’s not only about buildings, but it’s also about engaging edges,” said O’Herlihy. "That is something that is missing in an urban context when you turn your back to the sidewalk and street." That approach calls for a level of creativity that is often considered lacking in American modern design, which Stern calls "a corporate version of the International Style." Jacobs offers an alternative. She gives architects the opportunity—perhaps even the obligation—to perceive and respond to neighborhoods as they are and not to impose placeless design theories on them. "Jacobs revered the city as the preeminent site of choice and possibility and she saw architecture’s duty as enabling, not domineering,” said Michael Sorkin, principal of New York-based Michael Sorkin Studio and author of Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. "Her gift to designers was the rejection of fixed formulas in favor of an ever-unfolding dialectic of form and life." Just as Jacobs celebrated city life, so might Jacobs-inspired designs be capable of living many lives. "The best way to honor her would actually be…systems of building that are accretive rather than rupturing,” said Richard Sennett, author and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University' sociology department. Sennett cited Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, who designs buildings with the intention that they will be altered and added to in time. For all of Jacobs’s focus on the “human scale” of 20th century cities, 21st century cities may be developing at a scale that makes Jacobs seem, if not precious, then at least inadequate. Jacobs has often drawn criticism for not directly addressing social issues such as segregation and poverty, instead referring to them under the broad mantle of diversity. But contemporary mega-cities in the developing world are growing at unprecedented rates. Lagos, Mumbai, Jakarta, and the like, make New York City look like a sleepy hamlet. In these cities, swelling with urban poor, the “sidewalk ballet” isn’t the most pressing issue. “Of course they’re relevant today, but they’re not the macro problems,” said Thom Mayne, principal of Morphosis. Jacobs’s attention to the street and the neighborhood “doesn’t have anything to do with the 50 percent of the world that ends up in these urban configurations." Then again, Saskia Sassen, professor of sociology at Columbia University, suggests that debates over city form and urban details obscure Jacobs’s broader contributions about urban economics. Jacobs’s 1969 Economy of Cities contends that macro-scale productivity, and indeed the capitalist ideal itself, depends on the aggregate of activities that take place on blocks and in neighborhoods. "Jacobs shows the city as an economic machine, a machine that can process all kinds of elements that are often coming from non-urban settings,” said Sassen. “[In] a suburb or a private, gated corporate office park, you have density, but you don’t have a city." Debating Jacobs’s relevance presents a thorny challenge. In many circles, she has gained as much influence, intellectually at least, as her Modernist counterparts ever did. Nonetheless, the environments that they built still endure. Appealing as they are, Jacobs’s theories remain largely untested even as, 55 years later, no one has arisen to substantially oppose or eclipse her. “The longevity of her influence is attributable to the fact she spoke all the truth in a straightforward way,” said Stern. "The profession of planning and architecture has not yet caught up with her wisdom because it is still object-fixated and open-space fixated.” If any century promises to be the Jane Jacobs Century, then, it may not be the past one: in which she spent 84 of her 90 years, wrote seminal texts, and took a wrecking ball to modernism. That may have been prelude. Rather, the Jane Jacobs Century promises to be the current one: in which the urban world from which she departed may—slowly—become more like the one into which she was born.
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BDay Celebration

Events across the world honor the centennial of Jane Jacobs’s birthday
For fans of the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs, who died in 2006, May 4 has long had special significance because it was her birthday. This year it will be bigger than usual because May 4, 2016 is a milestone—the 100th anniversary of Jacobs’s birth in Scranton, Pa. Architects and urban planners on at least four continents are organizing a series of talks, walks, and other events to celebrate Jacobs’s life and impact on the built environment, starting this spring and continuing through the year. In addition to Jane Jacobs Day and Jane Jacobs Walks, there will be a Jane Jacobs Centennial Lecture Series (mostly in New York but as far away as Japan and India); a two-day symposium at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands; a Jane Jacobs Fellowship Program and a Jane Jacobs Medal ceremony. There is currently an exhibit in Toronto on Jacobs's life called Jane at Home (featuring items from Jacobs’s own estate, and curated by her son Jim); a new staging of the Jane Jacobs (and Robert Moses) opera, A Marvelous Order; themed food truck menu items called Jane Jacobs Specials, and even a Jane Jacobs Girl Scout merit badge (started by a troupe in Salt Lake City). In the literary world, Jacobs will be the subject of a new book, Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs, to be published by Knopf this fall. Kanigel’s book follows Peter Laurence’s Becoming Jane Jacobs, released last year. A group of writers is working with The Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand to publish a Whole Jane Catalog. Another publisher is reportedly working on a book that would contain a collection of her shorter articles. Some of the most ambitious events will be in large cities, such as New York, Toronto and Philadelphia. There will be plenty of events in small towns, too. “It’s bigger than ever this year...Everyone has found ways to celebrate her,” said Stephen Goldsmith, an artist, planner and professor who runs the Urban Ecology program at the University of Utah and serves as director of the Center for the Living City, an organization devoted to “advancing the observations of Jane Jacobs.” “We’re always getting new information” about Jacobs–oriented events, Goldsmith said. "It builds up organically…That’s what gives it its vitality." There are several websites created to keeping Jacobs’s memory alive. They include the and two sites that keep track of Jacobs-themed walking tours, and Jacobs-themed walks in New York are coordinated by the Municipal Art Society at Janes Walk NYC @ Philadelphia has a vibrant program, organized by PlanPhilly and listed on Facebook under janeswalkphilly. In New York City, the Rockefeller Foundation awards an annual Jane Jacobs Medal in a program administered by the Municipal Art Society of New York. (Past recipients range from Joshua David and Robert Hammond, co-founders of Friends of the High Line, to performers Robert DeNiro and Bette Midler.)   All of this activity is in tribute to the woman who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, first published in 1961 and considered one of the most influential books on urban planning written in the 20th century. Its reputation is all the more remarkable because its author had no formal training in urban planning or design. One of the biggest tributes is the yearlong Jane Jacobs Centennial Lecture Series. Coordinated by the Center for the Living City, it starts on May 4 and has more than a dozen speakers. Most lectures are taking place at the Museum on Eldridge Street at 12 Eldridge Street, between Canal and Division in lower Manhattan, but some will be elsewhere. The New York talks start at 6:30 p.m.  In New York, the talks are free, but people can make a donation if they want. As of late April, the New York lineup of speakers includes broadcast journalist and writer Ray Suarez, May 4; Central Park Conservancy founder, landscape designer and Jane Jacobs Medal recipient Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, June 15; economist Sandy Ikeda, psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove Thompson and architect Ron Shiffman, July 13. Also, architecture critic Paul Goldberger, September 14; writer Adam Gopnik, September 28; Jacobs biographers Robert Kanigel and Peter Laurence, Oct. 6;  Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, November 9; former New York City transportation commissioner and Jane Jacobs Medal recipient Janette Sadik-Khan, November 16; Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation president Gary Hattem, November 30; sociologist Saskia Sassen and sociologist Richard Sennett, December 7. Roberta Brandes Gratz, urban critic, author and president of the Center for the Living City, will give a Jacobs lecture in Tokyo, Japan, on July 30. Goldsmith will give a Jacobs lecture in Hyderabad, India in July. Jaime Lerner, an architect, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, and leader in urban acupuncture, will give a Jacobs lecture in Salt Lake City in September. Other speakers, dates to be determined, include New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman; New Orleanian writer Lolis Eric Elie; New Orleans radio program host Gwen Tompkins; Brazilian urban planner Roberto Rocco; African community activists Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanovea; New Orleans architect Steven Bingler; architect and critic Michael Sorkin, and historian Richard Rabinowitz. The Jane at Home exhibit, featuring personal items from Jacobs’s estate, is on display now and runs through May 8 at Urbanspace Gallery, 401 Richmond Street West in Toronto, Canada. It was curated by Jacobs’s son, Jim. A two day symposium entitled “Jane Jacobs 100 – Her Legacy and Relevance in the 21st Century,”  will be held at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands on May 24 and 25. The organizer is educator and urban planner Roberto Rocco. There are hundreds of Jane’s Walks throughout the year.  All have different themes and different objectives. There are preservation-oriented walks, waterfront walks, horticultural walks. According to Goldsmith, individuals or groups can decide where they want to walk and what they want to talk about, post it on one of the website calendars, and take it from there. What would Jacobs think about all this? She supported certain causes before her death, such as the formation of a Center for the Living City, Goldsmith said. But in other cases, “we never knew what Jane might have thought. You never knew what her reaction would be. She was a modest person who didn’t think of herself as an activist. She wanted to be writing. To have her so celebrated, I would imagine she would be a little embarrassed by all the attention.”
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Revamping Astor Place-Cooper Square for pedestrians and public space

Exemplifying the eternal Robert Moses-Jane Jacobs dialectic, New York’s Astor Place-Cooper Square area has long reflected too much Bob and not enough Jane. Excessive vehicular space has bred human-car conflict points, with pedestrians facing “a super-wide roadway . . . unclear at various traffic lights which way you are supposed to cross,” as noted by Claire Weisz of WXY (formerly Weisz & Yoes). The neighborhood around Cooper Union has become a midrise mélange, ill-serving its role as a campus and gateway between NoHo and the East Village. The chief open space is the under-lit, fenced-off Cooper Triangle, habitable mainly by rodents: A wasted opportunity in the park-starved area between Washington and Tompkins Squares.

Change hasn’t come quickly, but it’s coming. WXY has partnered with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), Transportation (DOT), and Parks and Recreation (DPR), as well as with landscape architect Quennell Rothschild & Partners, lighting designer Linnaea Tillett, plantsman Piet Oudolf, and contractor Triumph Construction, to remap streets and upgrade the plazas. Adhering closely to the 2011 iteration of a plan vetted in community meetings since 2008, the team is creating an environment that blends landscaping and infrastructure: high-efficiency lighting, granite benches, stepped seating, bicycle racks, a new water main, catch basins, center medians, bioswales, and a dignified allée framing the Foundation Building. Construction began in 2013, and DDC projects opening this summer.

Anticipating Vision Zero by several years, Weisz said, “The plan tried to rationalize the desire lines with the actual street layout,” correcting dangerous conditions. At Fifth and Sixth Streets, “you would find yourself in the middle of Third Avenue without being able to cross the street at a normal crosswalk,” and the subway-entrance island between Eighth and Ninth was “really narrow for the amount of people on it.” With vehicles banned from eastern Astor Place and from Cooper Square below Sixth Street, “you’ll be able to walk pretty easily from Fifth Street all the way  to the subway without having to cross traffic.” A tree-lined Alamo Plaza will replace two lanes of Astor Place, and an 8,000-square-foot Village Plaza will emerge from Cooper Square’s west sidewalk, replacing disorienting lanes and dead zones of striped-off asphalt.

“Essentially, the goal is to continue to encourage the street ballet of the neighborhood,” Weisz said.

“We believe this particular design takes the approach of Jane Jacobs to create spaces that favor the community,” said DDC spokesperson Shavone Williams, stressing community outreach from design through construction.

The DDC “was very much a co-designer on this rather than a client working with consultants,” Weisz said. “[The collaboration was] amazing—we have three agencies, almost with equal billing here, and two community boards.” Maintenance partners include Village Alliance for the Alamo and subway plazas, DPR for Cooper Triangle, and Grace Church School for the Village Plaza.

WXY’s design signature includes zipper benches and environmentally friendly cast-iron drinking fountains developed for DPR (shaped to accommodate water bottles and to vent wastewater into planters and gravel, not hard pipes). Distinctive black cobra-head davit poles will support energy-efficient LED fixtures above Village Plaza. Swales will enhance storm drainage, reducing combined sewer overflows. Tony Rosenthal’s rotating cube Alamo, currently off-site for restoration, will return to its original position.

Village Alliance, City Lore, and other cultural activists have worked with DOT to reinstall components of Jim Power’s Mosaic Trail—“a treasure map” revealing local history, said Bowery Poetry Club proprietor Bob Holman, a City Lore board member. “That the city, which has so long ignored this treasure, is helping to renovate the poles displaced by the renovation and will install them as a piece of public art,” Holman said, “is New York City at its best.” With varied color temperatures distinguishing pedestrian spaces, streets, and buildings, the team expected that “Power’s ceramics would really pop.”

Weisz foresees a return of informal vibrancy as the plazas draw lunchers, seniors, performers, students, and others (Though not nocturnal revelers: The Triangle will be locked at night). By inviting people to linger, these plazas may help energize local businesses assaulted by chain stores and rocketing commercial rents.

Interruptions in Manhattan’s street grid represent the revenge of the organic and historic against the hyper-rational. Sites that syncopate the 1811 plan’s marching rhythm are both robust and sensitive: They are activity magnets, yet they create welcome eddies in urban flows. 

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Bach to the Future: Gabriel Calatrava creates malleable architecture for “The Art of the Fugue”
Like cheese and crackers, music and architecture is a natural pairing. Last November, Steven Holl debuted his ballet, Tesseracts of Time. This year is shaping up to be a promising one for synergy between the two practices: A Marvelous Orderthe opera based on Jane Jacobs' and Robert Moses' epic feud, is in previews this March, and last weekend, concertgoers at the 92nd Street Y's "Seeing Music" festival were treated to a Gabriel Calatrava–designed installation that dialogues with Bach's “The Art of the Fugue." The installation, mounted in a 24-foot-by-17-foot frame, is meant to evoke the strings on musical instruments, Bach's fugues, and a game of Cat's Cradle, the children's game played with an endlessly transfigured loop of string. While the Brentano String Quartet performed Bach's piece live, dancers manipulated Calatrava's installation in response to the music. New shapes, spaces, and patterns are created as the dancers work. “My fascination with moving architecture inspired me to design a set piece that serves as both a work of art and a functional installation that reacts to music,” Calatrava said in a statement. In the video below, he dives into the design process and the challenge of syncing architecture, a medium with material products, to music, tangible but non-physical. The Calatrava name should be eminently familiar to anyone who follows architecture. The younger Calatrava, trained as an engineer, is now an architect, working on his own and with his father's firm, Santiago Calatrava Architects & Engineers. An affinity for white, sinewy geometries may run in the family: the 92Y piece recalls the elder Calatrava's recently completed Museum of Tomorrow and the soon-to-open World Trade Center Transportation Hub, below. For those interested in checking out more musical pairings, the 92Y’s “Seeing Music” festival runs through February 18.
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Public realm champion Carol Ross Barney wins AIA Illinois Gold Medal
The seventh AIA Illinois Gold Medal has been presented to Carol Ross Barney of Ross Barney Architects. Barney’s career spans 40 years of practice in Chicago, in which her firm has taken on civic, social, and cultural projects across the country. Known as a champion for the public’s right to design excellence her work often is designed for the public realm. Outside of her practice, Barney is the founder and first president of the Chicago Women in Architecture. Barney is also the first woman to win AIA Illinois’ Gold Medal. Most recently in Chicago, Ross Barney Architects has received praise for its design of the newest portion of the Chicago River Walk. Just to the south, a new elevated public train station of her design has also recently opened. A new central chiller on the south campus of OSU highlights Barney’s commitment to high design even when it comes to infrastructural projects. Remarking on her way with mixing civic, social, and public design, Mike Waldinger, executive vice president of AIA Illinois remarked, “it’s as if Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs had a secret child.” Along with the Gold Medal, Ross Barney Architects received the AIA Illinois Daniel Burnham Honor Award for the Master Plan of the 606, a new linear park recently finished on the northwest side of Chicago.  
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Renwick Ready
Joshua Yetman / Courtesy Renwick Gallery

The Renwick Gallery in Washington, D. C., called the oldest “purpose-built art museum” in the U. S., will reopen to the public on November 13, following a two-year, $30 million renovation.

The event is a highlight of the fall 2015 arts season in Washington. There will be a black-tie gala dinner on November 8, three new books on the museum, and an inaugural exhibition featuring nine prominent contemporary artists.

Then there’s the building itself, which opened in 1863 and was designed in the Second Empire style. With the project’s completion, Washington gains a thoroughly renovated landmark with restored historic features and an entirely new infrastructure that will enable it to continue serving as the home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s (SAAM) Contemporary Craft and Decorative Arts program.

The 156-year-old building, which stands across from the White House at Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street NW, was saved from the wrecking ball in the 1960s at the urging of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The original architect was James Renwick, Jr., for whom the building was later named. John Carl Warnecke and Hugh Newell Jacobsen worked on it in the 1960s. Westlake Reed Leskosky is the architectural design and engineering firm for the latest renovations.

Jacqueline Kennedy examines plans for the Renwick, left. Leo Villareal’s installation complements a lighter, more contemporary color palette and gilded details in the Grand Staircase looking toward the Octagon Room, right.
Robert Knudsen / Courtesy JFK Presidential Library; Ron Blunt / Courtesy Renwick Gallery

“The Renwick Gallery is the first purpose-built art museum in America and an architectural masterpiece. We are delighted to renew this great historic building for the next half-century,” said Elizabeth Broun, the director of SAAM.

Renwick drew architectural inspiration from the Louvre in Paris, Broun noted. “When the building first opened,” she said, “it was hailed as the ‘American Louvre,’ symbolizing the young nation’s aspirations for a distinctive culture.”

“It’s important architecturally because it helped launch the Second Empire style in the United States,” said Charles J. Robertson, deputy director emeritus of SAAM and author of American Louvre: A History of the Renwick Gallery Building, available in December.

Prakash Patel Photography / Courtesy Renwick Gallery

As part of the project, contractors removed false ceilings to reveal two long-concealed ceiling vaults on the second floor. They restored the original 19th-century window configuration throughout and repaired original moldings. They upgraded art storage areas, repointed exterior brick, repaired stucco, remodeled restrooms and replaced mechanical systems.

Public spaces are now illuminated entirely with LED lighting. The Grand Stair has a new red carpet by French architect Odile Decq—another sign of French influence in the building.

Of the three books, Robertson’s American Louvre traces the building’s history and innovations. Craft for a Modern World, The Renwick Gallery Collection, by Nora Atkinson, focuses on the permanent collection. On Wonder, by Nicholas Bell, documents the debut exhibition.

The refurbished “Octagon Room” will contain an exhibit about the building’s history.

Wonder, the inaugural exhibition, features installations by Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin, and Leo Villareal.

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Tropes of a Storm
A Live Oak that the author uses as the metaphor for New Orleans' resilience.
Randy Fertel / Courtesy Nation Books

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt their City
By Roberta Brandes Gratz
Nation Books, $27.99

A recent essay on Hurricane Katrina by geographer Richard Campanella offers a canny glimpse of a catastrophe’s utility as an instrument of politics. Noting that “most incoming freshmen at the New Orleans university where I teach know Katrina ‘the trope’ much better than Katrina the actual incident,” he implies that when people insist upon the event as a climate change bellwether, as the symbol of a broken social contract, or as the embodiment of government failure, they are inadvertently stripping away its literal meanings.

Amid the many books and articles published to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the storm and subsequent levee failure, Roberta Brandes Gratz’s book We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt their City is not innocent of this tendency. It is nevertheless a welcome contribution to an animated conversation about the city and its uncertain future.

Gratz’s Katrina “tropes” are government incompetence and the redemptive power of grassroots action. The villains of her story are, by and large, FEMA, sclerotic city agencies, and politically connected contractors who produced little of value despite being awarded billions of recovery dollars from the federal government. Her strong-willed, energetic heroines and heroes, by contrast, take site- and neighborhood-based rebuilding into their own hands and achieve spectacular end-runs around bureaucratic obstructions.

Courtesy Nation Books

The good guys—much like Gratz herself—understand the intrinsic value of historic preservation, appreciate vernacular architecture, and abhor cultural homogenization. They also incorporate sustainability and resiliency principles into restored landscapes and buildings, aligning with the theme of “living with water” as opposed to resisting it. In this recovery narrative, elite city planners, clueless or depraved government functionaries, and return-obsessed developers are in many cases outmatched by grassroots civic groups and small, local entrepreneurs.

This is an appealing juxtaposition, one that Gratz is eloquent in arguing. Brought alive in these pages, the indifference and condescension of powerful actors in both government and the private sector toward people trying to put right their homes and lives is staggering. For example, homeowners in the Lower Ninth Ward, an isolated low-wealth (but not, contrary to official myth, low-lying) neighborhood on the east bank of the Mississippi River, faced blatantly discriminatory restrictions on access to their property for months after the storm, and then confronted perverse regulations that based payouts for rebuilding not on costs but on depressed pre-Katrina home values. In light of such barriers, the countless small triumphs described here—a renovated house, a bayou overlook restoring a long lost view to Lower Ninth Ward residents, an implemented recovery plan in the Broadmoor district—are truly impressive.

Gratz implies that these accomplishments merit a more central role in the post-Katrina story than continuing residential vacancy and the plight of renter households (for whom policy did less than nothing), and one is inclined to concur. Still, the book unhelpfully perpetuates the idea that larger-bore efforts to influence (let alone staff) the government are a hopeless cause. The rental housing crisis (abetted by the cowardly destruction of the bulk of the city’s public housing), the persistence of low-wage work, and the region’s coastal restoration challenges require systemic action and leadership. But there is little discussion in the book about how to promote effective, equity-minded governance on a level broader than that of the neighborhood.

All of this will be familiar to readers of Gratz’s previous books and to readers of Jane Jacobs, on whose work Gratz models her own. But if the book is formulaic at points, Gratz also has a keen eye for the way in which the systems that skewed in favor of the white and the comfortable in the storm’s immediate aftermath are now skewing that way in more subtle but equally troubling ways. She vividly explains why the ongoing privatization of schools and transit, decisions to dedicate scarce resources to infrastructure for wealthy tourists, epidemic police brutality, and the failure to maximize the ecological potential of new amenities like the Lafitte Greenway are of enormous consequence in 2015. What is most valuable about We’re Still Here Ya Bastards at this moment of mass retrospection is its intelligent glance forward at upcoming struggles, and its argument that the actions of elected officials and administrators in Washington, Baton Rouge, and Orleans Parish matter as much now as they have at any time in the past ten years.

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Real Collaboration
A self-help housing project lead by Roger Katan on Tumaco Island off the coast of Colombia, 1983.
Roger Katan

Building Together: Case Studies in Participatory Planning and Community Building
By Roger Katan with Ronald Shiffman
New Village Press, $19.95

Among the most overused and least understood words these days are “working with the community” and “community input.” Developers, designers, and planners bring a project to a community and then try to “work with” that community on its acceptance; they tinker somewhat in response to “public input.” But they come to “educate” the community, not to “be educated” by it, and fail to recognize that local wisdom trumps distant expertise more times than not. Missed is recognition that building on that local wisdom offers the best chance of project acceptance and success.

In Building Together: Case Studies in Participatory Planning and Community Building, designer Roger Katan and planner Ronald Shiffman illustrate the true meaning of collaborative design and planning through which the destiny of a community remains in local hands. Examples are offered with a great substantive and geographic range: a new multi-service center and renovating buildings to create a settlement house combined with elderly housing in East Harlem; a locally-conceived housing cluster in the Paris suburb of Meudon, France; accommodating the expansion of a local manufacturer without undermining its surrounding residential neighborhood in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; working with a self-help community of homeless people to develop self-built and self-managed housing in Pereira, Colombia. There are more, a diverse assortment, even a micro-credit union as a tool for neighborhood self-management in 1976 that evolved by 2012 into a national savings federation in Burkina Faso in West Africa.


Courtesy New Village Press

None of these efforts are new, which means each story is revealed over time from creation to completion. But in one sense, they are timeless, all with relevance to the needs of diverse societies today. But one key to them all is what Shiffman calls “consistency over long periods of time. No one parachutes in and leaves.”

Katan and Shiffman followed different paths and came together in the 1960s, an interesting but challenging time. Moroccan-born, educated at the École des Beaux Arts and MIT, Katan had left a dream design job with the architectural firm of Louis Kahn in Philadelphia to live and work in East Harlem while teaching at Pratt Institute; Shiffman, Pratt-educated in architecture and planning, was then a graduate student hired to work for a unit at Pratt that was to morph into the Pratt Center for Community and Environmental Development inspired by the writing of Jane Jacobs. Shiffman had just been asked by Pratt to work with residents to develop a program to address urban decline in Bedford Stuyvesant; that work led to the establishment of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the first community-based development effort in the country. They worked together on some of the projects offered in the book, but mostly they were following parallel paths, admiring and learning from each other. These projects represent the early stirrings of what has become known as “advocacy planning.” They were young, somewhat idealistic, but with skills of great value to people who needed everything and not a clue where to begin, surely a circumstance true today. Young professionals, take note.

Nineteen-sixties urban renewal was at its height. Few were the Davids to this Goliath. Maybe Katan and Shiffman were too young to know better, but they forged ahead and, in the process, learned lessons worth absorbing today. Urban renewal may not be today’s Goliath, but surely high stakes, high impact development of all kinds is everywhere.

Some of the lessons offered here have been learned to some extent. More cross-disciplinary collaborative work is occurring; some silos are being penetrated. Indigenous building techniques from around the globe are gaining respect and new adherents. The public in some places is better educated about development, often eager to offer sophisticated alternatives to inappropriate plans. Local empowerment is not an alien concept. Professionals are learning to listen, really listen, to citizen voices making possible new and formidable partnerships. Equity and socially responsible design are not the foreign concepts they were in the 1960s, but are not as prevalent as they should be. The winds of change are out there bringing more of these ideas and practices to the forefront. A new generation seems poised to take up the challenge. For inspiration and some ideas for directions to follow, no better place to begin can be found than in the pages of this book.