Posts tagged with "Jane Jacobs":

AN picks this year’s most promising Jane’s Walks, a free celebration of NYC urbanism

Just in time for spring, the venerable New York nonprofit Municipal Art Society (MAS) is hosting its annual Jane's Walk NYC, an on-foot (but by no means pedestrian) celebration of the city's architecture urbanism. This year, over 200 New Yorkers have volunteered to show others interesting buildings and sites around their neighborhoods. The walks, all of which are free, are named for beloved urbanist Jane Jacobs and are held annually on May 4 through 6 all over the world in her honor. Below, The Architect's Newspaper (AN) rounded up 13 of the most interesting strolls for architecture aficionados, from the Orphan Asylum and bird (mural) walks in Manhattan, to midcentury modern in Queens, and terra-cotta in Tottenville. All event descriptions are from MAS; head on over to mas.org/janes-walk-nyc for more details on the weekend's programs. Monumental Fire
"The Firemen’s Monument, is one of the most beautiful architectural elements of Riverside Park. We’ll contemplate the history and significance of this memorial plaza – a combination of public sculpture and landscape architecture. The walk will continue into the adjoining neighborhood, where we’ll consider Jane Jacob’s notion that the streetscape facilitates safety. Fire-protection infrastructure and firehouses will be discussed along the way."
Queens Modern: Mid-Century Architecture of Forest Hills and Rego Park
"This walk will look at the development of Forest Hills and Rego Park from the 1930s to 1960s along Queens Boulevard, exploring how these neighborhoods developed and continue to change. We’ll explore the diverse architecture on and off the boulevard, from apartment towers to parks and synagogues to civic buildings. The walk will end at Rego Park Jewish Center (possibly with a visit inside)."
The Historic Arts and Crafts Houses of Douglas Manor 
"Join us for a walk back through time, to nearby Douglas Manor, a century old residential neighborhood overlooking the Long Island Sound that has the largest collection of Arts and Crafts style houses in New York City, including three by master Gustav Stickley. Our sojourn through this NYC-designated Historic District culminates with refreshments and a reception in the garden of a picturesque 1911 gambrel roofed Arts and Crafts style gem. This walk is co-sponsored by the Douglaston Local Development Corporation and the Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society."

The Art and Architecture of Park Avenue

"Everyday over 700,000 New Yorkers pass through Midtown along Park Avenue to and from Grand Central Terminal. This is a part of the City where, in a few blocks, you can see many of the forces that have shaped our city. There are icons of architecture (Midtown Modernism) and capitalism such as the Lever, the Seagram, and the Chrysler building. There are icons of real estate such as the Grand Hyatt and Helmsley. There are great clubs and great churches."

The Audubon Bird Murals Project
"Audubon Mural Project is an exciting effort by National Audubon Society and Gitler Gallery to create murals of 314 birds in northern Manhattan. As all the birds painted are threatened by climate change, the project is designed not only to portray the beauty of the birds, but also to make us aware of the challenges they face. In addition to seeing about 30 murals, we will visit Audubon’s impressive grave site in Trinity Cemetery at 155th & Broadway."
POPS: Privately Owned Public Spaces
"Harvard Professor Jerold S. Kayden and New York City Department of City Planning POPS Program Manager Stella Kim will visit some of the City’s celebrated and lesser known privately owned public spaces. How are these outdoor and indoor spaces contributing to the lives of those who live and work in the city? How do they function for visitors to the city? What can be done to make they function better for all?" Uncovering the City’s Scottish Roots
"Two representatives from the American-Scottish Foundation will trace the contributions to New York’s history by Scottish architects, designers and engineers, from colonial to modern times, focusing on Lower Manhattan." Tottenville’s Terra Cotta Legacy
"The Atlantic Terra Cotta Co. (ATCC) was the world’s largest manufacturer of architectural terra cotta. Join us as we explore the former site of ATCC on Tottenville’s waterfront where several repurposed buildings still exist. Conditions permitting, we’ll explore the shoreline (wear appropriate shoes), dotted with 100 yr. old remnants from the past. Optional: continue to the Terra Cotta Sculpture Garden opening, Biddle House, Conference House Park." Lost Carmansville: Manhattan’s Last Village
"We’ll explore parts of the village of Carmansville along the Hudson in what is now Hamilton Heights. We’ll find a few almost-hidden relics from the village days and learn about the history of the place and the village founder, Richard Carman. Please note: walk includes steep hills and staircases. We will visit a cemetery, where pets are not allowed." La Magia de Brooklyn Heights en Español

"This tour, led in Spanish, explores the greatness of Brooklyn Heights, from a small original Dutch Settlement to becoming the first historical district in NYC in 1965. We will admire the variety of its architecture, its elegant residences, great churches, hotels and institutional buildings. There are hundreds of stories and artists that made it their home. And yes, there was a big struggle to preserve this unique neighborhood. Come and join us!"

Gowanus Landmarks—Make It So!

"As Gowanus prepares for a potential neighborhood re-zoning, join Gowanus resident and preservationist Brad Vogel for a walking tour of approximately two dozen structures proposed for city landmark status. The sites—largely cataloging the industrial character of Gowanus, along with some residential sections—were proposed by a coalition of local groups during the Gowanus Places planning study in 2017."

Planning and Preservation on West 14th Street
"14th St. has been home to communities, architecture, storied NYC establishments and more. This border street Village on the south, Chelsea on the north, teems with public art; former row houses; the first Spanish-speaking Catholic parish in NYC, Our Lady of Guadalupe; Art Deco Salvation Army building (finally landmarked!), and much more. Led by Save Chelsea President Laurence Frommer and GVHSP’s Director of Research and Preservation Sarah Bean Apmann." City College and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum: Institutions Through Time

"We invite you to join us on an architectural perspective of the City College of New York and the former Hebrew Orphan Asylum (currently The Jacob H. Schiff Park). From the bustling Gothic campus, to the summer concerts at Lewisohn Stadium and student life in the old Orphan Asylum. CCNY and the surrounding institutions served the disenfranchised and those seeking a better life. We will remember these places in this walk."

Descriptions have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jane Jacobs’ formative years take surprising turns in latest biography

Becoming Jane Jacobs By Peter Laurence University of Pennsylvania Press $29.99 Peter Laurence’s Becoming Jane Jacobs opens in 1935. This is when the 19-year-old Jane Butzner, fresh out of high school, infused with a love of poetry and driven by a streak of rebelliousness, left Scranton, Pennsylvania, and headed for New York City, bent on becoming a writer. The book closes 25 years later, in 1961, on the eve of the publication of her classic Death and Life of the Great American Cities. This scrupulously and minutely documented intellectual biography, based on extensive original archival research, set against a detailed history of urban policies adopted between the early Roosevelt and late Eisenhower administrations, reveals how the mind-set of the legendary author and activist was formed in the intervening years. This formative period breaks into two parts. The first stretches from 1935 to 1952. Two things are surprising during this period. One is that Jacobs was only tangentially interested in architectural and urban concerns; the other is that she did not get a university education. Indeed, Jacobs’s poor grades in high school ensured that she was turned down when she eventually applied to Columbia University, an experience that nurtured a lifelong abhorrence of academia, in particular of the Ivy League. Left to her own devices, she was obliged to pursue other, out-of the way paths to acquiring knowledge, unconventionally broad and multidisciplinary. It starts when she landed a job as a writer and associate editor for The Iron Age, an industry trade magazine. She then worked as writer, editor, and then bureau chief for Amerika Illustrated, a Roosevelt state department Russian-language wartime propaganda publication. During the subsequent postwar Red Scare in 1949, she was suspected of being a pro-Russian communist sympathizer and taken before the Loyalty Security Board under J. Edgar Hoover. She then spent two years at the extension school at Columbia University for non-degree-earning students, beginning in 1938, where she studied geology, medieval history, psychology, chemistry, embryology, economics, and anthropology. She became so enthralled with her course on constitutional law that she wound up publishing her first book, Constitutional Chaff: Rejected Suggestions of the Constitutional Convention of 178, with Explanatory Argument with Columbia University Press in 1941, based on a term paper. It is still considered a classic among constitutional scholars. Her writings at this time searched to unearth the subterranean nitty-gritty that made things work above ground. Her article “Men Working,” for example, charted the paths of the city’s underground networks beneath manhole covers and other street plaques. At The Iron Age, she immersed herself in the technology and economics of metallurgy and learned about the underbelly of the American industrial economy. The second phase of Jacobs’s apprenticeship begins in 1952, when she was recruited by Douglas Haskell, the new editor-in-chief of the new architecture magazine, Architectural Forum, founded by media mogul Henry Luce. Haskell deserves to be better known, and Laurence has done an excellent job in this direction. As far as Jacobs is concerned, he was a life changer. He hired Jacobs for the same reasons Luce had hired him: She was a consummate professional, and she had absolutely no architectural training. He sent her in his stead to a famous conference at the Graduate School of Design in 1956, where she lambasted Harvard’s Urban Design model, thereby earning more plaudits than anyone else. Laurence’s chapters documenting this period are some of the most fascinating parts of the book. Haskell, a former journalist for The Nation, went for “strictly architectural magazines,” which he said were “fast asleep and snoring” while Eisenhower created the federal Urban Renewal program. Municipal officials like Robert Moses, along with property developers, construction firms, and architects had been waiting since the early 1930s for this kind of (what Jacobs called) “gravy train” situation. Throughout Haskell’s tenure, the journal relentlessly exposed the omnipresence of “slum clearance” associated with Urban Renewal schemes—what James Baldwin referred to more accurately as “Negro Removal.” The resulting looming urban crisis only fanned the flames of Jacobs’s ire. By 1959 she was taking on the corrupt practices of Moses, the New York City Slum Clearance Committee, and real estate developers. She also left Forum to begin work on Death and Life. It had taken 25 years, but she had absorbed the knowledge, discipline, and outrage she needed to become Jane Jacobs. Laurence’s fascinating book has a surprise ending: Jacobs’s adherence to the ultraconservative Friedrich von Hayek, the hero of Margaret Thatcher and the laissez-faire Chicago School of economics. Jacobs not only rejected urban renewal policies but planning in general, favoring the “invisible hand of the market” as a means of “unslumming” neighborhoods.

Developer may tear down Jane Jacobs’ West Village Houses

A housing development in Manhattan that was designed with the help of noted urbanist Jane Jacobs is threatened with demolition. New York-based developer Madison Equities has offered to purchase the West Village Houses, a low-rise development in the West Village containing 420 coop apartments, and wants to tear down all or part of them and replace them with high-rise housing, according to residents and preservationists familiar with the proposal. Bounded by Bank, Morton, Washington and West streets, the development consists of 42 five-story walkup buildings connected by gardens and other common areas. It was planned with Jacobs’ help in the 1960s, and designed by Perkins + Will. The first residences were completed in 1974. Madison Equities made the unsolicited proposal to redevelop the community this fall, and residents have been holding meetings this month to decide how to respond to it. The community’s board of directors has surveyed residents about the proposal and indicated it will seek competing offers before making any decisions. “We find ourselves horrified that such a proposal would be put forward,” one group of residents said in a statement. “We wonder why anyone would want to destroy the fruits of Jane Jacobs’ dream. We know that we have the greatest luxury of all, right here, right now; the luxury of living in the world Jane Jacobs imagined.” Jeffrey Lydon, an architect who specializes in preservation and a former board member who has lived at the West Village Houses for 35 years, said, “This is an enormously successful community. It’s been a great incubator for families, a great investment for people, and a great demonstration of what Jane Jacobs was talking about.” Beyond the residents themselves, preservations are also sounding the alarm. According to Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, “It’s the only development that [Jacobs] had a hand in designing. That gives it significance that extends far beyond Greenwich Village.” What distinguishes the houses is their site planning, which was oriented towards “simple, low-scale buildings with communal space rather than the high-rise options that were considered de rigueur at the time.” The plain brown brick buildings were constructed under the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing subsidy program. In 2002, the owners of the complex announced they were opting out of the program, and many residents faced enormous rent increases. A conversion to cooperative housing was completed in 2006, enabling most of the residents to remain either as owners or renters. Building high-rises on that site would be the “greatest disgrace to what Jane Jacobs wanted,” said architectural historian Francis Morrone. Morrone acknowledged that the buildings themselves are not great architecture, due to a tight budget intended to keep costs down.  “It’s only a very pale reflection of what she had in mind.” What’s significant, Morrone said, is that Jacobs and the other planners were concerned about how the West Village Houses embody “a model for housing in the West Village.” He added, “The scale and color of the materials help that area of the Village keep the character it has.” Madison Equities’ offer comes one year after urbanists around the world celebrated the centennial of Jacob’s birth, on May 4, 1916. Despite their connection to Jacobs, the Houses are not protected by local landmark designation. The development was left out of the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension designated by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2006. Madison Equities declined to discuss the company’s offer. An overview of the proposal released by the community’s board of directors states that Madison Equities has promised guaranteed sale prices for those wishing to sell, and luxury amenities for those wishing to stay. It calls for the residents who wish to stay to move out of their residences while construction is underway, and then move into the new high-rise housing once it's completed. “The fact is, 1,000 people live there, roughly speaking, and 1,000 lives are at stake,” said Robert Kanigel, author of Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs, published last year. “It’s set against the pattern of Manhattan becoming unaffordable for the middle class, and that’s one of the things Jane Jacobs tried to address.” With the expiration of a community-wide tax abatement slated for March 2018, residents have been looking for solutions to keep the apartments affordable.  They say they fear they won’t be able to afford the high real estate taxes the now-sought-after neighborhood commandsResidents say they’ve tried to get help from the Mayor’s office and state legislators, but no solutions are forthcoming. They also referred to a 20-year plan suggested by the city’s Department of Housing, Preservation and Development that would limit sale options for owners, but many owners in their sixties and seventies expressed reservations about it. The Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, did not respond to a request for information. A plan to sell a parking garage the coop owns in order to preserve affordability, put forward by a previous board of directors, is currently still theoretically open for a vote by the owners. But that vote is now being discouraged by the current board members while they decide how to respond to the developer’s offer, say opponents of the demolition plan. Berman said the current “contextual zoning” for the community allows buildings to rise no more than 60 to 65 feet along the street wall and 80 feet within the block, so any proposal for high-rises would require rezoning approval from the city before construction could begin. He said his organization would prefer to see the existing buildings remain and the residents not displaced. Ultimately, he said, “it is our hope that we will be able to find a solution that preserves as much as possible of the original design and the affordability.”

Municipal Art Society’s Jane Jacobs tour to be protested

[UPDATE 5/5/17, MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein issued this response to UPROSE, but as one Brooklynite put it, "Jane herself must have intervened by arranging the weather to rain out today's walking tour."]

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) will host its annual tribute to Jane Jacobs with a series of free guided tours around the city from May 5 to 7.

One of these tours, referred to by the society as "Jane's Walk," will explore the proposed Brooklyn–Queens Connector (BQX) waterfront light rail link. However, that tour is now coming under attack by local residents due to be served by the proposed rail service.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Uprose, Brooklyn's oldest Puerto Rican community–based organization, has written an open letter protesting the walk. In the letter, Yeampierre asks: "What would Jane Jacobs do if she were alive today and learned that real estate developers had appropriated the Municipal Arts Society’s 2017 Jane’s Walk to promote a $2.5 billion streetcar that will deliberately gentrify communities for their own benefit?"

Yempierre’s letter is addressed to MAS’s new president, Elizabeth Goldstein, and asks that they rethink this particular tour. Furthermore, Yeampierre asks, "are your board members invested in these developments along this corridor? We hope there is no conflict of interest."

The light rail plan is not a simple one and MAS may be innocent, but its leadership and board has just been through a bruising battle with its own membership, a process that saw the firing of its last president. One wonders who is running the Society. They should not be sponsoring tours like this without first reaching out to the residents of the community in which the take place or pass through.

On MAS's website, a description of the event reads: "All of the MAS-sponsored walks combine the simple act of exploring neighborhoods with personal observations, local history, and civic engagement. A typical walk is 90 minutes and is free and open to the public."

New documentary delves into the history and legacy of Jane Jacobs

This is a story about our global urban future… It’s also a story about America’s recent urban past, in which bureaucratic, “top down” approaches to building cities… with little or no input from those who inhabit them…. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City shows that anti-democratic approaches to city planning and building are fundamentally unsustainable; a grassroots, “bottom up” approach is imperative to the social, economic, and ecological success of tomorrow’s global cities. …Jane Jacobs… single-handedly undercuts her era’s orthodox model of city planning, exemplified by the massive Urban Renewal projects of New York’s “Master Builder,” Robert Moses.
So reads the official website for the new film, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City which opened the DOC NYC film festival on November 10. It clearly sides with Jacobs’s David rather than the Moses’s Goliath. As Paul Goldberger says, “They were famously at odds with each other. It really did become a war between opposing forces. Today, we’re still fighting these battles across the world.” It’s a great story with large implications for our world. There is compelling archival footage and photos, and a panoply of talking heads including Mary Rowe, Michael Sorkin, Roberta Gratz, Thomas Campanella, Ed Koch, Alex Garvin, and Goldberger. Jacobs’s rich lore is more than just a face-off with Moses (Rowe told me that in the 10 years she worked with Jacobs in Toronto, she never mentioned Robert Moses once). Jacobs saw shades of gray, used her powers of observation to spot “un-average clues” or exceptions, and was unencumbered by the theory and doctrines of the planning practice. The irony is that Jacobs's analysis of what she saw in front of her has now been codified into a gospel to be followed slavishly (Citizen Jane is very different from the imperious Charles Foster Kane, the fictional Citizen Kane). It reminds me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a parody on the Messiah (Brian was born on the same day as his next-door-neighbor, Jesus Christ) who exasperatingly says to his adoring followers, “You must all think for yourselves!” to which they parrot back "WE MUST ALL THINK FOR OURSELVES!” Jacobs was nimble and inventive, a listener and watcher, and then a doer. Jacobs’ lessons are enormous. Although I applaud the filmmaker taking a point-of-view and championing Jacobs, what concerns me is an oversimplification of the story and the facts. Understanding that films can only give broad strokes and focused arguments, we still need to be mindful that there are many factors at work. (The terms “single-handedly” and “undemocratic” in the citation above are clues.) Moses came out of the Progressive Movement in the 1930s and created public spaces such as parks, swimming pools, playgrounds, and beaches to make life better for all. Post-War, he expanded his purview to “construction coordinator” (in all, he held twelve titles such as NYC Parks Commissioner, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman, Head of the State Power Commission—all unelected) which gave him powers over public housing. He declared a war on slums, calling them a cancer, and his solution to the urban blight was to tear down and rebuild. With ample federal funds available, the aim was to erect an “expressway tower city,” in Jacob’s words. Goldberger cites this was a commonly-held belief at the time, but there was a price to be paid, and Jacobs was the lightening rod that pointed this out in stark relief. The light bulb for Jacobs was East Harlem. The neighborhood contains the highest geographical concentration of low-income public housing projects in the United States, 1.54 square miles with 24 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments. Also known as El Barrio or Spanish Harlem, in the un-renovated areas Jacobs observed an ecosystem, not chaos, with a vibrant underlying order, rhythms and complexity, and density as beauty. And she observed that the intentions of the planners in urban renewal developments like this were unmet (when she asked Philadelphia developers why their new structures in Society Hill weren’t working the way they were billed, she says she was told it was because people were stupid and not using the spaces in the right way.) To the filmmakers, the contrast in planner rhetoric and Jacob’s common-sense observation is epitomized by the god-like, birds-eye view from the sky looking down (Moses) vs. the view from the street (Jacobs). Moses’s heartlessness and disregard are shown when he says of the people who had to be displaced to make way for his construction, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs” (attributed to Vladimir Lenin, among others). And he smashed many dozens of eggs to make his plans real. Referring to Jacobs’ book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Campanella says “When Death and Life comes out in the '60s, it’s a clarion call. It’s Martin Luther nailing those 95 theses to the cathedral door. The book is really the first cogent, accessible articulation of a whole set of ideas that questions the mainstream thinking about our cities.” We are shown proof of the insurmountable folly of “urban removal,” evidenced by the blowing up of Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis. In film footage, we are shown that this was not an isolated example; we see the implosion of the Murphy Homes in Baltimore, Lakefront Homes in Chicago, and Mill Creek in Philadelphia dynamited into oblivion, admitting they were colossal mistakes. It’s a complicated picture. Let us not forget that this East Harlem was not the desirable neighborhood it is today. El Barrio was one of the hardest hit areas in the 1960s and 1970s as New York City struggled with drug abuse, race riots, urban flight, gang warfare, the highest jobless rate in New York City, teenage pregnancy, crime and poverty, and a food desert. Tenements were crowded, poorly maintained, and frequent targets for arson. Public housing projects may not have been the ideal solution, but the problems were manifold and many were hungry for modern, clean alternatives. The other big building issue is car traffic. The film shows the 1939 Worlds Fair General Motors Futurama, showcasing highways and pristine cities and suburbs. As the NYC Parks Commissioner, Moses was deeply involved with the fair, so might this be where he became enamored of the highway as the solution to the city’s ills? Is this when he transformed from the pre-war “angel” Moses who built public amenities for the common man to post-war “devil” Moses who destroyed the fabric of the city that is presented here? There is no question that the automobile was given priority by Moses over the street ballet, but the situation is not always that simple. (In New York City, there is no alternative to surface delivery of goods throughout the city, even if you are able to transport by rail or boat to a depot.) The Cross-Bronx Expressway did bifurcate the Bronx and destroy neighborhoods, but can we really blame it for turning the South Bronx into Ft. Apache? No doubt it was a factor, but there was also the crack epidemic, white flight, abandoned buildings, gangs, redlining, arson (remember “the Bronx is Burning”?) and other social, economic, and political forces. With a collective sigh, we are still relieved that the Lower Manhattan Expressway was never built, however the drawings shown to illustrate Moses’s plan are in fact an inventive, futuristic post-Moses scheme by Paul Rudolph funded by the Ford Foundation between 1967-1972 (Moses was out of power by 1968) which featured monorails, people movers, and a surreal Lego-like vertical expanse of housing lining the expressway. Also more complex is the Moses Washington Square plan to extend Fifth Avenue so traffic could go through the park. The opposition by Jacobs in 1958 does not tell the whole story. In the film, there’s a provocative photo from that year sporting a banner that reads “Last Car Through Washington Square” indicating that traffic already traversed the park. In fact, Moses had been trying to revamp traffic plans around the square since the 1930s, first with a circle around the square nicknamed the “Bathmat Plan,” then the “Rogers Plan” in 1947 which also rerouted traffic around the square and removed the fountain. There was opposition each time. As for other uses of documentary materials to bolster an argument rather than being accurate journalistically, this one is personal: I saw my apartment complex, East River Housing, clearly labeled, in a series of shots throughout the film, and used as an example of Moses’s public housing that destroyed neighborhoods; however East River was built as socialist housing by the International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU) and never part of the pubic housing system. No distinction was made, and it is a tower in the park design that actually works. What Jacobs did was right for her neighborhoods, her time, and many axioms are universally true, but they have been taken to be gospel, much the way that modernism was perverted by developers to make easy, cheap, boring buildings rather than a gem like the Seagram Building. The film is as much about the future of cities as it is about the past, but there are few suggestions about how to cope, except to go back to Jacob’s observations and let the old survive. It’s not about finding new solutions or even a new Jane Jacobs. It’s about codifying and simplifying her efforts.  See what you think for yourself—it’s worth a look. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. Directed by Matt Tyrnauer Other architecture and arts films of interest at DOC NYC (November 10 - 17):
  • Ballad of Fred Hersch
  • California Typewriter
  • Chasing Trane
  • David Lynch: The Art of Life
  • Finding Kukan
  • Ken Dewey – This is a Test
  • The Incomparable Rose Hartman
  • L7: Pretend We’re Dead
  • Long Live Benjamin
  • Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures
  • Miss Sharon Jones
  • The Nine
  • The Pulitizer at 100
  • Raving Iran
  • Sacred
  • SCORE: A Film Music Documentary
  • Serenade for Haiti
Shorts:
  • I NY
  • L-O-V-E
  • The Artist is Present
  • The Creative Spark
  • The Sixth Beatle
  • To Be Heard
  • Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present
  • Winter at Westbeth
  • Wonderful Kingdom of Papa Alaev

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.

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 Planetizen.com 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.

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 centerforthelivingcity.org and two sites that keep track of Jacobs-themed walking tours, janeswalk.org and janejacobswalk.org. Jacobs-themed walks in New York are coordinated by the Municipal Art Society at Janes Walk NYC @ MAS.org. 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.”

Jan Gehl Calls On Cities to Design For People, Not For Cars

The Oculus book talk on the new book, How to Study Public Life, at the Center for Architecture with Jan Gehl and his co-author Birgitte Svarre was like seeing the documentary The Human Scale come to life—only with a sense of humor. Gehl’s urban theories have gained a lot of traction, not least in New York City. Jeanette Sadik-Khan went to Gehl's native Copenhagen two weeks into her job as commissioner of NYC's Department of Transportation (along with fellow commissioner of City Planning, Amanda Burden) and experienced the city's pedestrian-over-cars public plazas, rode bicycles on protected bike lanes, and absorbed the lessons of the city that is repeatedly named the most livable in the world. The 77-year-old Gehl traces his crusade back to a New York antecedent, Jane Jacobs' 1961 Death and Life of Great American Cities, published one year after he graduated from architecture school. He was trained to make free-standing buildings that “look nice from an airplane,” but married a psychologist who challenged him: why aren’t you interested in people? Gehl began to observe the behavior of people in cities (people like to cluster near the edges, not stand in the open, for example) and came up with measurable statistics in a series of studies that began to influence policy. In 1962, Copenhagen pedestrianized its first street, Stroeget Street, which began its transformation from a car to a biking and walking city. Today, Copenhagen has seven times more people space than in the 1960s, and all taxis and public transportation are legislated to have bike racks to widen the reach of this preferred mode of transport. I was reminded of the new film, Copenhagen, winner at the Slamdance Film Festival, where the human-scaled city traversed by bike is a main character. Gehl noted that the “Brasilia Syndrome” of cities that look good from the air but not from the ground, is still rampant in China, Dubai, and even in Brooklyn. He calls this birds-eye-view building “birdshit architecture.” His twin devils are the two M’s: modernism and motorists, and he’d prefer to have a Department of Pedestrians to a Department of Transportation (no city yet has taken on the challenge). Perhaps the proof that Gehl’s theories work is that in 2012, New York City was awarded the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize recognizing the transformation of the city during the Bloomberg administration. Books by Jan Gehl available from Island Press: How to Study Public Life, 2013 Cities for People, 2010 Life Between Buildings, 2008

Nominations Sought for Jane Jacobs Medal

jane_jacobs_medal_01 After announcing the winners of the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal last month at Frank Gehry's IAC Building in west Manhattan, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Municipal Art Society are in search of nominees for this year's prize (the awards ceremony was pushed back due to Hurricane Sandy). The groups are accepting online nominations on the Rockefeller Foundation's website through April 30. Among the qualities of a Jacobs Medal winner are that they "Open our eyes to new ways of seeing and understanding our city" and "Challenge traditional assumptions and conventional thinking." Winners will be announced this September.

Opening Salvo Aimed at NYU Expansion

It was the opening shot heard 'round the Village--and the East Village, and SoHo. An overflow crowd gathered at the Center for Architecture last night to rally the troops opposing NYU's twenty year expansion plan. It certainly wasn't the usual black-clad crowd found at the Center. No, these were some good old fashioned Village rabble rousers. The event was organized by the Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, who assured the crowd that the NYU Core plan is "not a done deal." On Tuesday, the university certified proposals with City Planning, thus kicking off the ULURP process for what is likely to become one of the most contentious development debates of 2012. The proposal is, after all,  in the heart of Jane Jacobs country. Just across the street from the Center are the remains of Robert Moses' failed attempt to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway through SoHo after Jacobs and Co. put a halt to the plan. Parcels of land assembled by the Department of Transportation to accommodate the failed highway are now parkland commonly known as the DOT strips. A substantial portion of the 1.3 million square feet NYU wants to build in the area would be placed beneath the strips. The university has proposed designating the strips as parkland after the construction is complete, with the new green space designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. No matter the promises, this was not a crowd that trusts the university. The term "Midtown Zoning" got thrown about with on-message regularity. As did square footage metaphors, such as "bigger than the Waldorf-Astoria," "the size of the Empire State Building," and "three Jacob Javits Convention Centers." Council Member Margaret Chin was on hand to listen, but not to state her pro or con position--despite pressure from the crowd. This month's Community Board 2 subcommittee meetings will no doubt be unusually crowded as they're all dealing with the proposal. If you want to see some New York zoning theater in action, here's a selected breakdown: Land Use:  Mon., 1/9 6PM at The Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Pl. Traffic and Transportation: Tues., 1/10 @ 6:30 NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Pl. room 520 Parks:  Thurs., 1/12 @ 6:30PM at NYU Silver Bldg. 32 Waverly Pl. room 520 Full Board: Thurs., 1/19 @ 6:00PM 116 West 11th Street, Auditorium  

2011 Jane Jacobs Medalists Champion City Life

As we all know, Jane Jacobs was a visionary urban activist and author, whose 1961 publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities had a tremendous impact on how we think about cities and urban planning today. She challenged prevailing assumptions in urban planning at a time when slum-clearing was the norm and emphasized the intricacies and sensitivities of an urban fabric. In 2007, the year after Jacobs died, the Rockefeller Foundation launched the Jane Jacobs Medal, an annual award given to those who stand by Jacobs' principles and whose "creative uses of the urban environment" renders New York City "more diverse, dynamic and equitable." Two awards covering New Ideas & Activism and Lifetime Leadership are presented each year. Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation and Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives took the New Ideas & Activism title for their contributions to public space and transportation while Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal were presented with Lifetime Leadership awards for their contributions to the Tribeca neighborhood. Sadik-Khan was lauded for her standout efforts to increase access to public space, improve traffic flow, and promote sustainable transportation. Her work includes the creation of select bus service routes in the Bronx and Manhattan, the installation of 18 pedestrian plazas, the addition of over 250 miles of on-street bike lanes, car-free summer streets, and a new Street Design Manual. Steely White's leadership is responsible for championing public campaigns to make New York's streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists including traffic calming initiatives and the Safe Routes to School and Safe Routes for Seniors campaigns, which were later adopted by NYC DOT. His organization also led the government call to install new pedestrian spaces and 200 miles of bike lanes between 2006 and 2009. The Lifetime Leadership awards went to Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, co-founder and driving force behind the Tribeca Film festival. Together, the pair not only founded the Tribeca Film Center, the first commercial space in Tribeca dedicated to film, television, and entertainment companies, they also responded to the devastating consequences the 9/11 attacks on Lower Manhattan by founding the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002, whose active presence heavily contributed to the city's long-term recovery. The recipients were decided by a jury comprised of Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Richard Kahan, founder and CEO of the Urban Assembly and recipient of a 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal, Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and Bruce Nussbaum, professor at Parsons The New School for Design.  The 2011 Jane Jacobs Medal was administered by the Municipal Art Society.