Jane Jacobs on Modern New York

In Jacobs’ obituary, Douglas Martin of The New York Times explains her legacy:

In her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” written in 1961, Ms. Jacobs’s enormous achievement was to transcend her own withering critique of 20th-century urban planning and propose radically new principles for rebuilding cities.
At a time when both common and inspired wisdom called for bulldozing slums and opening up city space, Ms. Jacobs’s prescription was ever more diversity, density and dynamism ó in effect, to crowd people and activities together in a joyous urban jumble.

In 2004, Jacobs discussed the current state of things in New York City with The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik:

“I love New York so much still,” she said. “But the traffic is the worst I’ve ever known it to be.” (In a chapter in her new book, she explains briskly why one-way streets, designed to streamline traffic, only complicate it.) “New York still has so much pizzazz, because people make it new every day. Like all cities, it’s self-organizing. People looking for a date on Third Avenue make it into a place full of hope and expectation, and this has nothing to do with architecture. Those are the emotions that draw us to cities, and they depend on things being a bit messy. The most perfectly designed place can’t compete. Everything is provided, which is the worst thing we can provide. There’s a joke that the father of an old friend used to tell, about a preacher who warns children, ‘In Hell there will be wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ‘What if you don’t have teeth?’ one of the children asks. ‘Then teeth will be provided,’ he says sternly. That’s itóthe spirit of the designed city: Teeth Will Be Provided for You.”
The preservation of some of New York’s communities, so threatened in Jacobs’s day, pleases her, but their gentrification worries her. “Whenever I’m here,” she said, “I go back to look at our house, 555 Hudson Street, and I know that I could never afford it now.” She wishes that the city had taken her advice about communities with mixed incomes: “You build low-cost housing in small lots and then see that it’s kept affordable.”

It’s worth a read. One interesting tidbit: Jacobs told Gopnik she believed it would be smart to wait many years before developing the World Trade Center site.

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