Is it time to move beyond Jane Jacobs?

I came across an interesting article about a 2010 panel convened at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City  to discuss a new book by Brown University professor Samuel (“Sandy”) Zipp entitled Manhattan Projects: the Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York.  Among many other things, the panel engaged in an engaging discussion on the respective legacies of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.

Manhattan Side of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in May 1973

Manhattan Side of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in May 1973. (U.S. National Archives.)

Here’s a passage from the article:

For the last few decades, it has been taken as a given by urban planners that “urban renewal,” the approach to planning in the 1950s and early 60s that resulted in bulldozed neighborhoods, modern public housing projects, and lots of urban highways, was a bad way to go about building a city. It’s axiomatic that a better way to go about it is to make the streets better for people and worse for cars, and encourage “mixed-use” development, among other things.

In New York specifically, Robert Moses, the post-war king of roads and “slum-clearance” made infamous by Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, has come to stand for urban renewal, and Jane Jacobs, who idealized and sought to preserve the West Village, and whose Death and Life of Great American Cities is still considered a prerequisite read for students in the field, represents the reaction.

That’s the history. But the cultural and intellectual legacy of urban renewal today is something a lot more complex.

The article ends with this quote:

“We used to say we plan at the scale of Robert Moses, but we judge ourselves by the standard of Jane Jacobs,” [New York City Planning Commissioner Amanda] Burden said in her introduction. “That’s not really true anymore. We judge ourselves now by Jan Gehl’s standard.”

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Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.

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