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Thread: NY Times exhibition review on Jane Jacobs

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Plus
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    NY Times exhibition review on Jane Jacobs

    HEADLINE: Jane Jacobs, Foe of Plans and Friend of City Life
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/25/ar...ef=todayspaper

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    Jane Jacobs did not believe that planners could ever restore life to American cities. Instead she put her faith in the chaos of urban life, in diversity, in people — the grocery store owner, the young mother, the child playing in the street, the watchful busybodies leaning out of windows. Cities were at their best, she wrote, when the “ballet of the sidewalks” was evident, a dance that was intrinsically “spontaneous and untidy.” Her prescription was simply not to get in its way.

    As a demonstration of some of Jacobs’s most important ideas, such displays are excellent; they focus on
    “four key qualities of healthy, vibrant cities”:
    1) Streets should have mixed use, with retail and residences mingled.
    2) Streets should be frequent, without too many long blocks, thus encouraging interaction and exploration.
    3) Buildings should be varied in purpose and design and, ideally, date from different eras. And
    4) urban concentration is important and encourages diversity.
    Any comments about this list of qualities ?

    Has anybody been to Municipal Art Society ?

    If you were to go to New York City would you add a visit to the Municipal Art Society, 457 Madison Avenue. ?
    This exhibit runs until January 5th.

    Their website is worth looking at: http://www.mas.org/index.php Many I think would like their Advocacy List and discussion.
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Personal answers to the 4 questions:

    1. Mixed use: No. We have strived for generations to keep commercial and industrial uses with their inherent nuisances from encroaching into residential areas, thereby devaluing residential use, enjoyment and privacy.

    2. Frequent streets: No. More intersections = more stoppages, and inhibitions to traffic flow. Also, more impervious surfacing is detrimental to recharging ground water systems.

    3. Varied building styles: No. Although a subjective value here, incompatable or incongruent architectural styles and scales without generous separations are visually chaotic and destructive to cohesiveness and a sense of common community.

    4. Concentration and diversity: No. Neither one is a value of proper planning.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Wow, I'm kinda surprised by Streck's answers and here's why they're wrong for cities:

    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    Personal answers to the 4 questions:

    1. Mixed use: No. We have strived for generations to keep commercial and industrial uses with their inherent nuisances from encroaching into residential areas, thereby devaluing residential use, enjoyment and privacy.

    Traditional zoning is a large driver of sprawl due to its inability to accomodate changes in use activity and being wasteful with land due to its discrete handling of land by use. There is no nuisance for having a tea or coffee shop, gift shop, office, pet cleaning service or other local retail or commercial use at the end of a residential city block, in fact, these amenities ADD value to neighborhoods rather than devaluing residential use, enjoyment or privacy.

    2. Frequent streets: No. More intersections = more stoppages, and inhibitions to traffic flow. Also, more impervious surfacing is detrimental to recharging ground water systems.

    More intersections=more alternative routes for traffic flow when one artery is clogged. Having fewer intersections increases the clusterf*ck when one of them is blocked off.

    3. Varied building styles: No. Although a subjective value here, incompatable or incongruent architectural styles and scales without generous separations are visually chaotic and destructive to cohesiveness and a sense of common community.

    Jacobs largely talks about varied building styles from a viewpoint of diverse age in housing stock, this gets at a variety of housing values and thereby, diversity in rents. This allows support of housing options for everyone at every stage in their life, from student, young family, and retiree.

    4. Concentration and diversity: No. Neither one is a value of proper planning.
    I have the feeling that you're not really a planner or you went to a terrible planning school or you only know how to do suburban 'planning' and have no idea what really makes a good urban city work.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Dude, I'm pretty sure Streck was being ironic.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

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    Cyburbian iamme's avatar
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    I didn't initially see the irony either.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca View post
    Dude, I'm pretty sure Streck was being ironic.
    I don't think so - the answers match with what Streck has stated in other posts.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    OK, so, supposing that Streck was not beign ironic but rather trolling like a great big troll...

    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    1. Mixed use: No. We have strived for generations to keep commercial and industrial uses with their inherent nuisances from encroaching into residential areas, thereby devaluing residential use, enjoyment and privacy.
    Who's "we"? How do shops and offices devalue resiential use? I guess that mixed use is why Manhattan has such rock-bottom residential prices.
    Seriously now, mixed use does nto eman building apartments inside oil refinereis, it jsut emasn that teh same general walk radius (not encessarily every buioldign or even block, has a mix of office, retail and housing.

    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    2. Frequent streets: No. More intersections = more stoppages, and inhibitions to traffic flow. Also, more impervious surfacing is detrimental to recharging ground water systems.
    Again, that's why houses built on a highway are so pleasant, especially if you ahve to drive 12 miles to urn it around.

    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    4. Concentration and diversity: No. Neither one is a value of proper planning.
    Conncetration creates viability for a broad range of goods/services. lack of concentration is the reason why most sprawly suburbs are soul-destroyingly boring places.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Before this thread's debate goes too much farther and descends into a hate-match between city-vs.-suburb, let's all take a deep breath and repeat after me:
    ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL !!!!!
    (sorry, mods, if I broke a new rule about font size that I think I saw come up a while back, but this had to said in a big way.)
    Moderator note:
    Yep...super sized font is not necessary. Bolding is fine. No need to shout, though

    Streck: "Values of proper planning" are not the same for cities as they are for suburbs. "Proper planning" is setting up infrastructure, ground rules, and design-guidelines in a way that best helps a given community live and function as well as possible for as long as possible, and that's going to be different for different kinds of places. Jane Jacobs' "4 key values" are meant for cities, especially big ones, not suburbs. What works best in one often seems to fail miserably in the other.
    Your post, Streck, makes it clear that you like low-density suburbia, and don't like high-density city. That's fine and OK, period, on its own merits. It's better for people to live in and plan places they like (and improve them) than destroy places they don't like trying to reshape the place to please their own dreams (a la Robert Moses). But please, DO NOT give in to temptation and overextend your own personal preferences to all places and situations as if they were somehow universal in every detail.

    On that note, in Streck's defense, before anyone piles onto him too hard, he said right from the start that he was giving his personal answers to JNA's question.
    Last edited by mendelman; 22 Oct 2007 at 10:59 AM.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Thanks for SHOUTING VERY LOUDLY, B'lieve.

    It's always conducive to a good debate.

    That said, Jacobs herself pointed out in several isntances in her great book ("Life and Death...") that what she was talking about and what she was prescribing applied to cities and not suburbs. Of course, her book/philosophy implieds criticism of the City as collection of linked-up suburbs.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Well then, granting that Jane Jacobs was referring to urbanism, as well conceding my pro-urban bias, here are my answers.

    2. Frequent streets: No. Some of the most vibrant parts of Manhattan, e.g. the 70s and 80s in the Upper West Side, are also the parts with the longest blocks. Jacobs singled out this area in her book and was expressly wrong about its future.

    1. Mixed use
    4. Concentration and diversity

    To answer these together: Guarded Yes. Cities need areas of mixed use, concentration, and diversity in order to be vibrant and healthy. However, not ALL areas need to be this way. A single-use residential section separated from a single-use commercial section with a mixed-use gathering point in the center can create a very vibrant and healthy urban environment. I would say that cities (and even suburbs) need to have vibrant spots like this scattered throughout the city (say, as the New Urbanists recommend, a 5, 10, or 15 minute walk from every household). But not every street or area needs to be high density and mixed use.

    3. Varied building styles (especially in age). Yes, preservation of old buildings is key to urban vibrancy, not to mention sustainability. OTOH, no, varied building styles do not need to be artificially "built in" to the city - if you are going to build a whole swath of the city at once, there is no point trying to make it look like it has history, as the New Urbanists often try to, with Disneyland-like effects. Age and character needs to develop over time.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by unless View post
    2. Frequent streets: No. Some of the most vibrant parts of Manhattan, e.g. the 70s and 80s in the Upper West Side, are also the parts with the longest blocks. Jacobs singled out this area in her book and was expressly wrong about its future.
    I would concede that the importance that St. Jane placed on this aspect appears somewhat exaggerated. In her defense, however, I would point out that the sheer scarcity of urban, upscale, well-built NY locations, the tremendous success of NY based industries like meeja/arts/finance mean that yes, a short block is not 100% necessary. I still think there is evidence that short blocks are one element that creates a sense of scale/access/choice in the urban form which is strongly positive.

    Quote Originally posted by unless View post
    1. Mixed use
    4. Concentration and diversity
    Again, if we take an absolutistic view, of course Jacobs was ‘wrong’. I think you can take ANY statement in the ‘social sciences’ and find exceptions. Someone in Germany agreed to be killed and eaten a few years back, but the broad statement that people have a strong will to live is not disproved by that event.

    So, back to urbanism: it may not be the case that every single building/block needs to be multi-use and very dense. BUT, it is true that a vibrant area needs multiple ‘corridors’ of mixed retail/office-productive (i.e. not accessible to the general public) use and proximity to residential population to be lively through the day and that this is a positive factor in urban form.

    Quote Originally posted by unless View post
    3. Varied building styles (especially in age). Yes, preservation of old buildings is key to urban vibrancy, not to mention sustainability. OTOH, no, varied building styles do not need to be artificially "built in" to the city - if you are going to build a whole swath of the city at once, there is no point trying to make it look like it has history, as the New Urbanists often try to, with Disneyland-like effects. Age and character needs to develop over time.
    Interestingly, I thought this was the battiest but in Jacob’s seminal book. Her main point (at least outwardly) about buildings of different ages was that they would have different rental/occupation costs. In reality, the differences would only be significant where overall building costs/land value are ‘low’. In current NYC, I don’t think a slightly older building will be long able to allow ‘diverse’ occupants by being cheaper. Supply/demand, the law of one price and all that.

    I take your point about preservation, but it’s not Jacob’s contention, at least IIRC.

    Lastly: let’s be careful with the Disney “insult”. There is a difference between building a classically styled building and pretending it was built a long time ago. Personally, I find that even excellent examples of very similarly styled buildings become a little bit TOO homogeneous, even in the best cases.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca View post
    Thanks for SHOUTING VERY LOUDLY, B'lieve.

    It's always conducive to a good debate.
    Sorry about the shouting everybody.
    I just wanted to stop the thread from going down the attack road (phrases like "big troll" and "I get the feeling...you went to a terrible planning school" popped up awful early) and closing off a good, productive debate.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Why can't we all just get along....

    No good deed goes unpunished, B'lieve
    Life and death of great pattern languages

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    Was actually just down at the exhibit for the first time today. Very intersting and informative exhibit, if you get a chance to go by - and there's only a suggested admission! There are many picture examples of differant city neighborhoods and how they compare in terms of Jacobs beleifs - and they include neighborhoods in the boroughs and not just Manhattan.

    I just think its funny that the Jane Jacobs exhibit is located on Madison Avenue in a neighborhood that somewhat goes against what Jacobs beleived. Huge blocks with massive avenues and massive buildings.

    Nevertheless Jacobs did have a point in her beleifs on how cities work (concentration, mixed use, frequent streets and varied buildings). But this is not to say great urban neighborhoods cannot be created if these beleifs are not followed. There are tons of blocks in the predictable grid system of the city that are very succesfull - especially on the upper east and west sides.

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