JANE JACOBS’ NEIGHBORHOOD
Mythic Hudson Street! America’s favorite urban ‘hood!
On Hudson Street, Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities about her beloved West Village neighborhood. She almost sold Americans on urban living.
Still a mixed neighborhood, but less than then.
Today, yuppies and gays are the dominant groups.
Fourth Street at Sheridan Square. Complex urban space makes a crossroads.
Relics of old Bohemia, as in the Latin Quarter.
Synagogue: superimposed Greek temples on a house lot.
Beatniks and kids persist, but in reduced numbers.
New Yorkers are generally, but not always, in better shape than suburbanites.
West 11th at West 4th: to see how this intersection is possible, consult the map.
An irregular grid. The Village predates the Commissioners’ Plan (1811), whereby Manhattan acquired its rigid grid.
Jacobs’ West Village is bounded by Seventh Avenue, 14th Street, West Street and Houston Street. Its main street is Hudson Street. It has short blocks.
Many intersections are not at right angles.
Sparely populated suburbs may look appealing, said Jacobs, but without an active sidewalk life, without the frequent, serendipitous interactions of many different people, "there is no public acquaintanceship, no foundation of public trust, no cross-connections with the necessary people--and no practice or ease in applying the most ordinary techniques of city public life at lowly levels."
"It is possible in a city street neighborhood to know all kinds of people without unwelcome entanglements, without boredom, necessity for excuses, explanations, fears of giving offense, embarrassments respecting impositions or commitments, and all such paraphernalia of obligations which can accompany less limited relationships,"
Extra Virgin on Fourth Street. Commercial mixed with residential throughout.
Tenements on Bank Street, some missing cornices.
Perry Street: newly famous for Meier buildings, down by the riverside.
”Jacobs argued that when a neighborhood is oriented toward the street, when sidewalks are used for socializing and play and commerce, the users of that street are transformed by the resulting stimulation: they form relationships and casual contacts they would never have otherwise.” –-Malcolm Gladwell
The West Village, Jacobs pointed out, was blessed with a mixture of houses and apartments and shops and offices and industry, which meant that there were always people "outdoors on different schedules and... in the place for different purposes."
“The idea is to exchange private space for public space, where residents agree to live in tiny apartments in exchange for a wealth of nearby cafés and stores and bars and parks. The West Village forces its residents outdoors.” –-M.G.
Tall buildings generally indicate one of the numbered avenues thrust through the Village in the Twenties to connect Midtown with Downtown. These avenues are too wide; they function as speedways and somewhat fragment the Village.
Fanciful Twenties apartments. A man’s home is his…
Sober brownstones, one awaiting a buyer with a few million.
Abrupt scale change at Eighth Avenue. Aircraft carrier looms. A cornucopia of styles.
Belgian restaurant, Belgian building.
Two oldtimers share a fire escape.
An elegant late Federal doorway influenced by Robert Adam.
Abingdon Square, a Hudson Street oasis: the West Village’s central square. Park as living room, park as study.
Park as nursery.
Park as bedroom.
Park as dining room.
Approaching the fabled White Horse.
The White Horse Tavern, where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. Now mobbed by tourists, for whom outdoor tables are set up. There were none for the windy boy and a bit.
There’s even room for overflow, across the street.
Inside also the tourists teem. The guy with the paper couldn’t care less. Must be a regular; does this every Saturday, tourists or not.
Jacobs rhapsodizes the White Horse of yore: home to longshoremen and writers and intellectuals--a place where, on a winter's night, “as the doors open, a solid wave of conversation and animation surges out and hits you."
In the north, Hudson terminates at 14th Street. Here begins the Meatpacking District, New York’s current hot find. On weekdays, the sidewalks still run with blood till 8 am, but less than before. The rest of the day, they run with Rolling Rock.
The view from Markt, a big old Belgian brasserie noted for its mussels and its pick-up bar. Diagonally across Fourteenth they have added three stories to an old building.
Greenwich Avenue, Eighth Avenue and Fourteenth Street converge in a most Parisian manner, complete with flatirons.
More Paris: wet cobbles, slick boutiques, frameless glass and woven café furniture. The cab tells you it’s New York.
Paris again, this time the Sixteenth, complete with graffiti.
If you park here, you might encounter Nicole Kidman. She lives right next door…
…along with Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart—no, she is temporarily residing elsewhere.
A stack of celebrities wrapped in glass by Richard Meier.
Silver gloss extends to lobby.
He does not appear able to design an ugly building.
The trend is to riverview living. Need at least a BMW for that.
No wonder!: across West Street and the Hudson, the Jersey City skyline beckons. Jersey City??
Jersey City? Wasn’t even there last decade. Now it’s like Houston or Hong Kong in a distorting mirror. The big, sinister tower at left is by Cesar Pelli. He has one like it in Hong Kong, only twice as high. And you should see the view when the cruise ships glide down the river. That’s when my camera batteries gave out.
Manhattan view is not so shabby either, though missing a pair of famous buildings.
Turf on pier is plastic.
Saturday, the day before the Gay Pride Parade, the boys were out and swarming.
“Jane Jacobs did not win the battle she set out to fight. The West Village remains an anomaly. Most developers did not want to build the kind of community Jacobs talked about, and most Americans didn't want to live in one.” –Malcolm Gladwell.
There are exceptions:
New old town house.
From a curious article on -–of all things— the theory of office landscape:
Designs For Working
Copyright 2000, Malcolm Gladwell
Why your bosses want to turn your new office into Greenwich Village
"The Death and Life of Great American Cities" was a controversial book, largely because there was always a whiff of paternalism in Jacobs's vision of what city life ought to be.
Chelsea--the neighborhood directly to the north of her beloved West Village--had "mixtures and types of buildings and densities of dwelling units per acre... almost identical with those of Greenwich Village," she noted. But its long-predicted renaissance would never happen, she maintained, because of the "barriers of long, self-isolating blocks."
She hated Chatham Village, a planned "garden city" development in Pittsburgh. It was a picturesque green enclave, but it suffered, in Jacobs's analysis, from a lack of sidewalk life.
She wasn't concerned that some people might not want an active street life in their neighborhood; that what she saw as the "self-isolating blocks" of Chelsea others would see as a welcome respite from the bustle of the city, or that Chatham Village would appeal to some people precisely because one did not encounter on its sidewalks a "solid wave of conversation and animation." Jacobs felt that city dwellers belonged in environments like the West Village, whether they realized it or not.
Human behavior, after all, is shaped by context, but how it is shaped--and whether we'll be happy with the result--we can understand only with experience. Jane Jacobs knew the virtues of the West Village because she lived there.
What she couldn't know was that her ideas about community would ultimately make more sense in the workplace. From time to time, social critics have bemoaned the falling rates of community participation in American life, but they have made the same mistake.
The reason Americans are content to bowl alone (or, for that matter, not bowl at all) is that, increasingly, they receive all the social support they need--all the serendipitous interactions that serve to make them happy and productive--from nine to five.
Village landmark: Jefferson Library.