Oh, alright, so maybe not every New Urbanist is a parsimonious, fearmongering, paternalistic prig. But it's fair to say that what's gone wrong with New York's architecture and urban development over the last 30 years has a lot to do with the ascendancy of New Urbanist thinking in the City's planning, political, and media establishments — a traditionalist mindset that began to take hold in New York in the 1980s, well before anyone formulated these ideas into an ideology; came into its own in the 1990s, under Rudolph Giuliani; and now is coming home to roost in large-scale projects from ground zero to Atlantic Yards. It's true that any number of the planners, critics, and urban advocacy groups who shape political and public opinion about New York's built environment haven't signed the New Urbanist charter and would never introduce themselves that way at a cocktail party. They are nonetheless functionally New Urbanist, to the extent that they tend to place ultimate faith in the street grid; profess to favor small buildings over large ones; given the choice, would prefer a classical or "vernacular" building to a contemporary one; and are prepared to sacrifice urban vitality to get these things. But solving New York's Architecture Problem is not simply a matter of "outing" New Urbanists in High Places (although that’s probably not a bad place to start). There are other players, too. Joining New York's "professional urbanist" class are (1) inveterate Not-In-My-Back-Yard-ists working to make sure that nothing modern or large or even remotely tall gets built in "back yards" across the City; (2) the most Big Developer-coddling City Hall and City Council in recent memory; and, of course, (3) the Big Developers themselves — three constituencies that couldn't care less about anyone's charter or theory but their own. Together, all of these forces — sometimes working independently, sometimes forging small alliances — have created in New York a mutant strain of Modernist-inflected New Urbanism that is less an agenda than a condition, a word that perfectly registers the sense of a sickness. I call it New Yorbanism. Many will tell you that what I call New Yorbanism is really the long-expected Second Coming of Jane Jacobs — the 21st-century reclamation of the Prodigal Daughter of New York Urbanism. New Urbanist, NIMBYist, and Big Developer-ist actors, each starring in the title role of guess who, strut the stage of New York planning and architecture wearing a thick pancake maquillage of Jane, performing endless variations on the same well-rehearsed soliloquy: "Jane Jacobs is New York. I am Jane Jacobs. I am New York."
Oh, alright, so maybe not every New Urbanist is a parsimonious, fearmongering, paternalistic prig.
But it's fair to say that what's gone wrong with New York's architecture and urban development over the last 30 years has a lot to do with the ascendancy of New Urbanist thinking in the City's planning, political, and media establishments — a traditionalist mindset that began to take hold in New York in the 1980s, well before anyone formulated these ideas into an ideology; came into its own in the 1990s, under Rudolph Giuliani; and now is coming home to roost in large-scale projects from ground zero to Atlantic Yards.
It's true that any number of the planners, critics, and urban advocacy groups who shape political and public opinion about New York's built environment haven't signed the New Urbanist charter and would never introduce themselves that way at a cocktail party.
They are nonetheless functionally New Urbanist, to the extent that they tend to place ultimate faith in the street grid; profess to favor small buildings over large ones; given the choice, would prefer a classical or "vernacular" building to a contemporary one; and are prepared to sacrifice urban vitality to get these things.
But solving New York's Architecture Problem is not simply a matter of "outing" New Urbanists in High Places (although that’s probably not a bad place to start). There are other players, too.
Joining New York's "professional urbanist" class are (1) inveterate Not-In-My-Back-Yard-ists working to make sure that nothing modern or large or even remotely tall gets built in "back yards" across the City; (2) the most Big Developer-coddling City Hall and City Council in recent memory; and, of course, (3) the Big Developers themselves — three constituencies that couldn't care less about anyone's charter or theory but their own.
Together, all of these forces — sometimes working independently, sometimes forging small alliances — have created in New York a mutant strain of Modernist-inflected New Urbanism that is less an agenda than a condition, a word that perfectly registers the sense of a sickness.
I call it New Yorbanism.
Many will tell you that what I call New Yorbanism is really the long-expected Second Coming of Jane Jacobs — the 21st-century reclamation of the Prodigal Daughter of New York Urbanism. New Urbanist, NIMBYist, and Big Developer-ist actors, each starring in the title role of guess who, strut the stage of New York planning and architecture wearing a thick pancake maquillage of Jane, performing endless variations on the same well-rehearsed soliloquy: "Jane Jacobs is New York. I am Jane Jacobs. I am New York."
But neither of the impulses that feed the New Yorbanist condition has anything to do with Jane Jacobs. Line up a New Urbanist, a NIMBYist, and a Big Developer-ist alongside the irrespressible Jane, and it's very clear which of these things is not like the other.
Which begs the question: Where, now, does Jane Jacobs
end and New York begin?
:: :: ::
NEW YORK TIMES Metro columnist David Dunlap,
in his appreciation of Jane Jacobs following her death
last April, cited former Lower Manhattan Development Corporation planning chief Alexander Garvin, who said that Jacobs's classic Death and Life of Great American Cities "changed my life."
"It is no coincidence,” Dunlap concluded, that it was Garvin who, while he was at the LMDC, brokered the proposed plan to "break down the superblock...into four smaller blocks" by "re-establish[ing] Greenwich and Fulton Streets." Garvin had done what Jane would do.
But at ground zero, it may not have been Jane Jacobs that Garvin had in mind.
In 1994, when husband-and-wife architectural team Steven Peterson and Barbara Littenberg were preparing a Lower Manhattan master plan for the Battery Park City Authority, Garvin was their consultant.
It raised eyebrows when Garvin, shortly after arriving at
the LMDC in February 2002, brought in his old friends as the agency's in-house planning consultants; when the LMDC that May awarded them a $375,000 no-bid contract to produce some of the (ill-fated) plans that were released that July; when the agency extended their contract that August for another three months (and $165,000); and when the LMDC just a few weeks later added Peterson Littenberg as a de facto seventh finalist in its new "competition," even though the couple's designs had been among those that failed that summer.
Then-New York Times architecture critic Herbert
Muschamp was worried for a different reason, writing in December 2002 that "Peterson Littenberg are followers
of the reactionary architect Leon Krier, Prince Charles's architectural adviser. With this firm on retainer, we risk seeing all of Manhattan below Canal Street morphing into a cenotaph, a cityscape frozen like Pompeii at the hour the Twin Towers collapsed."
Formally, Krier is, among other things, a Senior Fellow
at The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment.
The Foundation is the headquarters of Prince Charles's 20-year crusade against contemporary architecture.
A couple of other names on the Senior Fellows list:
husband-and-wife architectural team Andre Duany
and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.*
No small coincidence. Duany attended one of Krier's lectures in the 1970s, and it was this that set Duany on the path that led him and Plater-Zyberk to start their own firm in 1980 and to help found the Congress for the New Urbanism in 1993.
Duany and Plater-Zyberk are now the best-known teacher-practitioners of the movement — and many regard Krier as its intellectual godfather. Indeed, the reading list of "books essential to the New Urbanism" on the Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) Web site — and for true believers, it always is the New Urbanism — has Krier's Architecture: Choice or Fate as "a graphic presentation of principles by the master." emphasis added
:: :: ::
DID Peterson Littenberg tap Alexander Garvin for their Battery Park City project, because Garvin knew of and approved these associations and the agenda behind them? Of course, they did.
Did Garvin tap Peterson Littenberg for ground zero, because he hoped and expected that they would advance the same agenda — what Muschamp called "New York circa 1928"? Of course, he did.
Indeed, Herbert Muschamp in October 2002 rightly pinned the previous July's failures on the LMDC, for "tr[ying] to imprint ground zero with the hokey New Urbanist real estate formulas favored by Alexander Garvin…."
What does all of this have to do with Jane Jacobs? The New Urbanists are much more confident about the answer to that question than Jane Jacobs is.
In fact, DPZ, with its have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too approach, might well place Jacobs in the most telling New Urbanist frame of all. Jacobs makes DPZ's New Urbanist book list, but, unlike Krier — whose name is preceded by "!" for being an actual New Urbanist — Jane is listed without honor.
James Howard Kunstler is more brazen. Indeed, if Andre Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk are New Urbanism's leading pedagog-practitioners, Jim Kunstler is the movement's preacher-pundit. He's the one who takes
it to the people — and he takes it there unvarnished.
Introducing his September 2000 interview of Jacobs, Kunstler made it clear that — in his mind, at least — the
New Urbanists had taken up Jacobs's mantle. Jane Jacobs, he wrote,
seized the imagination of an otherwise extremely complacent era when she declared...that the experiment of Modernist urbanism was a thumping failure, and urged Americans to look instead to the traditional wisdom of the vernacular city and its fundamental unit, the street, instead of the establishment gurus...Decades later, her book become one of the seminal texts of the
By "traditional," Kunstler of course meant traditionalist.
Later in the interview, Kunstler sought to make common cause with Jacobs, introducing one question by saying: "Many of the dogmas of modernist city design which we both deplore in our books...."
And: "Well, you know the people at the elite universities today, at Harvard and Columbia and Yale, are extremely hostile to the kind of ideas that you were retailing forty
years ago and which some of my colleagues are still
trying to persuade the American people would be good."
But for Jacobs, there was a baser reason for New Urbanism's charm:
James Howard Kunstler I have a theory that we don’t have to run out of gasoline in order to throw places like Houston, Phoenix, San Jose, Miami, Atlanta into terrible trouble. All that's necessary is a mild to moderate chronic instability in the world oil markets. It seems to me that we are sleepwalking into an economic and political trainwreck.
Jane Jacobs [ ] I'm not saying how it is going to go. But it's not going to go the same. This is a continuation of what I was saying about the revolt against Victorianism. Here comes a generation or two that just can't stand what the previous generations did. And for whatever reasons, they want to expunge it. And they are absolutely ruthless with the remnants of it.
But I don’t think of it as an economic or political trainwreck. I think of it as one of these great generational upheavals that's coming. And I think that part of the growing popularity of the New Urbanism is not simply because it is so rational, and not simply because people care so much about community or even understand it, or the relation of sprawl to the ruination of the natural world...[T]hey just don't like what is around. And they will be ruthless with it.
JHK I wonder if it will take an economic shock to prompt the majority of American to really reconsider their living arrangements.
JJ I don't think it's that rational, that this is unsustainable. I don't think that's the reason. Suddenly they can't stand what the generations before did. There was no reason for Victorianism to be so reacted against in these terms.
JHK Well, you were a little harsh on the City Beautiful movement in Death and Life, although when I look back on it I see the sheer artifacts that they produced as being just awesome. Some of the best apartment buildings in New York City. The best single family houses in America were produced during the American Renaissance. Just the sheer excellence of what they left behind is kind of stunning.
JJ Yes, but it also had that weight of authority that people were reacting against. So I think that things are going to change just because people get too damned bored with what they have.
In Death and Life, Jane Jacobs wrote:
Most city diversity is the creation of incredible numbers of different people and different private organizations, with vastly differing ideas and purposes, planning and contriving outside the framework of public action. The main responsibility of city planning and design should be to develop — insofar as public policy and action can do so — cities that are congenial places for this great range of unofficial plans, ideas, and opportunities to flourish….
So her observation to Kunstler that New Urbanism is becoming popular, in part, because it is "so rational" was
not intended as a compliment.
:: :: ::
INDEED, Herbert Muschamp was tapping into this critique when he wrote that the source of ground zero's problem is the determination to "imprint [the site] with hokey New Urbanist real estate formulas" — in this case, reinscibing the street grid to create stock development parcels for stock commercial buildings. emphasis added
Jacobs, in a June 2001 interview with Reason magazine, explained why she thought these formulas are wrongheaded, and why they are unlikely to produce the urban vitality they promise:
Jane Jacobs [T]he New Urbanists want to have lively centers in the places that they develop, where people run into each other doing errands and that sort of thing. And yet, from what I've seen of their plans and the places they have built, they don't seem to have a sense of the anatomy of these hearts, these centers.
They've placed them as if they were shopping centers. They don't connect. In a real city or a real town, the lively heart always has two or more well-used pedestrian thoroughfares that meet. In traditional towns, often it's a triangular piece of land. Sometimes it's made into a park.
Reason What kind of traditional towns?
JJ You can see it in old Irish towns. You can
also see it in towns in Illinois. The reason for
it is that the action so often was where three well-traveled routes came together and made a Y. There are also T-intersections and also X-intersections. But they're always intersections that are well-traveled on foot. People speak about the local hangout, the corner bar. The important word there is corner.
R Corner store, corner bar. They're illegal in most places today — certainly in the suburbs.
JJ Yes. The corner is important. It's of all different scales. For instance, big cities have a lot of main squares where the action is, and which will be the most valuable for stores and that kind of thing. They're often good places for a public building — a landmark.
But they're always where there's a crossing
or a convergence. You can't stop a hub from developing in such a place. You can't make it develop if you don't have such a place. And I don't think the New Urbanists understand this kind of thing. They think you just put it where you want.
R And that people will go there, as opposed to what's really happening — that people are already going there? You're just giving them
a place to stop and congregate?
JJ That's right. It occurs naturally. Now it also has the advantage that it can expand or contract without destroying the rest of the place. Because the natural place for such a heart to expand is along those well-used thoroughfares.
This, surely, is what Jane Jacobs had in mind in May 2004, when she told Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker "that it might be a good idea not to ‘restore’ the street grid at the Ground Zero site but to break it decisively. ‘I was at a school in Connecticut where the architects watched paths that the children made in the snow all winter, and then when spring came they made those the gravel paths across the green. Why not dothe same thing here?’”
Jacobs recognized that...
the site itself is a giant X-intersection; that
the whole thing is a corner; and that
this corner will not be a "lively heart," a “where the action is” kind of “hub,” if it is choked with streets and real estate — including the memorial — that max out the site too quickly, (1) robbing this heart of the room it needs to expand and (2) making of the next World Trade Center a less, not more, hospitable place within which a "great range of unofficial plans, ideas, and opportunities" can enable it "to flourish."
:: :: ::
NEW YORKER architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote in Metropolis magazine last June that
Jane Jacobs…had little patience with much
of what was presented as an extension of
her views; she…understood instinctively the difference between the real street life of an old New York neighborhood and the packaged synthetic urbanism of the new make-believe streetscapes.
He wrote that
[a] troubling part of her legacy [is] the frequency and ease with which her words
are taken as pure and absolute gospel by well-meaning, earnest followers who don’t
have half her imagination or boldness.
He wrote that
Jacobs is not always well served by urbanists who insist that there is no model but Greenwich Village, and that there is simply no other way for a neighborhood to look and no other way for a city to work, period. Jacobs subtly encouraged this by engaging in what I have often called the fallacy of physical determinism, suggesting that the physical form of a neighborhood determines everything about how it will function.
But as anatomy is not always destiny, neither is architecture. High-rises in open space are usually not right, but Stuyvesant Town works just fine, thank you, despite Jacobs's misgivings. And there are plenty of other examples of places that do not fit within the Jacobs mold and succeed anyway. Yet Jacobs could often see beyond the formulaic, but the same cannot be said for too many of her followers."
Mostly true, although Goldberger undermines his
argument — and betrays his (willful?) misreading of
Jane Jacobs — when he argues that there is even such
a thing as a "Jacobs mold."
Obviously, he believes there is. Not two years before — and flying in the face of what Jacobs told his own magazine at the same time — Goldberger in Up from Zero, his book on the rebuilding of ground zero, wrote:
If anything could stand for the triumph of Jane Jacob's view of the city over Robert Moses's, it was putting back the streets that had arbitrarily been taken away more than thirty years before.
Jane Jacobs seems to have understood better than Paul Goldberger that even a grid of streets — and surely there is no more basic "physical form of a neighborhood" — can become "formulaic."
Then again, Goldberger also said that Suburban Nation, the New Urbanist manifesto published in 2000 by Andre Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and then DPZ colleague Jeff Speck, "set forth more clearly than anyone has done in our time the elements of good town planning."
Paul Goldberger, New Urbanist? You decide.
:: :: ::
BUT what's it all about, really, this New Urbanism in Jane Jacobs drag — this New Yorbanism? Two things: (1) Making life easier for conventional developers. (2) Colonizing the City with ever larger and more private domains for shopping.
One could hardly ask for better proof of this than the description of Battery Park City — New Yorbanism's opening shot — offered on the Web site of the architectural firm of Cooper, Robertson & Partners. A previous "incarnation" of this firm, Cooper Eckstut, had completed the plan in 1979:
The Master Plan proposed [a] then-radical concept...extension of the adjacent street grid and geometry across the property to create a normalized development pattern while discouraging through traffic. emphasis added
James Howard Kunstler reinforces the developer case for
New Urbanism himself — and does so rather crisply — in
this remarkable exchange from his interview of Jane Jacobs:
James Howard Kunstler What are your thoughts on what happened to American cities?
Jane Jacobs It's a tragedy and a totally unnecessary tragedy.
JHK The destruction continues.
JJ Yes, because really nothing has changed. Talk has changed, but regulations haven't changed, lending systems for these things haven't changed. The notion — and it worries me that this extends even into New Urbanism — the notion of the shopping center a valid kind of downtown, that's taken over. It's very hard for architects of this generation even to think in terms of a downtown or a center that is owned by all different people, with different ideas.
JHK We're starting to return to that, particularly in the work of Victor Dover
and Joe Kohl.
JJ I don’t know them.
The most priceless line of the interview — JL
JHK They were trained at the University of Miami by Duany and Plater-Zyberk and started their own firm about ten years ago. In two projects, they've taken dead malls and imposed a street-and-block plan over them and created codes so that the individual lots could be developed as buildings, not just as a megaproject. So I think that's definitely the direction the New Urbanists are going in. I think that we're leaving the age of the megaproject.
"Imposed a street-and-block plan...so that the individual lots could be developed as buildings." Could there possibly be a more concise summary of the proposed plan for the World Trade Center site? Would this plan be any worse with one developer instead of the current two? Would it be any better — or any less a "megaproject" with three developers? Four?
It has become the politically correct fashion in New York for those with an interest in such developer-coddling New Urbanist schemes to sell each one to the public by labeling it with a large Jane Jacobs Seal of Approval — as if to prove its essential "New York"-ness by providing a preemptive "yes" to the WWJD question that now seems to haunt every new architectural project in this architecture-mad City.
Paul Goldberger did it by invoking the blessing of Jane Jacobs for the street grid.
And City Planning director and Planning Commission chair Amanda Burden sought to create a virtual Jane Jacobs Carte Blanche in a recent essay, adapted from remarks she delivered at a City University of New York forum on Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses:
Big cities need big projects. Big projects are a necessary part of the diversity, competition and growth that both Jacobs and Moses fought for. But today's big projects must have a human scale; must be designed, from idea to construction, to fit into the city. Projects may fail to live up to Jane Jacobs's standards, but they are still judged by her rules.
Look at Battery Park City, across from the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.
Look at Riverside South, on the Upper West Side, between 59th and 72nd Streets.
Look at the proposed plan for the World Trade Center.
Look at the proposed Atlantic Yards plan for the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.
It can hardly be an accident that the proposed plans for ground zero and Atlantic Yards are being fast-tracked on Amanda Burden's watch, given that it was Amanda Burden who led the planning and design of Battery Park City — initially at the New York State Urban Development Corporation, then at the Battery Park City Authority — throughout the decade of the 1980s, the most crucial, formative phase of its development.
(It's also worth remembering who New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — Burden's boss — picked to help him conceptualize his own December 2002 "vision" for Lower Manhattan: Peterson Littenberg.)
At the end of Burden's Battery Park City tenure, in 1990, Paul Goldberger, writing in The New York Times, called Battery Park City "the best large urban project of our time."
At around the same time, Paul Willen, together with perennial Jacobs testifiers the Municipal Art Society and
the Regional Plan Association, brokered his 1990 concept
plan for Riverside South; then developed it, with the help of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, into the 1992 plan that guides the development today.
To be sure, Willen's plan is far better than the proposed
15 million square feet of Trumpian bloat and bluster it replaced.
But are any of these projects "human scale"? Do they "fit into the city"? Are they Jane Jacobs? Are they New York?
No, no, no, and no. They are exactly what Jane Jacobs said they are: shopping centers.
What does this mean for the City? Herbert Muschamp's unflinching, sobering and timely October 2001 analysis
of shopping mall design tactics in New York development projects takes Battery Park City as its point of departure.
It's worth quoting at length here:
As a demonstration of what government might accomplish in the era of privatization, Battery Park City was an experiment well worth undertaking. Still, by the mid 1980s, the project's shortcomings had become clear. Despite attempts to imitate traditional urban architecture, despite all the lavishness and talent focused on parks, public art, an attractive riverside esplanade and other amenities, Battery Park City was burdened with the oppressive atmosphere of a gated suburban enclave. More accurately, the place is a mall. It is an in-town shopping mall whose major line of merchandise is space. It markets discrete parcels of cubic feet, built with a combination of public and private investment for consumers of residential, office and commercial units.
The design of the American shopping mall has been the subject of many serious studies. One of the most penetrating is ''Recapturing the Center,'' by Mark Gottdiener, co-editor of a book, The City and the Sign (Columbia University Press). On the relationship between design and psychology, Gottdiener has this to say.
''The purpose of a mall is to sell consumer goods. The function of mall design, therefore, is to disguise the exchange relation between producer and consumer, which is always more to the former's benefit in capitalist society, and to present cognitively an integrated facade which facilitates this instrumental purpose by the stimulation of consumer fantasies. Thus the mall, taken as a whole, is a sign in itself, because it connotes something other than its principal function through the use of a motif that is its disguise. The motif of the mall serves as a code, which integrates the particular consumer fantasy which designers have as the overarching associational image they hope will hide its true instrumental nature.''
Gottdiener conducts his exposure through a neo-Marxian lens. His approach is justified
by the extreme deception practiced by mall designers in contriving to make private spaces look like public ones. The interior of a mall may resemble a small town Main Street, sometimes, or, in the case of the Mall of America, the ceremonial axis of a grand capital city planned on neo-classical lines. But the interior is enclosed within walls that discourage public access. Those without cars, for example, will find their right of entry curtailed.
Alas, the deceptive practices of mall designers have been increasingly adopted by planners and architects in the older urban centers. Battery Park City is one of many incubators where mall techniques are used to market space, one of the city's most precious commodities. Working with mall-like motifs — Ye Olde Building is the most common — they have converted pieces of the city into mazes for consumers of real estate. In the case of Ye Olde Building, the fantasy is that consumers are acquiring a piece of New York tradition: colonial, 19th century, Art Deco or prewar New York. The reality is that they're buying into fear: fear of crime, fear of the present, fear of the city itself. emphasis added
The isolation would be partly mitigated if West Street were depressed below ground. But the psychological manipulation performed by the unifying architectural motif would remain. The motif creates a sense of exclusion and sends out a deceptive message. Apartments behind the facades are by no means of prewar dimensions, comfort or charm. In the parks, the esplanade and other public spaces, it is hard to shake the feeling that you are being watched.
The feeling is not uncanny in this setting: you are being watched. Security guards, surveillance cameras and other devices are deployed to maintain a hierarchical relationship between those who belong and those who don't. The result is not quite public, not quite private. It is not, in any case, what Jane Jacobs meant when she wrote in 1961 of neighborhoods self-policed by ''the eyes on the street.'' There are eyes here, in a Big Brother-ish sort of way, but no streets, if by streets we mean freedom to circulate. The Ye Olde motif of this fortified network of cul-de-sacs only heightens the
sense of restriction absent from the city
Cities appreciate failures. How else can they learn? Unfortunately, little has been learned thus far from the shortcomings of Battery Park City. Instead, it has become a formula for application elsewhere: retrogressive architecture plus ''public'' art and ''public'' spaces patrolled by private security guards plus corridors that look like streets. It has been applied, thus far, in Riverside South and Queens West. When last heard from, the developers of the Con Edison site, south of the United Nations headquarters, appeared headed in the same direction — straight into the rear-view mirror.
:: :: ::
WHAT this really comes down to is control — the collaborative determination of politicians, planners, and developers to control; the fearful desire that they and so many others have to be controlled.
For decades, this sadomasochistic ritual has had all sides hedging themselves into fewer and fewer corners, until the City threatens to become simply a stage set for the most predictable architectural simulations of city life and “the new,” already rare, can no longer break out at all.
This is why Norman Foster's novel-seeming Hearst Tower has been met with unabashed delight in many quarters, although it is actually quite conventional in many respects. It's also why the mundane performance at ground zero gets an eye-rolling sigh at this point, although it is more destructive than anyone dares to imagine.
But where, in any of this, is the Jane Jacobs who wrote that cities should be "congenial places" for the "creation” of “diversity” by “incredible numbers of different people and different private organizations, with vastly differing ideas and purpose”?
Certainly, there is no diversity in seeking to thwart, as the NIMBYs do, every building project that seems to them too modern, too large, or too tall. Do they suppose they are speaking for Jane and helping the City? They are not even helping themselves.
Jane Jacobs believed that a healthy city is not an overly planned city but a city more or less left to its own devices. She believed that such a city would generate variety, and that included variety of architectural forms and styles — buildings old and new; buildings small, medium, and large; buildings short, tall, and in between.
The NIMBYs have adopted their reactionary architectural posture because they have no faith in the ability of architectural design itself to reckon creatively with the New York market's demand for larger and larger buildings. Given the general run of buildings that have been added to the New York streetscape over the last 30 years, it's hard to blame them entirely.
But if the market wants a million square feet on site X, it will — and, in many cases, should — get a million square feet, or very close to it. The question is: How will that million square feet be configured?
One has only to compare the Macy's Building with the Empire State Building to know that there are a lot of different things an architect can do with 2.1 million square feet.
But only four words really pertain here: More height, less width. For a given amount of floor area on a given site, a taller building with a thinner profile shows more sun to the streets; creates smaller shadows of shorter duration; preserves better views for the surrounding area; and can provide more space on the ground than can a shorter, wider building.
Since the basic design of a building — its form as an expression of its site orientation — is what determines whether, and how well, it succeeds in relation to the street, the sidewalk, and the sky, NIMBYs must stop trusting their unschooled instincts on height and make a serious effort to learn from architects about how a building's design actually affects its urban environment. In the course of talking to architects, rather than fighting them, NIMBYs may discover that taller buildings are in their better interest, after all.
The city changes. It must change. We will adjust — and
they will adjust — to seeing taller, thinner, more elegant
new towers woven in and amongst the old New York
streetscapes that we all cherish.
But the City cannot afford another who-knows-how-many generations of streetscapes lined with the kinds of buildings that NIMBY pressures have been helping to produce for the last 30 years: bulky, flat-topped monoliths that offer no grace to the sky above, no light or space to the people below.
:: :: ::
NIMBYists and traditionalists and Michael Bloomberg
and Paul Goldberger and the Municipal Art Society and Leon Krier and Larry Silverstein and Prince Charles and Alex Garvin and Andre Duany and Amanda Burden and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Bruce Ratner and the Regional Plan Association and James Howard Kunstler and (even) Donald Trump — these and a thousand conspiring, competing others are the New Yorbanism.
Jane Jacobs is New York. There is a difference.
Amanda Burden, in her recent essay, wrote that "opposing visions of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses towards city building resonate with many New Yorkers today" but that "Jane Jacobs is now the prevailing force."
But this is just one more example of how those caught up in the New Yorbanist situation have romanticized, bastardized and mainstreamed the radical Jane Jacobs beyond virtually all recognition, turning Jacobs, her book, and her legacy into a grotesque cartoon.
For where Jane Jacobs rang the New York-ish bells of individuality, creativity, spontaneity, serendipity, and diversity, Burden leads a self-perpetuating and self-cannibalizing system of architectural exchange whose chief currencies are fear and control: city making at its conceptually prefabricated — and, for all intents and purposes, mechanized — worst.
Fritz Lang ain’t got nothin’ on this Metropolis.
* The Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America provides another example of how determined architectural traditionalists are to close ranks. On the Board of Directors: Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. On the Council of Advisors: Andres Duany, Michael Graves, Leon Krier, Myron "Compassionate Conservative" Magnet, Witold Rybczynski, Robert A.M. Stern and — yes — Tom Wolfe.