"Planning today is noisy, combative, iterative and reliant on community involvement. Any initiative that does not build consensus -- that is not shaped by the give-and-take of the public review process -- will be an inferior plan and, deservedly, will be voted down and die."
The opposing visions of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses towards city building resonate with many New Yorkers today.
It is certainly clear to me that Jane Jacobs is now the prevailing force. While no one person changed the physical landscape of New York as much as Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs’ legacy and her influence is much more deeply rooted and felt widely by urbanists, planners and elected officials.
That legacy embraces:
- the importance of the relationship of people and the public realm
- the appreciation of networks created by diverse uses
- understanding that blocks are the basic unit of the city
- the primacy of the street as the glue of neighborhood life
Moses may have gotten a lot done, built a great deal in the name of “the people”, but the truth is that he wanted little to do with the people who would live in the city he created. Their voices were dispensable, their homes were dispensable. And that is why he couldn’t conceive of the importance of neighborhoods.
Jacobs, on the other hand, knew that if you neglect neighborhoods, you do so at the city’s peril. People who no longer have faith in the future of the place in which they were brought up or where they are raising a family, will, if they can afford it, leave for a more predictable, safer place.
So understanding and appreciating the integral character of diverse neighborhoods has to be a primary requirement for any planning initiative. The goal of city planners, or how we are looking at the city’s challenges today, is no longer the broad brush, the bold strokes, the big plan.
Make no mistake about it, we have an enormous need to build thousands of units of affordable housing; we must create a broad spectrum of jobs for a rapidly expanding population; we need to reclaim and revitalize our waterfront; and we must lay the foundations to support the growth that is to come and that we welcome.
But it is just not acceptable, or wise, or even possible to undertake these challenges without espousing Jacobs principles of city diversity, of the rich detail of urban life, to build in a way that nourishes complexity.
by Amanda BurdenNovember 6, 2006