Posts about Jane Jacobs
Anthony Flint is the author of Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City. It chronicles Jane Jacobs' life, her introduction to the issue of urban planning, and her three great battles with Master Builder Robert Moses that handed him some rare, key losses in his long career of building public works projects good and bad.
Robert Caro's The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York cast New York's "master builder" Robert Moses as the villain in the greatest urban planning drama of American history. But where's the hero? Jane Jacobs fought Moses three times, and won three times. Her most well-known book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, transformed the planning profession and shattered its orthodoxy for destructive "urban renewal" housing projects and freeways slashing through cities.
Yet there's no mention of Jacobs in The Power Broker. Caro wrote a chapter on Jacobs, but it had to be cut to keep the already-enormous tome to a manageable length. Anthony Flint has essentially written that missing piece. His book, Wrestling with Moses, documents how Jacobs came to live in Greenwich Village, came to understand so much about urban planning when few in the profession did, and came to be the great activist who stopped Moses' seemingly unstoppable power in lower Manhattan.
Tomorrow at 1 pm, join us for a chat with Anthony Flint about Jacobs, Moses, their great battles, and many things you probably never knew about Jane Jacobs. Post your questions in the comments here and we'll queue them up for Mr. Flint, and order the book, or even get the Kindle edition for only $10 and read it tonight.
Life has come to a new, small commercial building on University Avenue in Wheaton after months of construction. First, local favorite poultry eatery El Pollo Rico has finally re-opened at its new location after a fire destroyed its old place of business. Second, there is now a brand new coffee shop, Dejabel Cafe. I could not resist trying a mocha latte. It was tasty. I made sure to return to get an Americano in preparation for a two hour drive to my parents' house on Friday night.
While this is all well and good for my local coffee drinking needs, it is also an important (though small) step in the social and economic fabric of downtown Wheaton. This is walkable downtown Wheaton's first (at least in this decade) non-mall based third place. A few small restaurants and the 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts had partly filled the role of third places. However, no one would choose to go study, read a book, or sit for some relaxing conversation in a take-out or a chain doughnut stand.
Although there are two Starbucks locations in Wheaton, both are in Westfield Wheaton, one in the mall proper and the other in the parking lot adjacent to the Giant supermarket. Neither is as convenient for pedestrians as it is for motorists. The Westfield is also on the wrong side of the pedestrian-unfriendly intersection of University Boulevard and Veirs Mill Road. That intersection is a suburban-style, six-lane monster that a pedestrian never has enough time to cross before another queue of cars comes from another direction. Consequently, that Starbucks functions less like a third place and more like a drive-through window.
Dejabel Cafe has free Wi-Fi, and an ambiance that immediately reminded me of other nice third places, like those in vibrant Adams Morgan. Though not on the same scale, it is a good addition to Wheaton nonetheless. I also like that it is an independent startup with its own unique details. Most importantly, it will be performing a function that is currently underrepresented in downtown Wheaton. It adds diversity of uses to its environment, making the area more attractive to a wider range of people, creating demand for an even greater diversity of uses and businesses. It's a beautiful cycle that any walkable urban place strives for. In her monumental classic book, Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs described how a successful walkable place needs such a diversity of uses. We have seen this cycle play out in other parts of our region, such as Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, U Street, and Clarendon.
I told the proprietor of Dejabel Cafe how I'd been hoping for such a place to open up, because so many other potential third places in Wheaton did not directly appeal to me. He said that he'd heard the same thing from other customers. He's betting that there are many people with my consumer tastes and preferences within walking distance. Wheaton's earlier walkable place was abandoned in the 1980s for the then-new subdivisions farther up Georgia Avenue. It's a slow process, but very enjoyable to watch a new vibrant, walkable place unfold right at my feet.
A Metro train at the potential River Terrace station. Photo by David Alpert.
Imagining River Terrace: Imagine, DC imagines the new mixed-use community that could exist on the PEPCO site north of River Terrance on the banks of the Anacostia. It's a great spot for a new station to serve a new neighborhood, especially if we ever build the separate Blue Line.
A meeting of giants: Robert Caro, author of the definitive biography of Robert Moses, spoke recently about his one meeting with Jane Jacobs. "It turns out we each had a question that we wanted to ask the other," said Caro. "Jane wanted to ask me what it was like to meet him. I wanted to ask her what it was like to beat him." Via Richard Layman.
Is walk-"ability" enough? Ryan Avent summarizes an interesting blog debate over neighborhood design between Atrios and Kevin Drum. If you segregate residential uses from commercial uses and provide ample parking, but locate them in close enough proximity that people can walk and include nice sidewalks, will people walk? Drum does but none of his neighbors do. (Columbia, MD is similar.) Once we've put huge sunk costs into devoting most of the land to cars and foregoing all alternatives, the marginal cost of one more car trip to the store is small, and therefore people drive.
Today, the community and creativity of cities
But according to a thought-provoking article, The Antisocial Urbanism of Le Corbusier, the concept of human interaction as necessarily desirable was not always the consensus belief. From Rene Descartes to Blaise Pascal to Albert Camus, solitude fought with community for dominance as the ideal human condition.
Jacobs' and Florida's celebration of community, on the other hand, draws on the intellectual tradition of John Locke, also the predominant influence on the Declaration of Independence. Those ideas ultimately won out, though not until relatively recent times; as Simon Richards says in the paper, "For the greater part of the last twenty-five hundred years, the question 'what are cities good for?' would have garnered the answer: 'good for nothing.' Today, they are highly desired and architects who plan "the Death of the Street," as Le Corbusier did, find themselves roundly mocked in popular off-Broadway performances.
DCist arguing that we should run a freeway between Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, though some still dream about drawing lines through the city.
I would like to see new apartments, offices, and commercial buildings built with additional below-ground pay/free-with-validation parking lots for visitors. These public lots should be accessible via separate entry gates so that residents and employees that have assigned parking would be unaffected by the lines, and enter quickly and directly through private entrances.A city where everyone drives from the garage under their apartment to the garage under their office and then to the garage under their grocery store is a vision for urban life, but it's a lousy one. Free parking encourages driving, but someone is paying the costs. In the case of stores offering free validation, it's higher prices charged by the store, only you pay that price whether you drive there or not. In the case of apartment buildings, it's adding $30,000 or more to the cost of the units, making everyone's housing more expensive.
This opinion was alive and well at last week's parking working group meeting for the zoning review, where Marilyn Simon of Friendship Heights wants the zoning code to require larger parking garages under commercial buildings and mandate validated parking from all stores.
Fortunately, her views were a minority, but a lot of people
During the dark ages of urban planning (the 1960s and 70s), many old residential buildings were replaced with discredited the idea. Block after block of attractive row houses are gone forever, even though brownstones in places like Brooklyn, Boston, San Francisco, and DC sell for a million dollars or two, or more.
Can we ever go back? Most of today's urban developments are glassy high-rises, the better to capture the maximum possible revenue for the developer. They're better than 1970s concrete boxes, but is anyone building brightly colored townhouses with bay windows in front?
They are building them in one place, DC's "Capitol Quarter" development in Southeast DC near the new baseball stadium.
These aren't Dupont's ornate Victorian row houses or Brooklyn's brick brownstones, but they look quite nice nonetheless. And with many people interested in living in the city but not craving the high rise apartment life, we need more townhouses in mixed-use areas. This district is near stores, offices, and the Metro.
Hopefully, mixing mixing low- and middle-income housing with market-rate, all next to one another in buildings of similar appearance, will avoid mistakes of the "housing projects" where concentrations of poverty create high-crime zones. And hopefully this project will look as good as it does in the drawing, encouraging more construction of new townhouses and creating new Park Slopes or Capitol Hills for future generations.
As Boozy so entertainingly informed us, Le Corbusier's vision for a city was the Radiant City, of rows of identical buildings and skyscrapers separated by parkland. Robert Moses' vision for the city included wide expressways (which eventually became choked with traffic) cutting across boulevards of urban renewal style projects. And Jane Jacobs famously extolled the chaotic streets where children played, adults walked and shopped, and residential and commercial activities blended together.
Entering Manhattan across the Manhattan Bridge we pass examples of each of these visions. Approaching the island we see the East River waterfront, where the FDR Drive, begun under Moses, separates the river from the projects of Corlears Hook, built by Moses. Passing the projects, bland and identical, with empty greenery between, we see an image of Corbusier's vision come to life. And finally, once we reach far enough into the interior of Chinatown where Moses' bulldozers never reached, the streets are pulsing with chaotic energy, full of people and life and activity, in the way that Jacobs recognized as the greatest height of city life.
In the 1950s and 60s, urban planners were busy constructing freeways across America, through plains and mountains where they were needed, and into the centers of cities where they bulldozed vibrant communities and hastened sprawl and urban decay.
In most cities, local activists fought these highways and, with varying degrees of success, eventually halted new construction. In many areas the local Departments of Transportation never entirely gave up on these plans. Here is a quick roundup of what freeways would look like in some of our most walkable, neighborhood cities had planners had their way:
First, the poster child for freeway opposition, San Francisco, which cancelled its freeway construction as early as 1959 in the famous Freeway Revolt. SF Cityscape has a great annotated map of freeways that were and were not built.
1948 plan from California Department of Highways, via BikeSummer.
In Boston, the Inner Ring would have demolished much of Central Square in Cambridge, Cambridgeport, the neighborhoods around BU, and much more; activists killed it and other expressways in 1972. Some of the funding was rerouted to transit; Northwest and Southwest Expressways (to Burlington and Canton) were replaced by the Red and Orange Lines respectively.
1948 Master Highway Plan sketch by Mass. Department of Public Works. From BostonRoads.com.
Should BU have looked like this? Courtesy Scott Moore.
Washington DC built most of its planned freeways on its southern side and in Virginia, but not downtown and in suburban Maryland.
1955 proposal for Washington DC. Photo by Richard Layman.
As Zachary Schrag points out in this op-ed, the money that was to be used for the DC freeways in the 1960s was directly put into the Metro instead, to DC's great benefit.
I'd always thought that the black communities, such as in Southeast DC, had failed to stop the freeways because they were poor or minority, while the white areas of Northwest had successfully fought them off (as in New York, where the Cross-Bronx bulldozed black neighborhoods while Jane Jacobs and the white people of Greenwich Village were able to kill the Lower Manhattan Expressway), but that's apparently not the case, or at least not entirely:
Photo by Richard Layman.
And speaking of Jane Jacobs, the most celebrated urban activist and the one who personally sparked public awareness of the fallacy of then-conventional wisdom in urban planning, she and others succeeded in killing the terrible Lower Manhattan Expressway and other roads. But the sadder part is that by 1961, when she published Death and Life, Robert Moses had already built most of the roads that he'd wanted to build. In the below map, all of the solid lines were actually built.
Regional Plan Association expressway plan, 1964. From NYCRoads.com.
New York has the most extensive subway system in the U.S., sure, but who knows how many of these subway lines would have been built had transportation funding been reallocated to transit as Washington did? How different might Queens be today?
Unlike San Francisco, where opposition stopped 80-90% of the planned freeways, New Yorkers only stopped the last few. Unlike San Francisco, which killed the freeway that was to run through Golden Gate Park (except the very short transverse segment of CA-1), Moses successfully ran parkways through Inwood Hill Park, Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx River Park, and what is now Riverside Park and Flushing Meadows Parks. And unlike San Francisco, with a "Transit First" policy that favors public transportation over private cars in planning decisions, New York's DOT still moves cars first and foremost.
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