Friday, March 1, 2013
On Jane Jacobs and Urban Renewal
On Jane Jacobs and Urban Renewal: In 1961, urban theorist Jane Jacobs published her magnum opus, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Encouraged in part by urban historian Lewis Mumford, she attempted to define the role of planners in the city-building process. Having witnessed some of New York's major urban renewal projects like the United Nations complex and Stuyvesant Town, Jacobs saw urban renewal as hastening deindustrialization and eroding the city's tax base. She was the primary ideological foe of city planner Robert Moses, who developed the Cross-Bronx Expressway and Lincoln Center under the guise of "slum clearance." For Jacobs, Moses represented the "expert class," which many Americans in the 1950s had come to revere with a kind of blind trust. Until Moses became the city's official "construction coordinator" in 1946, New York's grid-like street pattern was sacrosanct. But Jacobs claimed that Moses' renewal projects were destroying the social fabric of many neighborhoods. In fact, she contended that instead of new highways and buildings, what city planners needed to emphasize was mixed-use zoning, pedestrian permeability (short blocks), and density. For Jacobs, these factors ultimately encouraged diversity while revitalizing older sections of the city.