September 21, 2016

Adam Gopnick on Jane Jacobs – 9

Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker does a reflection on Jane Jacobs’s life and ideas in her centenary year, with so many astute observations that PT will pull out a selection and run one every hour today.


Jacobs seldom gives a good account of the place of politics in city-making. Politics for her is Robert Moses telling moms where the expressway should run. Politics is the planners, and exists as an afterthought to the natural order of cities. And it’s true: politics isn’t a self-organizing system. It’s not a ballet. It’s a battle. But it remains essential to reconcile goods, like free streets and fair housing, that will never reconcile themselves.
Most big ideas turn out to be half right, half wrong—and, as time goes on, the right bits look ever more obvious, while the wrong bits look really wrong. We read Marx and think, Well, of course men’s economic interests shape their ideologies—who didn’t know that? But what about his ignorance of markets and his contempt for mere democracy? This is true of the afterlife of Jacobs’s ideas, whatever flavor we take them in. Before her, a heroic register in writing about cities was completely commonplace: big buildings, big projects, big places were what made cities happen. (There were honorable exceptions, mostly on the right: Chesterton’s love of London villages comes to mind.) Mumford basically complained that in thinking about cities Jacobs loved the small Washington Squares so much that she couldn’t see the splendor of the great Central Parks.

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  1. I still thinq St. Lawrence Centre . . .;_ylt=AwrSbnaU7.NXKn0Aa8RXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEybHZmMnM2BGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjE4NzlfMQRzZWMDc2M?p=St.+Lawrence+Centre+Toronto.+Roger+Kemble&fr=aaplw
    . . . is the best urban environment I have ever experience: thanqxz for that bit of 1970’s urban enlightenment Mayor Crombie!
    I met Jane J on one of my TO trips, nice lady, have read her ‘D&Lof . . .’ and much of her commentary.
    There is a wide gulf between JJ, all the conventional planning rigamarole and myself and that is, whereas 99% of planning is seen as maybe something to rile against, or a speculative opportunity. I see planning as historical, at least before the twentieth century, as ART.
    Whooooo-ah, planning needs talent? A wild card!
    I have visited most of the UK’s new towns and remain unimpressed. Circular windowed Runcorn was demolished. Is that why Jimmie S gave up so soon?
    London’s financial centre and La Defense are two daunting twentieth century beggar-thy-neighbour play-pens. What miserable disasters although I, suppose some one made a penny or two!!
    Milton Keynes has expanded way beyond its original conception and Crawley, the first “new town” never was much! Planning? JJ!
    Toronto’ first new town attempt, Don Mills, is well consumed by, errrr, Toronto now. On my only visit Bob Gretton drove (1983) me up Don Valley, sometimes enjoying a peek of the river: it was delightful.
    Mexico’s Satellite, 2016 on going, and Santa Fe show that despite the 1950’s wonderful UNAM Coyoacan campus that country has learned nothing.
    Or indeed how can a city of such urban heritage (Centro Historico, Oaxaca) go so completely off the rails? But then one may only visit the more recent Nezahualcoyotl (thinq Coquitlam++)!!!!
    Buenos Aires waterfront, Puerto Madero (I doubt anyone in PM has ever heard of JJ) is a close second, UD-wise, to St. Lawrence (although totally different) by virtue of the preserved masonry dockyard warehouses. Obviously, marine transport became so massive BA docks became redundant.
    But then Buenos Aires, founded in 1536, has Recoletta, San Telmo, La Boca, Palermo Veigo etc as a guide!
    Would that Vancouver had such!

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