Jane Jacobs on Parks in our Cities

You can neither lie to a neighborhood park, nor reason with it. “Artist’s conceptions” and persuasive renderings can put pictures of life into proposed neighborhood parks or park malls, and verbal rationalizations can conjure up users who ought to appreciate them, but in real life only diverse surroundings have the practical power of inducing a natural, continuing flow of life and use. Superficial architectural variety may look like diversity, but only a genuine content of economic and social diversity, resulting in people with different schedules, has meaning to the park and the power to confer the boon of life upon it.

– “The uses of neighborhood parks” from The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961

More on Jane Jacobs as author, community activist, and urban planner from WSP Blog here.

More on Phase II tomorrow.

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Seen in the Village: More Jane Jacobs Less Marc Jacobs


In 2009, graphic designer Mike Joyce created these postcards, “More Jane Jacobs, Less Marc Jacobs,” and proceeded to spread the word about them. He provided them to anyone who requested them and they were placed in coffee shops and other locales around town. The postcards are still visible as seen here last month at West Village spot Soy Cafe.

Jeremiah at Vanishing New York interviewed Joyce in October 2009. His comments are still relevant a year and a half later:

One, it is absolutely not meant to be a personal statement against Marc Jacobs. I actually like some of the store’s window displays and think he and his team are really talented designers. And two, don’t be so literal! It’s a play on words to reflect the Village being taken over by franchises and chains of all kinds–not just the six Marc Jacobs stores. Oh, that would be my third point, there is of course a place for Marc Jacobs in the Village but six stores on two blocks?! Come on, the person that argues for that has no individuality.

You can read the rest of the VNY interview here. At the same time, Joyce also commented: “Probably the biggest question I am asked is ‘Who’s Jane Jacobs?‘”

For the answer to that, see previous WSP Blog posts:

* Last Call, Bohemia. Or, as Jane Jacobs wrote, the benefits of the “strange”

* Jane Jacobs and Washington Square

Photo: Park Slope Lens

Freddy’s Brooklyn Roundhouse Cable/Internet Show Covers Jane Jacobs’ Event at Judson Church in Two Episodes

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Freddy’s Brooklyn Roundhouse is a well-produced “non-corporate media” outlet, viewed on MNN (Manhattan Neighborhood Network), BCAT (Brooklyn Community Access Television) and YouTube, covering topics such as The Atlantic Yards, media consolidation, Eminent Domain abuse, as well as changes linked to (over) development in NYC.

The program is airing a two part show from September 22nd’s Jane Jacobs event organized by Reverend Billy and held at Judson Memorial Church across from Washington Square Park.

From the release:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs’s most famous book, helped change the blind acceptance of urban planners and their grand schemes to remake cities into unlivable places. Jacobs ended Robert Moses’ reign of bad building and urban destruction. With the misguided development of the Bloomberg administration today, Jane Jacobs’s work is as important as it ever was. Freddy’s Brooklyn Roundhouse presents two new episodes based on readings from Jane Jacobs, filmed at the Judson Church, NYC and hosted by Green Party Mayoral Candidate Rev Billy.

The event is split up into two episodes – links below to YouTube video:

Episode 1: Features neighborhood activists, Michael Premo from Picture the Homeless, Philip Dipaolo from The People’s Firehouse and Joy Chatel, Defender of the Duffield House Brooklyn Underground Railroad landmark.

Episode 2: Features neighborhood activists, Cathryn Swan of the Washington Square Park Blog and Save Union Square, Melanie Joseph of the Foundry Theatre and Christabel Gough, NYC preservationist hero.

Bob Holman, of the Howl Festival & Bowery Poetry Club and former City Councilwoman, Carol Greitzer, are other activists who spoke at the event and were not included in the above shows, due to lack of time, but can be found here.

You can watch Freddy’s Brooklyn Roadhouse weekly Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on BCAT and Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on MNN.  Episodes are then also uploaded to YouTube.  Episode 1 aired this week but Episode 2 will air next week at the following times and places:  BCAT Tuesday Oct 20, 8 p.m., TimeWarner Cable(Ch. 34)/Cablevision(Ch. 67)/RCN(Ch. 82)Verizon(Ch. 42) and on MNN Thursday Oct 22, 8:30 p.m. TimeWarner Cable(Ch. 56)/Cablevision(Ch. 17)RCN(Ch. 83)Verizon(Ch. 34).  You can watch the shows on YouTube Episode I here; Episode II at this link.

Jane Jacobs Night At Judson Memorial Church Tuesday, September 22nd, 7 p.m.

Readings and musings by those inspired by the defender of neighborhoods – MC’d by Rev. Billy Talen and Savitri D!

Tuesday, September 22nd * 7pm to 9 PM with Afterparty to follow!

Presented by Reverend Billy Talen for Mayor NYC:

Why?: After a street in the Village was named Jane Jacobs Way –and the presiding city official of the ceremony was Christine Quinn– we learned a lesson. The legacy of our heroes will be appropriated by our opponents as a matter of strategy. The letter to Saving Coney Island by Ned Jacobs, Jane’s son, urging resistance to the Bloomberg-and-Quinn backed highrises of Coney – underscores the need to hold our values in the face of sophisticated public relations spin.

What: Jane Jacobs Night. Activists and authors read excerpts from “Death and Life of Great American Cities” and correspondence that Ms. Jacobs sent in support of neighborhood-saving campaigns over the years.

Who:

With:
Michael Premo, New York Hip Hop Festival and Picture the Homeless

Cathryn Swan, Washington Square Park Blog and Save Union Square (Yes, that’s me! Come say hello.)

Christabel Gough, NYC preservationist hero

Bob Holman, Howl Festival, Bowery Poetry Club

Joy Chatel, Defender of the Duffield House Brooklyn Underground Railroad landmark

Philip Dipaolo, The People’s Firehouse and Brooklyn neighborhood activists

Carol Greitzer, City Councilwoman, Landmarking of Tammany Hall building on Union Square

Evening is hosted by Rev. Billy Talen and Savitri D

We celebrate Jane Jacobs Night to share the personal impact that she has had on our campaigns to save neighborhood diversity here in the city.

Where: Judson Memorial Church
239 Thompson Street and Washington Square South
Take the B, C, D, E, F, or V trains to West 4th Street, or the R, W trains to 8th Street/NYU station

Free. Donations encouraged for space rental.

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More on Jane Jacobs (one of my first blog entries) and Washington Square Park here.

What Makes a Great Public Space?


A study of Washington Square Park in 2005 by the Project for Public Spaces concluded:

“Washington Square Park is one of the best known and best-loved destinations in New York City. And as a neighborhood park and civic gathering place, it may be one of the great public spaces in the world. Anyone who visits the park and who looks at how people use it can confirm in just a few minutes that it has nearly all of the key attributes of a great public space. … Its success can also be measured by other indicators such as the amount of affection that is being displayed, its overall comfort and feeling of being safe, the level of stewardship, and the way that people engage in different activities at very close range and interact with each other easily.”

In addition, Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities wrote of the park’s famous fountain, “In effect, this [fountain] is a circular arena, a theater in the round, and that is how it is used, with complete confusion as to who are spectators and who are the show.”

About Washington Square Park overall, she stated, “The city officials regularly concoct improvement schemes by which this center within the park would be sown to grass and flowers and surrounded by a fence. The invariable phrase is ‘restoring the land to park use.’ That is a different form of park use, legitimate in places. But for neighborhood parks, the finest centers are stage settings for people.”

This leads to one question : Why is New York City putting forth a radical redesign of Washington Square Park, a great public space?

Part I: Update On NYC Parks Department Redesign Work on Washington Square Park — Status and the Fountain

"working to improve your park"

"working to improve your park"

The Washington Square Park Task Force, convened by Community Board 2 and local elected officials to give some community oversight over the Parks Department “renovation” (redesign) of Washington Square Park, gathered recently for a public meeting in the NYU Silver Building on Waverly Place. This was the first meeting of the Task Force after a long hiatus.

Rebecca Ferguson, Washington Square Park Administrator, gave a presentation about the status of Phase I work on the Park, some future details and took questions. The meeting was presided over by Community Board 2 Washington Sq Park Task Force(WSPTF) co-chairs Brad Hoylman (also CB2 chair) and Tobi Bergman. Also present were Steve Simon, Manhattan Borough Parks Department Chief of Staff, and representatives from the offices of local elected officials, including Council Members Alan Gerson, Christine Quinn, and Rosie Mendez as well as from Assembly Member Deborah Glick’s office.

Here is Part I of Up-to-the-minute Facts about NYC Parks Department’s Redesign Plans for/Work On Washington Square Park:

Part I : Status of Redesign and the Fountain

1. STATUS : Presently, the Parks Department is at work on “Phase I,” the North West Quadrant of the Park, which includes the “scrabble plaza,” the Alexander Holley Plaza, and the Fountain and its Plaza. According to Rebecca Ferguson, the project is “100% on time” and “60% complete.” The contract for the work is up in November and the Parks Department has every expectation that it will be done on time.

2. FOUNTAIN : Piping and drainage are 70% done. The stones from the original fountain are in Long Island City and being rehoned. They will be placed in the new fountain. The Diameter of the Fountain will be the same. There will be benches around the fountain which will be 16″ high with no backs. (For those who haven’t been by the Park recently, a large hole has been dug in the new location which aligns the fountain with the Arch – after 137 years unaligned – and the structure is being built.)

Causes for concern:

THE WATER PLUME/JETS OF THE FOUNTAIN: When on, when off, who decides?

Jane Jacobs said about the famous Washington Square Park fountain, “In effect, this is a circular arena, a theater in the round, and that is how it is used, with complete confusion as to who are spectators and who are the show.”

The jets on the new fountain will be adjustable but it is unclear just who will determine how they are regulated. (Mayor Bloomberg, perhaps?) It’ll be nice for those tourists coming down Fifth Avenue viewing the Fountain through the Arch (per the wishes of redesigner George Vellonakis) to see the large water plume from their taxis. However that was never really the point of this fountain, used for politics, music, art, juggling, shout outs, etc., as Jane Jacobs so admirably expressed.

REDUCTION IN PUBLIC SPACE AROUND THE FOUNTAIN:

“Inner Circle” Around Fountain

An issue that the WSPTF did not address at this meeting is the square footage of what is deemed “the inner circle” around the fountain — from the outermost edge of the fountain wall to the innermost edge of any seating. The WSP Task Force wishes expressed in an August ’07 document to the Parks Department allowed for it to be “no less than 90% of the current area,” allowing for a 10% reduction (why?… I could not tell you).

This report stated: “The fountain plaza appears to be smaller than 90% of the current area, and thus does not comply with the Gerson-Quinn Agreement*. The question is, however, by how much. The Task Force did not have enough information from the Parks Department to draw a clear conclusion on the size of the inner circle in the Plan. Rough calculations made by Task Force members of the total square footage of the inner circle ranged from 88% to 77% of the current area.”

There was no indication at the meeting that this question was ever answered. It was not addressed. (I did not have this August ’07 document: “Report of the Washington Square Park Task Force,” which CB2 chair Brad Hoylman provided to me at the meeting, so I did not ask.)

Entire Plaza

And what about the entire Plaza, extending outward from the “innermost circle?” This is certainly well utilized by the public and is part of the experience of being in Washington Square Park. Presently, there is a 23% reduction planned – a significant amount – something the WSPTF, to my knowledge, never addressed.

What is the Gerson-Quinn Agreement?

*“The Gerson-Quinn Agreement” is a somewhat dubious document, drafted by Council Member Alan Gerson and Speaker Christine Quinn, dated October 6, 2005, and sent to Parks Commissioner Benepe. In the document, the Council Members put forth a framework for “resolving the outstanding major issues pertaining to the renovation of Washington Square Park.” The only problem is that the outstanding major issues were: the reconfiguration of the entire park, the loss of public space, the aligning of the fountain, and the moving of the dog runs, among others. These issues are not addressed in the Gerson-Quinn Agreement in any substantive fashion. Nonetheless, it contains guidelines within it that they ask the Parks Department to adhere to. (I’ll report back on that another day.)

Basically, the Gerson-Quinn Agreement followed the principle of ‘ask what you think you can get, vs. what you want.’ (Many would argue they just stayed cozily in line with what Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wanted.)

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I think the Community Board could get some traction on this issue of the public space around the Fountain.

… Stay tuned… there’s more!

*This WSPTF meeting took place July 17th, 2008.

**Go to Part II here.

Last Call, Bohemia. Or, As Jane Jacobs wrote, the benefits of the “strange”

Greenwich Village, 1960Will New York City recognize the importance of “Bohemia” in all societies, including its own?

In “Last Call, Bohemia” in this month’s (July) Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens observes how London, Paris and San Francisco – also renowned for neighborhoods which foster climates of creativity and culture, havens for “the artists, exiles and misfits” – have “learned” and adopted a hands off policy towards building un-affordable, big box monstrosities in these areas. What will it take for real-estate-obsessed New York City to do the same?

Hitchens’ focuses on these havens as places for people who “regenerate the culture.” Within the article, he targets the St. Vincents/Rudin Management “plan” to remake a large swath of the West Village for “luxury housing” and a new medical building as exactly the type development that should be stopped. He explores what it means not just the Village, but for the City at large.

Hitchens writes:

It isn’t possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals. This little quarter should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran.

Jane Jacobs in 1961 argued for this same importance: the importance of retaining some of “the old,” buildings which allowed for greater diversity of uses (and lower costs), amidst the “new,” construction which would need high end and less unique businesses to support it.

When your whole city begins to look overrun with the “new,” then what do you do?

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs wrote, “To be sure, city areas with flourishing diversity sprout strange and unpredictable uses and scenes. But this is not a drawback of diversity. This is the point, or part of it. That this should happen is in keeping with one of the missions of cities.”

Yet how do you regulate that? And should you have to?

Certainly, under Mayor Bloomberg, there is the homogenization factor.

The City’s redesign plans for Washington Square Park illustrate no understanding or acknowledgment (and, perhaps, purposefully) of the “strange,” the unique, bohemia or diversity.

Shouldn’t we live in a society that values places like Washington Square Park as is? Instead of protecting Wall Street and tourism, wouldn’t we like to live in a place where the quaint and historical buildings around Washington Square and throughout the West and East Village that NYU has subsumed wouldn’t be touched?

Hitchens continues, “Those who don’t live in such threatened districts nonetheless have a stake in this quarrel and some skin in this game, because on the day when everywhere looks like everywhere else we shall all be very much impoverished, and not only that but-more impoverishingly still-we will be unable to express or even understand or depict what we have lost.”

* * *

Photo: Ed Yourdon

Jane Jacobs

In 1961, Jane Jacobs released The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jane Jacobs had already made a name for herself as a community activist in the West Village.

At one point, the Washington Square Park Arch had cars running around – and through – it. Jacobs was involved with others in ending this. (See photo: Arch from 1955. Note cars.)

In her groundbreaking book on how we view planning of cities, she writes of NYC’s recurring plans to play around with Washington Square Park: “The city officials regularly concoct improvement schemes by which this center within the park would be sown to grass and flowers and surrounded by a fence. The invariable phrase to describe this is, ‘restoring the land to park use.’ That is a different form of park use, legitimate in places. But for neighborhood parks, the finest centers are stage settings for people.”

Forty seven years later, the city is bent on destroying Jacobs’ vision of what makes a successful public park.