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.

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.

Last Call, Bohemia?

Greenwich Village, 1960

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

In a July ’08 Vanity Fair article titled “Last Call, Bohemia”, Christopher Hitchens observes how London, Paris and San Francisco — 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.”  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.

In her 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs argued for the need for “the old” amidst “the new.”  She 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.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, there is the homogenization factor going on in our city… certainly our bland Mayor doesn’t get that “mission” that Jacobs refers to.  And our NY City Council, led by Speaker Christine Quinn, just falls in line with her friend and benefactor, thereby eliminating any protection or preservation of the unique in our city.

The City’s redesign plans for Washington Square Park further illustrate no understanding or acknowledgment (perhaps, indeed purposefully) of the “strange” (Jacobs’ term for something worth preserving) or the unique, bohemia or diversity.  The design, by landscape designer George Vellonakis, seems to purposefully gloss over – almost sneers at – what made the Park unique.

Instead of Mayor Mike’s emphasis on protecting Wall Street, real estate interests and tourism, wouldn’t we like to live in a place where the historical buildings throughout the West and East Village that NYU has subsumed would be off limits to being altered … forever

Hitchens concludes:

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.

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*This is a revised and edited version of a post first published on June 18th, 2008.*

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

* Recycled Entry * Originally Published February 28, 2008 *

Whither New York?

Some really great revealing articles lately on CEO Mayor Bloomberg’s New York in which, as you know, only the financial market and corporate and developer Friends of Mayor Mike are given ‘breaks’ while everyone else has their public space reduced and privatized, continually monitored, and their neighborhoods and communities across the five boroughs sacrificed for these same FOMM. I’ll highlight some of the pertinent points from a few of these articles today and in the coming days.

What follows is an excerpt from a most interesting article from the March 2009 Atlantic magazine, “How the Crash Will Reshape America,” by Richard Florida. He addresses NYC’s over-reliance on Wall Street and asks … what would Jane Jacobs say?

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Whither New York?

In the short run, the most troubling question for New York is not how much of its finance industry will move to other places, but how much will simply vanish altogether. At the height of the recent bubble, Greater New York depended on the financial sector for roughly 22 percent of local wages. But most economists agree that by then the financial economy had become bloated and overdeveloped.

Financial positions account for only about 8 percent of the New York area’s jobs, not too far off the national average of 5.5 percent. …

New York is much, much more than a financial center. … Elizabeth Currid’s book, The Warhol Economy, provides detailed evidence of New York’s diversity. Currid measured the concentration of different types of jobs in New York relative to their incidence in the U.S. economy as a whole. By this measure, New York is more of a mecca for fashion designers, musicians, film directors, artists, and—yes—psychiatrists than for financial professionals.

The great urbanist Jane Jacobs was among the first to identify cities’ diverse economic and social structures as the true engines of growth. … Jacobs argued that the jostling of many different professions and different types of people, all in a dense environment, is an essential spur to innovation—to the creation of things that are truly new. And innovation, in the long run, is what keeps cities vital and relevant.

In this sense, the financial crisis may ultimately help New York by reenergizing its creative economy. … When I asked Jacobs some years ago about the effects of escalating real-estate prices on creativity, she told me, “When a place gets boring, even the rich people leave.” With the hegemony of the investment bankers over, New York now stands a better chance of avoiding that sterile fate.

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?

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.