Jane Jacobs, Moynihan Station, and general feelings of apprehension

I've been thinking about the "Jacobsian" philosophy a lot lately, as it seems that more entities use The Death and Life as a way of defending their proposals, i.e. "inspired by Jane Jacobs." Many of these projects embody, at face value, a fundamental hypocrisy (such as new walkable communities in the desert joust utside of Las Vegas proper.) I thought more about it after this panel I attended about Jane Jacobs at the Strand last Thursday night. The panel featured a couple of my favorite writers, Phillip Lopate, Karrie Jacobs, and a fine cartoonist, Ben Katchor, who all presented piece of their work in the book Block by Block which accompanies the Jane Jacobs exhibit at the Municipal Art Society.

Yet as Jacobs is being used to support unsustainable development, it is also used by those who oppose change in our city. It's been troubling to me to hear of projects that are obvious wins for the public to be hamstrung and blocked from execution for a variety of reason, and then also, as the kicker, to be claimed as a project that is against Jane Jacobs. See this post by Karrie Jacobs about Moynihan Station.

Jane Jacobs continues to captivate so many is because her writing relates the many multiple beauties of city living, and at a scale (i.e., small) that was overlooked by planners during her time in New York. There's something about it that captures the imagination for those who care about cities. However, while it may seem that Jane Jacobs would be opposed to many of our proposed changes because we have ushered in so many large-scale projects - some good, some bad, some downright terrible - I think that to immediately assume scale as an indication of public value, or to oppose change for the sake of it, is a mistake. Our city has more than 8 million people. Our infrastructure and our network of shared spaces and streets, are necessarily large. Our population is projected to explode in the short-term, and we need large public works to support us. (For example, Moynihan Station and congestion pricing; both are large-scale efforts). I wholly believe that this is in line with Jane Jacobs; her lament was centered around the divestment of our city, the short-sighted investment of the suburbs and the thoughtlessly-wide brush-stroke of Moses-era planning. This is an era where we are investing in our city. We need good planning that can think big as well as it can delicately fine-tune sidewalk widths. My reading of Jacobs is that she would support large-scale progress, especially when it is change that allows the street ballet to continue. All of this bears saying because there are a lot of New York projects that really are making change for the better right now, and if you can't stop and recognize the good of those projects, then what's the point of fighting at all?

(The panel discussion was filmed and was supposed to be posted somewhere, but I can't seem to find it. If you are dying with curiosity about what was said, check the Strand or Futureofny.org site after a few more days. Or you can just buy the book.)