June 17, 2006

Jane Jacobs' neighborhood

Note: This post was edited on Jan. 20, 2007. Hotlinked image(s) were removed. Follow the link(s) to the image location(s).In the spirit of neighborhoods and New York City, I have included an excerpt from "Jane-washing" by Paul Goldberger (Metropolis, July 2006). If the tendency of developers to exploit Jacobs's ideas for their own purposes is one piece of her success, there is another troubling part of her legacy: the frequency and ease with which her words are taken as pure and absolute gospel by well-meaning, earnest followers who don't have half her imagination or boldness. Just as Mies was not always well served by the Miesians, who interpreted his architecture with the dutiful precision of pure acolytes, or Freud by the Freudians, Jacobs is not always well served by urbanists who insist that there is no model but Greenwich Village , and that there is simply no other way for a city to work, period. Jacobs subtly encouraged this by engaging in what I have often called the fallacy of physical determinism, suggesting that the physical form of a neighborhood determines everything about how it will function. But as anatomy is not always destiny, neither is architecture. High-rises in open space are usually not right, but Stuyvesant Town works just fine, thank you, despite Jacobs's misgivings. And there are plenty of other examples of places that do not fit within the Jacobs mold and succeed anyway. Yet Jacobs could often see beyond the formulaic, but the same cannot be said for too many of her followers. Greenwich Village, New York

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