Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Jacobean Drama

Urban-planning legend Jane Jacobs gets invoked in West Side battle—much to her chagrin.

ShareThis

When Cablevision unveiled its alternative to the stadium proposal for the West Side rail yards last week—a massive 5,800-unit residential complex plus five-acre park, hotel, “performing arts enclave,” etc.—architect Alex Krieger, former chairman of the Department of Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, declared his project as being in line with “the Jane Jacobs vision.” Jacobs is an urban-planning icon for her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which emphasizes street life, organic development, and diversity of structures, and Krieger was smart to bring up her name. Ethan Kent of the Project for Public Spaces says this happens all the time. Just as Robert Moses symbolizes gigantism, the Jacobs brand is synonymous with sensible, people-oriented planning. But when reached at home in Toronto, Jacobs, 89, said she was unfamiliar with Krieger’s work, adding, “The Harvard School of Design has never been much of a mentor of mine.” Why? “They’ve never respected the city street or the vitality of cities. They got terribly fond of Le Corbusier,” whose tower-in-a-park planning theories are anathema to Jacobs. “And it’s never really worn off.” It’s pretty clear something so Hong Kong–like wasn’t inspired by her ideology. (In The Death and Life, she wrote skeptically of architecture “so orderly, so visible, so easy to understand. It says everything in a flash, like a good advertisement.”) Furthermore, she says that many architects now “never know when to stop. They keep building the same thing over and over until they crash, and right now that’s tower condominiums.” “We hear people invoke her name for the craziest stuff,” says Kent. “They have all the right language—they’ll say it’s mixed use and there’s public space, but that’s where the correlations end.” But as the MTA board mulls over the bids for the site this week, Mayor Bloomberg can’t claim the Jacobs imprimatur for his stadium and its requisite parking garages, either. “That’s an awful way to use valuable land in Manhattan,” she says.


Related:

Advertising
Current Issue
Subscribe to New York
Subscribe

Give a Gift

Advertising