Thursday, January 3, 2008
New York's Urban Center (at Madison and 51st), run by the Municipal Arts League, is showing an exhibit about the late critic and activist Jane Jacobs. Although some of her strong opinions have since been questioned by urbanists, the current show makes clear how radical Jacobs was and how important her ideas were -- in the anti-urban 1950s and 1960s -- in creating new conceptions of what makes a vibrant city. Eschewing the automobile, Jacobs called for mixed uses and a jumble of designs (an unorthodox idea in the hyper-"planning" era) and for a high concentration of people (also radical in an era in which the overcrowded tenements of 1910 Manhattan were still a memory). In both her writings (the exhibit includes some hilarious criticism from Robert Moses and Lewis Mumford) and her activism in preserving New York neighborhoods from highway and redevelopment plans, Jacobs did much to create the ideals that we now consider the bedrock of modern urbanism.