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.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
The New Year's celebration inevitably brings to mind New York City, where I'm heading this week. So I'll finish the week with some thoughts about America's largest city. Today the Times published some thoughts by New Yorkers about what city life may be like 100 years from now. In comparison to the ambitious predictions of 100 years ago (prognosticators in 1908 tended to predict huge land use changes, such as flying trains, but missed smaller changes, such as the development of the computer!), today's predictions are modest, and include much trepidation. The director of the Skyscraper Museum, for example, predicted a future (unless the city is under water) of more high-tech glass buildings, bigger streetscape advertisements, and a treasuring of New York's old buildings, which were saved in the late 20th century. So land use law be still be in the front of New Yorkers' minds? Good.
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