October 19, 2009
Small Improvements, not Grand Designs
Andrew M. Manshel (executive vice president, Greater Jamaica Development Corp.) has written A Place is Better than a Plan: Revitalizing Urban Areas is Best Done Through Small Improvements, not Grand Designs for the Autumn 2009 issue of City Journal. The summary:
The importance of small ideas to urban revitalization isn’t widely appreciated. Particularly in the most recent real-estate cycle, many planners, design professionals, and developers produced grand schemes instead. But profound change is more likely to result from a deeply considered idea that alters an essential component of an urban environment than from an elaborate master plan that requires abundant resources and considerable political capital. While some large-scale plans, like Rockefeller Center, are successful, most become impersonal, overbearing failures—or, even more often, are stillborn, the victims of the long process of assemblage, environmental remediation, community participation, zoning adoption, and the securing of financing.
Manshel uses the example of putting movable chairs in several small New York parks beginning in the 1980s to convey a message of personal control over social arrangements, trust, and safety. He seems to be telling a story that is sort of Jane Jacobs-meets-broken windows theory. Plus there is a shout-out to Houston's new downtown urban park, Discovery Green.