Frank Gruber on Jane Jacobs in the HuffPo
Richard Florida has been tweeting Frank Gruber’s essays reviewing APA’s reissuing of The Life and Death of Great American Cities.
From the first essay: In the introduction to Reconsidering Jane Jacobs, a new book from the American Planning Association, co-editor Max Page writes that the book “is less about Jane Jacobs as an individual than about ‘Jane Jacobs’ as the shorthand for a set of ideas and planning practices that have spread around the world over the past half century, some of which the individual named Jane Jacobs might not have recognized as her own.”
IOW, Jane Jacobs means what a bunch of planners have decided she meant because they have a strong self-interest co-opting her critique in order to re-legitimize their profession.
My mathematician father-in-law took great relish in telling me that Jane Jacobs said that planners don’t know what they are doing–because, of course, all planners believe and do the same thing (just like all lawyers, doctors, and engineers do all the same things in the same way, there are no controversies in those fields, and that’s all there is to it), and, of course, what all those planners believe hasn’t changed in 50 years and should be defined as what they did 50 years ago.
But his basic point was sound: my read of Jacobs was that Jacobs thought planners should shut up and go away, and let markets and communities sort things.
What the New Urbanists take from Jane Jacobs is what nearly every other planner or urbanist working today takes from Jacobs regardless in what context they work: a set of pro-urban values. Love of the city. What was revolutionary about Jacobs in 1961, 15 years into a half-century of sprawl, was not that she stood up to Robert Moses, urban renewal and Modernism, but that she proclaimed her love for city life.
This point gets made pretty often. But I wonder: How much of the New Urbanism is really a love of cities, and how much of it is the love of a certain class of Americans (white, urban, affluent, etc etc) take in preaching to others how to live, while wrapping themselves in the moral blanket of environmental protection? (A blanket that, by every measure, is pretty thin given that piecemeal developments are an ineffectual environmental strategy.) IOW, how much of this is the same old paternalism this group of supposedly progressive people have always taken in bossing others?
But then, I’m an anti-New Urbanist planner, so my arguments are all one-dimensional.