New York City has lost a patron saint. Jane Jacobs, the Greenwich Village housewife who taught America to see its cities anew, died Tuesday in her sleep in a Toronto hospital. Jacobs was the author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Voice review from 1961 here) and The Nature of Economies (2000). Her philosophies about urban development helped to save much of what we love about New York today–from Soho to Grand Central station.
But the fight for preservation and human scale wasn’t an abstract one for Jacobs. What follows is a message she sent from the trenches almost 50 years ago.
Preserving the Village
Reason, Emotion, Pressure: There is No Other Recipe
By Jane Jacobs
May 22, 1957
The best you can say for redevelopment is that, in certain cases, it is the lesser evil. As practiced in New York, it is very painful. It causes catastrophic dislocation and hardship to tens of thousands of citizens. There is growing evidence that it shoots up juvenile-delinquency figures and spreads or intensifies slums in the areas taking the dislocation impact. It destroys, more surely than floods or tornados, immense numbers of small businesses. It is expensive to the taxpayers, federal and local. It is not fulfilling the hope that it would boost the city’s tax returns. Quite the contrary.
Furthermore, the results of all this expense and travail look dull and are dull. The great virtue of the city, the thing that helps make up for all its disadvantages, is that it is interesting. It isn’t easy to make a chunk of New York boring, but redevelopment does it.
On the other hand here is the Village —an area of the city with the power to attract and hold a real cross-section of the population, including a lot of middle-income families. An area with demonstrated potential for extending and upgrading its fringes. An area that pays more in taxes than it gets back in services. An area that grows theaters all by itself . . .
Wouldn’t you think the city fathers would want to understand what makes our area successful and learn from it? Or failing such creative curiosity that they would at least cherish it?