Sunday, September 03, 2006

The more things change...

A public hearing in a big city is apt to be a curious affair, simultaneously discouraging and heartening. The ones I know best are held in New York's City Hall, alternate Thursdays, on measures that require decision by the city's chief governing body, the Board of Estimate.
...Sometimes the sessions are calm and speedy; but often they are tumultuous and last not only all day, but far into the night.
...In one sense, the whole affair is exasperating. So many of the problems need never have arisen.
...So many of the conflicts would never occur if planners and other supposed experts understood in the least how cities work and respected those workings. Still other issues, it appears, involve forms of favoritism, deals or arbitrary administrative acts which outrage voters but for which they can find no effective place to point responsibility or seek repair. In many cases too (but not all), the hundreds of people who have lost a day's pay, or have made arrangements for care of their children, or have brought their children along and sit hour upon hour with youngsters fidgeting in their laps, are being hoaxed; it has all been decided before they are heard.


--Jane Jacobs, Ch. 21, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)

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