In the Times today, another round on Jane Jacobs and gentrification; did she prefer preservation or ways to foster thriving cities?
The article and book raise some interesting issues about Jane Jacobs and gentrification, but they also fail to acknowledge how dramatically the city as a whole has changed. And while Zukin offers some solutions worthy of consideration, including a redirection of subsidies to support small-scale and neighborhood initiatives, she doesn't address some of the macro policies--such as transportation and parks--that might foster additional thriving neighborhoods.
From the blurb:
Indeed, Naked City is a sobering update of Jacobs' legendary 1962 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities . Like Jacobs, Zukin looks at what gives neighborhoods a sense of place, but argues that over time, the emphasis on neighborhood distinctiveness has become a tool of economic elites to drive up real estate values and effectively force out the neighborhood "characters" that Jacobs so evocatively idealized.Jacobs' myth?
From the Times's CityRoom blog, distilling the article:
Brownstone Brooklyn is another slide placed under her cultural microscope. The bohemian outliers of the upper-middle-class wave that has swept the area celebrated the “grittiness” of the neighborhoods, she notes, even as they pushed the working class toward the exits.I'd agree that Jacobs' appreciation of street life may have been sanitized (see the Marshall Berman essay in the book Block By Block, cited here) and I'd point out that Jacobs was writing when the city and its virtues were under assault from suburbanization.
“It’s a myth that, like Jane Jacobs’s sanitized appreciation of the urban village of Hudson Street, lured more artists and writers to Brooklyn as those ethnic communities aged and grew smaller,” Ms. Zukin writes.
Benjamin Hemric, a frequent critic of those (mis)interpreting Jacobs (and an influence on my thinking), adds some deeper comments:
2) I think it’s a mistake to assume, as either Michael Powell or Sharon Zukin seem to do, that Jane Jacobs was somehow oblivious to what many people see as the negative effects, and the power, of what is now call gentrification. Just for one instance, the third part of “Death and Life . . .,” entitled “Forces of Decline and Regeneration,” contains an entire chapter on “The Self-Destruction of Diversity” (which is the general problem, as Jacobs sees it, with what is now called “gentrification”) and its power.Indeed, couldn't it be argued that, while Greenwich Village and Brownstone Brooklyn are gentrified in ways far beyond Jacobs' time, given the city's subsequent prosperity and growth, there are many other worthy neighborhoods?
Rather than being oblivious, Jacobs just happens to see the situation very differently from the way these critics do. For instance, from the Jacobs perspective “ungentrified” urban districts are not really desirable either; and she believes that in order to mitigate the negatives of gentrification, cities need to greatly increase the supply of “gentrifiable” neighborhoods in order to better meet the demand.
3) While it is true that Jacobs was against misguided heavy handed government interference in the marketplace, she did, however, see a role for government too (although probably not the role that Prof. Zukin advocates) — and that’s, indeed, the point of many of her recommendations in “Death and Life . . .” (and subsequent works too). The point is for government to stop doing bad things to cities (e.g., directly destroying diversity or indirectly destroying it by eliminating the conditions that would support it, etc.) and to start doing the right things (e.g., working to create MORE urban districts that have the conditions that create and support diversity, etc.).
4) Many of Jacobs’ critics from the left, like Zukin, basically appear to view the world very differently from Jacobs. They seem to see the world as essentially a static place where various socio-economic groups fight over a, more or less, finite pie, and believe that government should freeze the world even more completely in place in order to protect and “preserve” the turf of the (static) poor.
Jacobs, on the other hand, views the world as a dynamic place that is constantly changing — whether one likes it or not — and the point of a healthy society is to continually increase and expand the pie (which is what she feels humans, including the poor, are inclined to do anyway), not just fight over it.
Is the challenge figuring out how people can stay in their neighborhood, or is it figuring out how to ensure--thanks to investments in the "public realm," to quote planner Alexander Garvin--the city has many places where an affordable and decent life can be lived?
From the main article:
But if Ms. Jacobs is much hailed as an urban prophet, Ms. Zukin is a heretic on her canonization. She views Ms. Jacobs as a passionate and prescient writer, but also one who failed to reckon with steroidal gentrification and the pervasive hunger of the upper middle class for ever more homogenous neighborhoods.That's a bit simplistic. In Williamsburg, the city approved a dramatic rezoning--despite alternative plans from the Community Board--that converted manufacturing blocks into places for towers. There are relatively few brownstones. The rezoning did involve affordable housing--it just wasn't very well thought out.
The pattern in places like Williamsburg and Atlantic Yards, Ms. Zukin said, is dreary and inexorable: Middle-class “pioneers” buy brownstones and row houses. City officials rezone to allow luxury towers, which swell the value of the brownstones. And banks and real estate companies unleash a river of capital, flushing out the people who gave the neighborhoods character.
Ms. Jacobs viewed cities as self-regulating organisms, and placed her faith in local residents. But Ms. Zukin argues that without more aggressive government regulation of rents and zoning, neighborhoods will keep getting more stratified.
“Jacobs’s values — the small blocks, the cobblestone streets, the sense of local identity in old neighborhoods — became the gentrifiers’ ideal,” Ms. Zukin said. “But Jacobs’s social goals, the preservation of classes, have been lost.”
A further description in the Times article gets it wrong:
The City Planning Commission rezoned a few years ago even as it tried to apply a gentle brake, letting gleaming condominiums rise on the river while protecting old warehouses and factories.A gentle brake? The rezoning opened up Williamsburg into a Wild West of speculation, which is why there are so many stalled development sites.
Atlantic Yards, beyond the mistaken description of a rezoning and AY as place, would be a state override of zoning, shoehorning significant density into 22 acres. It represents "cataclysmic money," among other things Jacobs opposed. (See the Jacobs report card from Michael D.D. White's Noticing New York for much more.)
Beyond the block
I haven't yet read the book, but I did scan the conclusion, from which the following passages are excerpted. I'll point out that, despite Zukin's suggestion that Jacobs focused on the block, in The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jacobs also wrote about a larger entity she called a district:
Our tastes for consuming the city unconsciously confirm the official rhetoric of upscale growth.But how do we have both small-scale streets and low rents? Isn't increasing the supply--and density--part of the solution? Isn't there an opportunity to create density at and near many transit hubs rather than throw "extreme density" at one of them?
Jane Jacobs seduced us with her vision of the urban village. Unlike her communitarian vision of social harmony, though, we have to go beyond the block to decide what kind of city we want. This should not be the city of Robert Moses, whose dictatorial ability to conceive and carry out big plans stirs nostalgia among today's power brokers. We need small-scale streets and shops, ethic and working-class residents, and low rents that allow residents to put down roots in the heart of the city. Moses used federal government funds and local government power to give land to the cultural institutions of New York University and Lincoln Center that still provide jobs for artists and creative support staff today. The state failed, though, to provide stable long-term housing for these necessary low- and middle-income workers. Jacobs didn't talk about housing prices, but affordable housing and low commercial rents are crucial to keeping the kinds of people and stores she liked in her neighborhood. Though she advocated a mix of new and old buildings that would keep rents low, she failed to see how maintaining the physical fabric of the old city, its loft buildings and four- and five-story townhouses, would create a precious commodity that few longtime residents and store owners could afford.
(I wrote in November 2007 how Edward Poteat, director of real estate finance at Horsford & Poteat Realty, suggested zoning changes—as long as the projects included affordable housing—in neighborhoods like Brownsville, East New York, and Bushwick, allowing ten- to 12-story buildings, envisioning a scale not unlike at the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.)
The role of zoning
She didn't believe in government action, though, to save authentic places. To the end of her life she put no faith in zoning or any other plan that was imposed from outside a neighborhood. Her work cannot guide us to devise strategies for protecting residents and businesses that would break the great power of those who own, and those who can zone, the land.Actually, Jacobs supported flexible "performance" zoning in Toronto, which aimed "to create a high quality, predictable built environment while leaving the issue of land use flexible."
Zukin suggests there's a role for "authenticity," a topic that pervades the book and deserves a longer discussion than I can muster at this point:
Authenticity must be used to reshape the rights of ownership. Claiming authenticity can suggest a right to the city, a human right, that is cultivated by longtime residence, use, and habit,. Just as icons... derive their meaning from the rituals in which they are embedded, so do neighborhoods, buildings, and streets.Maybe, but authenticity has been used on both sides of the Atlantic Yards fight. Proponents have claimed they deserve a piece of the pie after all their years in Brooklyn. Opponents can argue that they helped create the situation where it became cost-effective to finally build over the Vanderbilt Yard.
Zoning, limits on rent increases, government-backed mortgage guarantees for store owners, special privileges for start-up businesses and young apprentices that will maintain crafts and trades, street vending, and even gardening: these are the basic building blocks that can produce the neighborhood self-sufficiency Jane Jacobs prized.Some Jacobsians might say that these conditions might emerge in more flourishing neighborhoods through general investment in infrastructure. Zukin seems to be suggesting that the special privileges often enjoyed by the real estate industry be steered differently.
This echoes the somewhat parallel effort of the "One City, One Future" coalition, which posited an equitable growth strategy for the last mayoral race but mostly got ignored.
State power & CBAs
Jacobs was wrong to distrust the capacity of state power to protect the city's authenticity," observes Zukin, who acknowledges that the "betrayal of community based plans" in places like Williamsburg is hardly a good sign. She suggests that the use of inclusionary zoning to provide some affordable apartments should be coupled with further protection of rent control.
Neither has the city government supported the use of community benefits agreements, which would guarantee needed jobs and housing. In the few cases where developer have accepted such agreements public officials fail to enforce them. But without the power of state laws neighborhoods have no way to fight market forces that destroy community institutions.Maybe that's because community benefits agreements (CBAs) don't necessarily guarantee jobs and housing and can instead help gain approval for a highly contentions power. And maybe that's because some CBAs--like the one regarding Atlantic Yards--isn't publicly enforceable.
Zukin concludes, in her penultimate paragraph:
What is required is to build the political will for this from the bottom up, and to build this resistance among a wide public of voters, including many in the middle class, may require a rhetoric that connects the social goal of rootedness and the economic goal of stable rents to the cultural power of authenticity. If mom-and-pop stores are more "authentic" than big-box chains, the state should mandate their inclusion in every new building project and in every shopping block. If the social life of the streets is truly important, the state should make sure that all the men and women who use the streets have affordable rents so they can continue to live in the neighborhood.Again, I think, she's pointing to governmental priorities; indeed, if there are tax breaks for developers, why not steer them in a certain way?
That's a legitimate argument. But if everyone stays in a neighborhood, doesn't it get stagnant? Shouldn't there also be provisions to enable growth?
Zukin unfortunately doesn't seem to address the complexity of the political change--both in leadership and structure--necessary to get there.
In a 10/3/06 tribute to Jacobs, architecture critic Paul Goldberger observed:
What Jane Jacobs really gave us wasn’t a physical model for cities, or a theory about them – as I said a moment ago, she didn’t really want every place to look like Greenwich Village, however much she loved it and learned from it. What she gave us was much more important than a physical model of cities to copy. She gave us a model for skepticism.Perhaps reducing the influence of the real estate industry in politics might be a start.
Today, it’s hard to know where embracing her skepticism will bring us. The city is not the same as it was in the years when Jacobs first began to observe it. In some ways it has become too big, and too gentrified, to continue to operate as Jane Jacobs wanted it to. In her day, a fairly natural process gave us the Greenwich Village she loved – and gave us the rest of the neighborhood-rich, pedestrian-oriented, exquisitely balanced city New York once was – and Jacobs wisely saw that professional planners were not able to do much except upset this natural equilibrium.
Today, however, the natural order of things yields something very different from the vibrant, street-oriented and highly diverse world Jacobs taught us to admire. The natural process of growth now gives us sprawl, it gives us gigantism, it gives us economic segregation and it gives us homogeneous, dreary design. The laissez-faire city almost worked in the 1950’s New York that Jane Jacobs so loved. In those days, intervention into organic urban growth was symbolized by the acts of a Robert Moses. Intervention by planners was itself a hostile act. Today, though, laissez-faire doesn’t work at all – this is the difficult challenge of city-building now. Natural growth is itself what feels hostile to a civilized city, which is why today, the forces trying to intervene are the forces set in motion by Jane Jacobs herself. If you seek her true legacy, it isn’t just in the stoops and the street life of Greenwich Village, wonderful as these things are. It is the very idea of radical intervention, and of knowing that the one thing in New York that we can never be is complacent.