There's a lot to mine from the book, but first, consider Gratz's mini-scoop regarding Jacobs and Atlantic Yards. After delineating the story of AY--a throwback to Robert Moses-style development--Gratz takes aim at those who claim the legacy of Jacobs just because they create a project with "mixed use."
Change and "catalysmic" money
Jacobs, she writes, was not against "change," but supported a mix of old and new:
And, of course, a true reading of Jacobs’s books versus a pseudounderstanding would indicate her disapproval of everything about Atlantic Yards but also her expectation for continued change and growth, just not [Bruce] Ratner’s idea of change and growth, any more than a Moses plan. A basic Jacobs precept is complexity: no complexity is possible in a monolithic development of this scale by one developer and designed by one architect.(Emphases in original)
Another basic Jacobs precept is opposition to "cataclysmic” money and development. Surely, this project qualifies as cataclysmic change. The proposal is so inimical to the character of the district and, in fact, the whole borough of Brooklyn that it is off any chart of Jacobs’s’ principles.
Trying to show how Atlantic Yards contradicts every Jacobs principle can be tiresome. And, in fact, she was too unpredictable for such an exercise. Furthermore, Jacobs was never about how to develop or design as much as how to think about development, how to observe and understand what works, how to respect what exists, how to scrutinize plans skeptically, how to nurture innovation, new growth, and resilience. That says it all.
As it happens, I had a brief conversation with Jane about Atlantic Yards in one of my last visits with her before her death. The development had only recently been proposed [Jacobs died 4/25/06], and she agreed that it was right out of the pages of old, discarded development models derivative of Moses. There was not much to discuss. She shook her head and said, “What a shame.”
There is more to say, however. If Jacobs was never about how to develop but how to think about it, how should we think about it?
There are some lessons in the book, and some lingering questions, both of which I'll address in an upcoming post.