Skip to main content

The Bloomberg administration and Jane Jacobs: the consonance and the disconnect

It was a convivial, heartfelt event on Monday night, October 18, when the Rockefeller Foundation awarded the fourth annual Jane Jacobs Medals for new activism and career activism.

Both categories of awards were richly deserved. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, founder of the Central Park Conservancy, helped revive the city's jewel, once shockingly deteriorated and neglected.

Josh David and Robert Hammond, founder of Friends of the High Line, saw civic possibilities in a long-neglected piece of infrastructure slated for demolition.

And the presenters of each award, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden, respectively, could proudly, affectinately claim mayoral endorsement for both projects.

And the disconnect

But we shouldn't be misled into thinking that the administration of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and followers of famed urbanist Jane Jacobs are always on the same page.

Consider that, in a video shown to attendees, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger expressed his amazement--as he has written--that backers of the West Side Stadium portrayed the gargantuan project as expressing Jacobsian mixed-use ideals because it contained retail elements at the street level.

Bloomberg, of course, backed the West Side Stadium to the hilt.

Consider that, in one of her last public statements, Jacobs, who had long lived in Toronto but maintained affection for and attention to New York City, wrote a tough open letter criticizing the Bloomberg administration's plans for rezoning Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

Such criticisms have even more weight today, when those neighborhoods face a disproportionate share of stalled construction sites.

And consider that Benepe and Burden, however committed they are to the Jacobsian ideals, have had to swallow and endorse some very questionable moves by the mayor who appointed them, such as the loss of parkland for a new Yankee Stadium, or the creation of superblocks and surface parking on behalf of the Atlantic Yards project.

The Jacobs influence

In their remarks Monday night, the awardees cited the influence of Jacobs' seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Barlow Rogers called it one of the most important books in her life, though she recognized, when she applied to planning schools, that it was anathema to received wisdom.

David, a travel writer turned accidental activist, said he'd read the book just before starting his involvement. It had never occurred to him that he could have an impact on the built environment, but the book inspired him.

There, at a community board meeting, he met a kindred spirit, Hammond, and together, with the help of some heavy hitters they recruited (it didn't hurt that Hammond was a college friend of then City Council President Gifford Miller), they built a movement.

David said that Jacobs' proposal that cities be divided into administrative districts helped create the community board system. (I hadn't heard that.) So, in this case, the system worked: "Jane Jacobs built the room where the High Line, as we know it, was born."

And that room, of course, was ignored completely in the Atlantic Yards approval process, as the city agreed to cede control to the Empire State Development Corporation and its unelected board, thus bypassing the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Comments

  1. PART ONE

    Norman wrote:

    [Josh] David [a found of Friends of the High Line] said that [Jane] Jacobs' proposal that cities be divided into administrative districts helped create the community board system. (I hadn't heard that.) So, in this case, the system worked: "Jane Jacobs built the room where the High Line, as we know it, was born."

    Benjamin writes:

    I'm not sure if it's precisely true that Jane Jacobs' book "Death and Life of Great American Cities," helped "create" the community board system (in the sense of helping to originate it). But I do suspect that it's likely true that it helped shape the development of the community board system over the years.

    If I am remembering correctly from some research I was doing about a year ago, a much weaker form of the community board (than even now) was already in existence a number of years before Jane Jacobs wrote "Death and Life of Great American Cities" (the book where Jacobs talks about the importance of properly organized administrative districts). I think (and again I'm not sure about this) the original community board system was set up in the early-1950s in Manhattan by the then Manhattan Borough President (1950-1953) Robert F. Wagner.

    Again, I'm not positive about this, but I think Jane Jacobs' husband, Robert (and maybe even Jane Jacobs herself?), may have been a member of the local community board for the Village in the 1950s, even before she went on to write "Death and Life . . . "

    Another person who I think was a member of a 1950s, pre-"Death and Life" Greenwich Village community board was Shirley Hayes, the person who originally organized the fight against an enlarged roadway in Washington Square Park.

    (To be continued.)

    Benjamin Hemric
    Wed., Oct. 20, 2010, 8:57 p.m.

    ReplyDelete
  2. PART TWO

    I haven't done as much research about this as I eventually hope to do, but it seems to me that the the chapter in "Death and Life . . ." on administratvie districts was influential in the development of the "co-terminality" movement in NYC government in the early- and mid-1970s. The idea was to shape the administrative districts of various city departments so that they more closely corresponded to those of community planning boards (and, as a result, also to fellow city agencies).

    I could be wrong about this, but I believe there was strong opposition in a number of communities, and the policy was never implemented the way its proponents had hoped.

    I suspect, though, that Jacobs herself (who had already moved to Toronto) would have been suspicious of a Draconian implementation of such a policy, especially over just a short period of time. However, it seems to me that it is a generally good objective to aim for over time.

    Benjamin Hemric
    Wed., Oct. 20, 2010, 10:55 p.m.

    ReplyDelete
  3. PART THREE

    P.S. -- Googling "co-terminality" just now, I see that co-terminality was adopted even earlier than the mid-1970s and seems to be pretty well implemented these days.

    However, I do remember some controversy from the mid-1970s or so, but don't know if it was strictly local and anomalous or more widespread.

    But it's good to see that the general idea appears to be widely, and sensibly, implemented these days.

    Benjamin Hemric
    Oct. 20, 2010, 11: 30 p.m.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.