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Wrestling With Moses: a look at the work and legacy of Jane Jacobs fills in (and goes beyond) the gaps in The Power Broker

Anthony Flint’s new book, Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City, is well worth reading, as it fills in (and goes beyond) the missing chapter of Robert Caro’s epic biography of Moses, The Power Broker.

It contains two lively mini-biographies, coupled with accounts of major fights over a road through Washington Square Park. urban renewal in Greenwich Village, and the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway (aka LoMex). The first fight helped shape Jacobs's thinking about urban renewal, published before her landmark 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities; the latter two she led, the second after she’d become a national figure.

My main quibble is simply with the scope of the book. Anyone wrestling with the legacies of Moses and Jacobs, especially after major retrospectives on both at museums in New York in 2007, must tackle the latter-day conflicts between their legacies: could Jacobs’s un-slumming--a version of gentrification--truly produce the low-income and affordable housing that cities like New York need, or was the wholesale clearance embraced by Moses the answer?

Or, in a different era, is there a different set of solutions? Author (and former Boston Globe reporter) Flint, to his credit, recognizes these issues, but, as I describe below, could’ve spent more time grappling with them.

(Flint will present a book talk from 6:30 to 8 pm today at the Skyscraper Museum. The event is free, but RSVP is requested.)

Independent spirit

Jacobs emerges, as she has in previous portraits, as in independent thinker--indeed, as Paul Goldberger has noted, perhaps her most important legacy is skepticism. Flint notes that, as an adolescent who made up imaginary friends to talk to, young Jane Butzner's choices were Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin.

“I was brought up to believe there is no virtue in conforming meekly to the dominant opinion of the moment,” Jacobs reflected. “I was brought up to believe that simple conformity results in stagnation for a society, and that American progress has been largely owing to the opportunity for experimentation, the leeway given initiative, and to a gusto and a freedom for chewing over odd ideas.”

That's an American spirit that we see less of these days and a reminder that Jacobs, as much as anything else, had a libertarian spirit. And the legacy of Jacobs, as architecture critical Paul Goldberger has pointed out, comes not via prescriptive answers but in fresh approaches.

Jacobs as activist

Jacobs emerges as a forceful and clever activist, at times pushy and profane, but only by the standards of the time. She once got arrested for destroying a stenographer’s reel of notes from a public hearing.

“Listen to this! There is no Record! There is no hearing! We’re through with this phony fink hearing!” she proclaimed, according to Flint.

As epithets go, phony fink hearing does not approach the depths of discourse in the Atlantic Yards controversy.

Jacobs was a clever strategist. She followed the money, like a good investigative reporter. Learning from Shirley Hayes, the mastermind behind the Washington Square protest, Jacobs agreed that there was no place for deals or compromise.

When it came to the battle over LoMex, which was supported by establishment groups like the American Institute of Architects and the Municipal Art Society as well as the construction unions, opponents found their own union workers: waiters and bartenders and deliverymen threatened by the massive displacement. (Given economic changes, no such union counterforce was available in the Atlantic Yards fight.)

And, though Flint doesn’t make the comparison, at one point, Jacobs, in content if not tone, sounded as threatening as Darnell Canada, he of the “You’re the victim” speech at the 8/23/06 public hearing so indelibly captured in the film “Brooklyn Matters.”

Flint writes:
Her speech was succinct. At a time when affordable housing was scarce, the government proposed destroying the homes of two thousand families. At a time when unemployment was high, the government wanted to wipe out small businesses and warehouse and factories representing thousands of jobs, many of them held by minorities. The government, she said, was acting like inmates of an insane asylum. The people didn’t want this highway, but no one was listening. And she issued her warning: If the expressway is put through, there will be anarchy.
(Emphasis added)

Jacobs’s urban prescription

Jacobs based her analysis on her lived observation--the sidewalk ballet of different people and purposes, so different from the prevailing planners' vision: slum clearance replaced by single-purpose housing and large amounts of green space.

But could Jacobs, who died in 2005, have walked around latter-day cities and not noticed how many people are absorbed with their cell phones, as Andrew Blum observed in his 2007 essay on the Jacobs exhibit, as published in the book Block by Block?

Indeed, as political scientist Marshall Berman suggests in an essay in Block by Block, Jacobs’s stoop-side vision was perhaps more pastoral than pragmatic, overlooking some of the inevitable conflicts in urban life.

Blight, then and now

In 1961, blight was defined differently, but it was, as today, a malleable concept.

Flint writes:
Davies, head of the Housing and Redevelopment Board, said the West Village had been targeted as a blighted area based on the fact that there was a mix of uses in the neighborhood, considered a “deficiency” under the guidelines of Title 1. Rooming houses, obsolete building types, and excessive density—all of which existed in the West Village and all of which Moses had cited in previous urban renewal projects—were other indicators of blight.

Now, the issue is too little density, at least in places.

The legacy of Jacobs

Flint traces how Jacobs’s ideas have entered mainstream discourse. Cities now are willing to tear down and cover downtown highways, recognizing her now-accepted argument that building new highways invites more traffic. Cities (like Phoenix!) built for the car in the 20th century are now adding light rail, Flint observed recently on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show.

While Jacobs severely criticized the orthodoxy among urban planners, planning organizations such as the American Planning Association and the Congress for a New Urbanism have since embraced her principles, as have developers, via the Urban Land Institute (which, I’d add, counts Forest City Enterprises as a member).

Like many, Flint worries that Moses-like grand projects could not take place today, given the legacy of NIMBYism that has emerged from Jacobs’s followers.

And, he concludes, “Had Moses been in charge of building the worlds’ greatest transit system, he would be cheered today no matter how many people he had uprooted.”

Indeed, that goes to the question of what constitutes the legacy of Moses. As I wrote in December 2007, big plans don’t necessarily mean megaprojects like Atlantic Yards but infrastructure and the framework for growth. Thus, despite a nod to high-speed rail in the recent stimulus package, we’re still way behind many other countries.

Flint mentions that Mayor Mike Bloomberg declared a Jane Jacobs Day in 2006 but does not note the myriad ironies for a mayor who pursued major rezonings and whose deputy Dan Doctoroff invoked the example of Moses (and was challenged for it).

Nor does he grapple with the arguments of Jacobsian Roberta Brandes Gratz, who pointed out that Jacobs did support major projects like transit systems and suggested that it was an "oxymoron" to try to combine the best of Moses and Jacobs.

Questions of gentrification

Flint appropriately observes that Jacobs didn't fully address gentrification. (Indeed, she was writing about a city during the era of suburbanization and superblocks)

He notes that the strategists behind the West Village urban renewal effort--which spurred a Jacobs crusade and counter-plan-- wanted more affordable housing:
“I think it should be so obvious… that, if the Village area is left alone and if no middle-income housing is projected by the board, which is the only way it can be, eventually the Village will consist solely of luxury housing, which we, of course will be powerless to prevent,” [Clarence] Davies [the director of the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Board] wrote to a colleague. “This trend is already quite obvious and would itself destroy any semblance of the present Village that [Jacobs and her allies] seem so anxious to preserve.”

Indeed, housing official Roger Starr criticized Jacobs’s concept of unslumming: “This means, Mrs. Jacobs admits, reducing the neighborhood population, i.e., throwing out the people who were living there, and remodeling for expensive apartments or single family occupancy.”

Flint writes:
Starr had hit on the most stringing critique of Jacobs’s theories: if no low-income housing was planned or built, her vision of organic city growth would do little to curb gentrification. And, after all, the underlying motivation that drove many urban renewal projects and public housing plans was to help the poor.

Indeed, would you believe that Park Slope of the early 1960s, when the brownstones were chopped up into rooming houses, had a larger population?

Indeed, the recent retrospective on Moses, points out Flint, delves into the issue of gentrification. More recently, some Jacobsian ideas, such as inclusionary zoning, aim to thread the needle, to add affordable housing as a byproduct of growth.

Jacobs, writing during a time when there was space to build in cities like New York, suggested infill construction on vacant lots would solve the affordable housing problem. Today, I suspect, as do others, the solution is more variegated; an investment in transit: development-oriented transit rather than transit-oriented development.

As I wrote in December 2007, biographer Alice Sparberg Alexiou criticized communities for not demanding the fairness Jacobs expected:
To state it bluntly, how many white urban pioneers are fighting to ensure that people of color are not pushed out of their now-gentrifying neighborhoods?

Indeed, that was the failure—of both the community and the government—in the rezoning of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. Now the Bloomberg administration believes in adding density to ensure affordability, and is doing that in some rezonings throughout the city.

And that’s a justification for the scale of Atlantic Yards. The problem with the latter, however, is that the result came before the process. And the question is how to balance such upzonings with Jacobsian principles and Jacobsian process.

On Lopate

The gentrification issue came up when Flint appeared on the August 7 Leonard Lopate show, which is also features original audio of protagonists Jacobs and Moses.

Lopate quoted a comment from a listener, who wrote that Jacobs preserved the West Village for wealthy hipsters and preserved Soho for wealthy New Jersey shoppers, while Moses’s project still house working people.

“Gentrification is the curse of reviving cities everywhere,” allowed Flint. “It is incredible though, to think that an urban success story like SoHo could’ve been the site of the Lower Manhattan Expressway... so I appreciate the way she allowed the neighborhood to flourish.”

True enough, but where to go from here?

The critical reaction

The New York Times review, curiously enough, doesn't mention the issue of gentrification in its daily review. In Metropolis, George Beane points directly to the gentrification issue and the unfortunate consequence of Jacobs’s legacy.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, critic John King acknowledges dismay over the role neighborhood groups in cities like San Francisco and Berkeley that invoke Jacobs use process to derail projects.

He notes an intriguing contrast, pointing to challenges of growth that Jacobs, at least in Death and Life, did not focus on:
Jacobs, by contrast, defined exquisitely how to bring out the latent qualities of the places that exist. But that's different than shaping new districts, or responding to global shifts in manufacturing and technology.
In an ideal world we'd have leaders with Jacobs' relish for life, her desire to encourage complexity and diversity in all their forms - and Moses' path-clearing will to make things happen when needed at a citywide or regional scale.

(Emphasis added)

In the Wall Street Journal, Vincent Cannato concludes:
Urbanites rightly cherish their copies of Jacobs’s “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” but there is a danger in demonizing urban development. Try to imagine New York and its surrounding areas without the bridges, roads, playgrounds and beaches that Robert Moses built. Modern cities need ­infrastructure as well as the public spaces and-­neighborhoods that nurture urban life.

Indeed, and that’s an argument for infrastructure and truly civic projects.

In the conservative/libertarian City Journal, Howard Husock noted that “Moses was a classic progressive” using eminent domain for perceived good ends, while Jacobs “was more libertarian than leftist.” He acknowledges that neighborhood activists can cause stagnation.

He writes:
Might a fourth airport be a commercial boon for the New York metropolitan area? The development skeptics say no, but Jacobs understood that public facilities could spark urban vitality. She approvingly cites branch libraries, for instance, in Death and Life. When I interviewed her for Boston public television in 1981, she was dismissive of critics of the new Faneuil Hall Marketplace, who feared that public investment had created a redoubt of restaurants and shops for the affluent. Characteristically, she marveled at the throngs that gathered there at all hours. They still do today.
The point to remember is that there are times when government properly takes the lead in building the infrastructure on which private plans can then thrive.

Sure, but that’s not necessarily an argument for megaprojects.

And what about AY?

Husock observes:
But it also risks overstating the extent to which her vision has prevailed. It’s difficult to imagine her having a kind word to say, for instance, about the proposed Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, where eminent-domain power is to be used for massive clearance and the construction of subsidized high-rises and a sports arena. It’s classic old-style urban renewal, dressed up with plans to use a big-name architect. Sports stadia—the only significant public works to be built in New York recently—are particularly out of keeping with Jacobs’s view that major public facilities should attract people throughout the day and night, not just intermittently.

I’m not sure that sports stadiums qualify as truly public works, but, as I wrote, Jacobs opposed subsidies for sports facilities.

In the New York Review of Books (subscribers only), Jacobs's longtime editor, Jason Epstein, salutes Flint's book as well as an aptly-titled young adult book, Genius of Common Sense, and observes:

Were she to visit [New York] today she would be horrified by Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards project as she was several years ago by the now-defunct plan to erect a new Yankee Stadium on the site of the West Side Railyards.

Epstein acknowledges the gentrification issue but doesn't propose a solution. He does observe that Jacobs's mixed-use vision "transcends the partisan issues of left and right by positing a utopian goal as a practical possibility" and suggests that Jacobs and contemporaries Rachel Carson and Betty Friedan call forth our better angels."

A contrarian's take

In a contrarian review in BookForum, Philip Nobel argues that Flint overstates Jacobs’s influence and overstates the battle of Washington Square Park, which Nobel considers mere NIMBYism.

Nobel criticizes Flint for calling the 48-foot wide road a “highway,” which isn’t true; while Flint does at times use the word “highway” to describe the road in the thoughts of Jacobs and allies, he chooses the word “roadway,” which was ultimately part of a larger system.

And the significance of the fight is that it launched Jacobs further into the work that became her book.

That leads to Nobel’s challenge:
We don’t build much, by the standards of our own history, and we don’t build big. Often—Hudson Yards? Atlantic Yards?—we don’t build at all. That may be why we salute both Jane Jacobs and the best side of Robert Moses, builder of beaches and parkways and playgrounds, not to mention an essential foil in a decades-long effort to work out a compromise.

Today, we’re close to that sweet spot. Some think the city is selling out; I think it’s maturing, growing more sophisticated, closer to its older cousins in Europe.

Nobel considers Flint’s book to be part of a larger school of David-and-Goliath struggles, worshipping individuals as heroes. He writes:
Perhaps because it makes the story easier to tell, or more compelling in the marketplace, they put disproportionate power in the hands of individuals, suggesting that events turn on their characters and acts. They seldom do; the factors effecting change in cities are too convoluted, the contexts too multiple. Especially in New York. Here, change always comes as the net result, the averaged vector, of a thousand actors, strong and weak, pulling at their own angles.

He has a point. The battle in Brooklyn Heights to beat back Moses's Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was epic in its own right, yet was not chronicled or publicized as much as the later battle over Washington Square Park.

Still, Nobel, oddly enough, sniffs that the highway was "relocated from the center of Brooklyn Heights to the west of and below the neighborhood because of offended preservationist sensibilities" without acknowledging that it also made much more sense to run it around the edge of the neighborhood.

On the other hand, individuals do make a difference. Didn't Jacobs, in her book, crystallize the concerns about neighborhoods and developments that had been expressed by many? Could the real estate industry have made such progress without Mayor Mike Bloomberg?

The market Jacobsians

Two commentators who approach Jacobs with a free-market bent also should be noted. In a New Republic review, Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser suggests--disregarding Brandes Gratz's observations--that there should be a balance:
Jacobs was right that cities are built for people, but they are also built around transportation systems.

He also warns about process:
Jacobs did help to make public decisions more accountable, which is an incontrovertibly good thing. There is little to like in arbitrary public power—but at this point the pendulum has swung too far. Today it often feels as if every neighbor has veto rights over every new project, public or private. When Jacobs’s heirs argue for limits on eminent domain and expensive boondoggle projects, I stand with them. When they impose more and more restrictions on private owners building on their own land, I shake my head. Jacobs herself did not oppose only highways and urban renewal, but also far more benign private projects such as NYU’s library. Education is crucial to urban success. Surely a twelve-story university library would not have hurt Greenwich Village.

He suggests that "Jacobs underestimated the value of new construction," even as new supply is needed for affordability:
An absolute victory for Moses leads to heartless cities, built to accommodate cars but not pedestrians, with high-rise buildings that are disconnected from their streets. An absolute victory for Jacobs means a city frozen in concrete with prices that are too high and buildings that are too low.

In response, the New York Jacobsian Benjamin Hemric responds that Jacobs was not against high-rises, just against "tower-in-the-park" versions (which, I'd add, defines Atlantic Yards), high-rise housing for the poor, and a plethora of high-rises that destroy diversity.

Hemric observes that Jacobs was "not against modern day automobile infrastructure when such infrastructure respected the needs of cities" and that Jacobs did not oppose "the construction, per se, of NYU's Bobst Library," rather its placement.

Note: I met Anthony Flint in early August and, at his request, gave him a tour of the Atlantic Yards footprint and environs. This review was largely finished by then.


  1. PART I

    Thanks Norman for the interesting review and the links to other reviews (a number of which I had not seen). As I've mentioned in my review of the Glaeser review (which is posted on the "City Comforts" blog, and which I belive you link to), I'm working on my own review of "Wrestling With Moses," and I hope to combine it with belated reviews of two other books that have been published about Jacobs since her death. Therefore my comments here will be more about the issues that you are raising in response to your reading of the Anthony Flint book. (Unfortunately, in the interest of time and space, I'm more or less ignoring the points that you make that I agree with!)

    - - - - - - - - - - -

    1) Norman wrote:

    "My main quibble is simply with the scope of the book . . . could Jacobs's un-slumming -- a version of gentrification -- truly produce the low-income and affordable housing that cities like New York need, or was the wholesale clearance embraced by Moses the answer?"

    Benjamin writes:

    I agree that it's important to consider the ultimate effects of the policies outlined by Jacobs and Moses. HOWEVER, in such a discussion I think it's also important that people actually discuss the "facts" involved and not just hearsay, their own impressions, their own feelings, etc. I believe it's important, therefore, to discuss, among other things, the following: a) what did Jacobs ACTUALLY write, say, etc. (not just what people have mistakenly ASSUMED that she wrote, said, etc.) and b) what were the actual results of Moses' policies (not just his claims).

    It seems to me that none of the MAS panel discussions, for instance, ever discussed what Jacobs actually wrote and said about gentrification (e.g., the self-destruction of diversity, competitive diversion, etc.)!!! And if you look carefully at the book that was produced in conjunction with the Robert Moses exhibits in 2007, you'll see that many of the "facts" that were invoked to support Moses policies were merely unexamined restatements (sometimes just near verbatim quotes) of his original sales pitch!

    - - - - - - - - - - - -

    2) Norman wrote:

    "Jacobs's stoop-side vision was perhaps more pastoral than pragmatic, overlooking some of the inevitable conflicts in urban life."

    Benjamin writes:

    People seem to forget that the first of the seven books written by Jacobs (who feels that all seven of her books, the last one published in 2004, were "of a piece" -- all chapters in one long book) was NOT entitled, "The Death and Life of Greater Greenwich Villages." This book was NOT "about" life in Greenwich Village -- it discusses, in detail, many other parts of NYC and many other cities as well. For instance her discussion of short blocks compares the short blocks of the East Side (and also, separately, Rockefeller Center) with the long blocks of the West Side; her discussion of parks compares the various fates of four near identical parks that were part of the original plan for Philadelphia; etc. As she describes it, perhaps her two biggest epiphanies occurred when she was examining urban renewal schemes in Philadelphia and in East Harlem.

    - - - - - - - - -

    3) Norman wrote:

    "While Jacobs severely criticized the orthodoxy among urban planners, planning organizations such as the American Planning Association and the Congress for a New urbanism have since embraced her principles . . . "

    Benjamin writes:

    I think if you do a list of Jacobs' principles, you will see that very few of her principles have actually become generally accepted -- maybe, almost none? People claim that they are following Jacobs principles, but when you look closely at what they are saying or doing you'll see that there are big differences between what they are recommending and what Jacobs actually recommended in her writings.

    - - - - - - - -



    4) Norman wrote:

    Flint appropriately observes that Jacobs didn't fully address gentrification.

    Benjamin writes:

    In addition to my comments above, I'd like to say that not only did Jacobs discuss how to deal with gentrification at length in "Death and Life . . ." (particularly in the chapter entitled, "the Self Destruction of Diversity") but she also frequently discussed gentrification in the many interviews that she gave in the 40 years subsequent to the publication of "Death and Life . . ." To put in bluntly, it seems to me that people who claim Jacobs didn't fully address the issue of gentrification are ignoring or overlooking her many writings and comments on this issue because they reject, or are basciallyy unsympathetic to, her approach, and they wanted her to say something else.

    - - - - - - - - - - -

    5) Norman wrote:

    Jacobs, writing during a time when there was space to build in cities like New York, suggested infill construction on vacant lots would solve the affordable housing problem.

    Benjamin writes:

    Jacobs did not only believe in infill. She also believed that the construction of mid- and high-rise construction could be beneficial to "in-between density" neighborhoods that were deficient in density because they had originally been uniformly built up only with homogeneous low-rise row housing.

    It seems to me that here's a good example of where people who say they agree with the Jacobs' principles (e.g., the benefits of HIGH density, the benefits of a diversity of building types, etc.) really don't agree with Jacobs in actuality -- as they reject the addition of high-rise apartments (with a concomitant increase in densities and a diversity of building types) to homogeneous row house neighborhoods, etc.

    - - - - - - - -

    6) Norman:

    Lopate quoted a comment from a listener, who wrote that . . . Moses's project[s] still house working people.

    Benjamin writes:

    Many of Moses' "income-tagged" projects were not, in fact, for true working people but for affluent people -- they were built to "lure" affluent whites back into the city. Plus, in order to build these developments Moses tore down a) housing for real working people and b) buildings that housed scores of businesses that employed poor working people.

    It seems that many of Mosess redevelopment projects resulted in a net loss of housing (since they included so much open space). If true, then he was making the remaining affordable housing in the area more expensive, not less. (This doesn't apply, of course, to those projects that were built on empty land -- but these aren't the ones that are the focus of most of his critics.)

    Furthermore, if Moses-built housing is "affordable" today, why would all the housing he tore down be less affordable? It seems the real issue here isn't what Moses built (e.g., economically sterile, tower-in-the-park compounds), but the fact that, due to public subsidies, his housing falls into a special sub-type of rent control.

    By the way, whether one approves of conventional rent control or not, it should be pointed out that many gentrified neighborhoods have apartments that are either "rent controlled" or "rent stabilized." And since these gentrified neighborhoods seem to have more apartments overall to begin with (since the projects built by Moses contain so much empty space), it is quite possible that most gentrified neighborhoods today actually provide more affordable housing per acre than the Moses projects do.

    - - - - - - -



    7) Norman, quoting John King, wrote:

    " . . . But that's different than shaping new districts, or responding to global shifts in manufacturing and technology."

    Benjamin writes:

    In my opinion, this statement greatly misreads Jacobs. "Death and Life . . ." is intended to show how to fix troubled districts AND how to shape / create successful new ones. (Plus, in Toronto, Jacobs was involved in the creation of a brand new neighborhood shaped by her principles.)

    Furthermore, in Jacobs opinion one of the biggest problems with "project planning" (orthodox urban planning), and one of the biggest benefits of her alternative approach, is that "project planning" is static and cannot adapt to change, while her approach is organic and highly adaptable. Here's my example: which has been more adaptable to change, the district of mid-19th century loft buildings south of Houston St. (which is now known as SoHo) or Stuyvesant Town?!

    PLUS why restrict an evaluation of Jacobs to her first book, published in 1961? She wrote six more books which she feels elaborate and expand upon "Death and Life . . . " and which discuss EXACTLY the questions that are being raised by King! (In discussions of Moses, do we restrict ourselves to discussions of Jones Beach and say he did nothing about bridges, pools, urban renewal, etc.?!)

    - - - - - - -

    8) Norman, quoting John King, wrote:

    In an ideal world we'd have leaders with . . . Moses' path-clearing will to make things happen when needed at a citywide or regional scale.

    Benjamin writes:

    People talk as though nothing was every built in New York City before or after Robert Moses and that none of the other cities in the world that never had Robert Moses ever built anything of consequence!!!!

    - - - - - - - - -

    9) Norman, quoting Vincent Cannato, wrote:

    Try to imagine New York and its surrounding areas without the bridges, roads, playgrounds and beaches that Robert Moses built.

    Benjamin writes:

    Jacobs criticized (and also praised) SPECIFIC PROJECTS (for specific reasons). And as mentioned in comment #8, NYC and other cities across the nation and around the world too, have built quite a lot of infrastructure without Robert Moses. Why then make the silly assumptions a) that Jacobs' thought is somehow an impediment to any and all urban infrastructure and b) that no urban infrastructure is ever possible without adopting each and everyone of the negatives associated with Moses?

    - - - - - - - - -



    10) Norman wrote;

    Nobel criticizes Flint for calling the 48-foot wide road a "highway" . . .

    Benjamin writes:

    I think in this instance Flint is right and Nobel is wrong. Although I too believe the word "highway" is a gross exaggeration (and I will likely go into this issue in more depth in my own review), the fact is that this is what it was called at the time by pretty much everyone. Jane Jacobs even uses the word, I believe, in her description of the battle in "Death and Life . . . "

    - - - - - - - - -

    11) Norman, quoting Phil Nobel, wrote:

    We don't build much . . . and we don't build big.

    Benjamin writes:

    This comment, more or less, has been made quite a lot in the last few years and it strikes me as being somewhat bizarre.

    The real question, so it seems to me, should be what large public works projects does New York City need that it does not have? Given all the bridges, tunnels, highways, subways, airports, water tunnels etc. that we do have (thanks not only to Robert Moses, but to others as well) what other infrastructue projects do we still actually need?!

    Comments like Nobel's (or at least the part that was quoted) seem to me to ignore the fact that sometimes a city pretty much builds most of the infrastructure that it needs and that after that time the need for brand new public works diminishes (and the focus should shift to a few additional public works and the maintenance of the public works that have already been built).

    Plus neither Hudson Yards nor Atlantic Yards appear to me to be true public works infrastructure projects. So some peripheral railyards get left unbuilt upon for a few decades -- so what? If a true, rather than manufactured, need arises for the construction of buildings on these railyards, that's when we should be concerned about whether we have the ability to build or not. It doesn't seem to me that we've reached that point yet.

    - - - - - -

    12) Norman wrote:

    " . . . Glaeser suggests -- disregarding Brandes Gratz's observations -- that there should be a balance"

    Benjamin writes:

    Norman, I'm not sure if I understand what you are saying here. I don't remember Glaeser mentioning Brandes Gratz in his review, so I assume you mean something like, ". . . .ignoring the idea expressed elsewhere by Brandes Gratz, among others, that Jacobs was NOT opposed to the construction of all [!!!] transportation systems. . . ."

    - - - - - - -


    The more I read these books about Jane Jacobs -- and the reviews about them -- the more I'm surprised about just how much misinformation there is out there about Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, and New York City history! As mentioned, I hope to address this in my own review of the Anthony Flint book (which would also hopefully contain belated reviews of the Alexiou and Klemek books as well). I certainly have my work cut out for me!

    Norman, thanks again for bringing up these topics and for the opportunity to comment upon them!

    Thursday, October 1, 2009 -- 6:46 p.m.

  5. Benjamin.
    When will your review be finished?
    I am anxious to read it!! :)


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At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

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…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …