Saturday, January 2, 2010

Moses parts the urban fabric

I just finished reading Anthony Flint's excellent account of the battle between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses for the urban fabric of NYC. Post war America saw the existing urban fabric of cities as stale garbage compared to the huge infrastructure going up based on the automobile as the primary mode of transportation and the utopian life the commuting world would bring. The impulse to "clean" up areas of "decay" is a natural instinct but of course, we ended up destroying large pieces of neighborhood fabric and making gettos of under and around elevated expressway areas.

Thanks to people like Jacobs who saw the world from a human perspective, communities banded together to save the human based streetscape as a working prototype thousands of years old. Moses, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, built many models where he could look down from the detached view of an airplane and admire the sweeping forms of concrete and tar slithering through the city, raised high above the ordinary human on foot. Riding in a chauffeur driven limo since he was a boy, his view of a better world was one in which he yielded ultimate power and could use his superior education and personality to help the simple little people who knew nothing. Feeling superior was natural for him and he never failed to feed his ego to the point where real harm to society began to take place.

Jacobs owned a home she liked and wanted her neighborhood to stay personable and friendly and bubbling with activity based on the movement of the human body through space and the one to one conversations possible in these circumstances. Her view was one of a mother with a home in a humanistic environment enmeshed in the people around her. She was very assertive and this helped propel her to the foreground of community leadership. She formed the perfect foil to Moses' assertive bureaucrat.

Now that we are looking for new infrastructure projects to revitalize our cities it is important to stop categorizing forces into pro-neighborhood and pro-development. We must simply acknowledge that we are happiest in human environments that are safe and allow us the maximum interaction with others and to grow old in our homes, and thus, walk to everything. And that we need to continue to build and modify and tear down things to make a more wonderful series of neighborhoods.

There is no rule that says we have to build more than 4 stories high or have any elevators. There is no rule that says we can't tear down some buildings to make a nice park or community space.

When we put ourselves as humans above ourselves as consumers, we all win.

1 comment:

Corey Templeton said...

I'm reading this at the moment and will be adding "The Power Broker" on my list of future reading endeavors. I wanted to let you know that I added a link to your blog on my site, Portland Daily Photo. Keep on posting!