City planning still matters, at least in New York City.
I live (most of the time) in Sydney, Australia – and as beautiful and wonderful as this city is (and it is), let me assure you, planning no longer matters here (or did it ever?). Why do I care? Well, I do, partly because I worked for many years as an urban planner (or, more accurately, “social planner” and I don’t mean the party type) and studied planning at the University of California at Berkeley – to this day still my most stimulating and satisfying academic experience, anywhere. And … and this is a very big and … I still care about the liveability of cities.
As readers of this blog may know, I spent the months of September and October 2011 living in New York City. One of the (many) unusual things that struck me was that debates over city planning were still current. People were actually talking about Jane Jacobs (Death and Life of Great American Cities) and Robert Moses (see Robert Caro’s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York) when I was there. In fact, there is a great revival of interest in Jacobs and Moses. Here are a few recently published books with links:
– Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, by Sharon Zukin (in an obvious bow to Jacobs’ book)
– Reconsidering Jane Jacobs, by Max Page
– Block by Block: Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York by Timothy Mennel
Some of this interest may be due in part to a recent redevelopment controversy in downtown Brooklyn that has been chronicled in the Oscar (15-film long-list) nominated feature length documentary The Battle for Brooklyn. This film chronicles the seven-year battle of one man, Daniel Goldstein, and his community to save their homes from being demolished to make way for a new basketball arena as part of the largest development plan in New York City history. Want to know more about the controversy, go to this blog written by journalist Norman Oder – (My review of this film coming soon.)
If you want to understand the background to this development proposal, all you need to do is to look closely at a subway map of New York City. Notice how so many subway lines come together in downtown Brooklyn: the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, B, C, D, M, N, Q and R lines all stop within a short radius of downtown Brooklyn. In fact, if you want to work in downtown lower Manhattan is it much much easier to live in parts of Brooklyn and commute than in most of Manhattan. Imagine, if you will, living in the Upper East or Upper West Sides – Brooklyn is easily more accessible. Most visitors to New York City don’t realise or think about this, but believe me – New Yorkers understand. Brooklyn has been well and truly “found” – at least those parts of it with historic housing and convenient to Manhattan.