Creating Community – garbage can collaboration

July 31, 2013

Here is a photo of grouped garbage cans in a cul-de-sac near our house on the North Shore of Sydney.  This picture says a lot about neighbourliness in this small street:  the residents have all decided (together?) to group their cans to make it easy for the local council trucks to empty them.  We who live in the relatively low-density suburbs of Sydney rarely collaborate with neighbours like this. When you walk the streets of the suburbs on garbage pick-up day, you see more garbage cans than people.  But here at least the cans have their own “community”.

Grouped garbage cans Sydney July2013(Photo:  Sydney’s North Shore on garbage pick-up day)

For those who do not know, the yellow bin is for paper, blue is for bottles/cans and black/red is for general rubbish.

The Battle for Brooklyn doco premieres on Australian TV

July 10, 2012

For those people living in Australia, you now have an opportunity to watch the Oscar-nominated (long list) feature length documentary The Battle for Brooklyn, which describes a lengthy redevelopment battle that took place in downtown Brooklyn.  I originally wrote about this film in a blog post last December.  The film premieres on Australian television on Sunday 15 July 2012 on ABC2 at 8.30pm.

In my most recent trip to the USA, I met Daniel Goldstein – effectively the star (and reluctant hero) of the doco and the story.  He gave me a tour of the areas of Brooklyn affected by the redevelopment.  Here are two photos which I took of Daniel near the new sports arena (sadly, now, under construction; they lost):


Here is a scene from one of the local streets, and another with the sports arena rising in the background:


And viewers in Perth have a special treat.  The Perth Film Festival actually screens this film this coming Friday, July 13th.  See it with an audience!

Touching, profound, personal, political.  Lest you think redevelopment battles died with Jane Jacobs (urban activist and author of one of the great books of my life, The Death and Life of American Cities) in the 1960s.  Jacobs, by the way, passed away in April 2006, just before her ninetieth birthday.

Goldstein lives, however, and a new generation of American urban activists takes heart from his brave and exhausting battle.

City Planning Still Matters

December 21, 2011

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:

–          Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City, by Anthony Flint

–          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.

Walking and seeing the city, part 1: Broadway

December 18, 2011

With this post I start a new category entitled “walking and seeing the city”.  It is based on a course I took in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley in the Department of City and Regional Planning, taught by Professor Allan Jacobs – and subsequently turned into a book by him, entitled Looking at Cities.  Each week in that course (on a Friday afternoon), we would spend about six hours walking new neighbourhoods of San Francisco, analysing them as we walked (amazing – I don’t remember it ever raining on us!).   I dedicate this section of my blog to Professor Allan Jacobs, whose influence has lasted much longer than he knows.

Here is my current vote for the most interesting “long” street in New York City:  Broadway.  Broadway certainly deserves a number of books about it (think of course of theatre, Times Square, etc), but here I am talking about the street itself, which starts in lower Manhattan.

I lived in Manhattan for the months of September and October 2011 and during that time I estimate that I spent at least 150 hours walking the streets of New York City.  It was mostly Manhattan, although I did spend some time in Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope in Brooklyn.  I calculate that I examined every neighbourhood in Manhattan south of about 96th Street (east and west).  Because I lived on the west side, I did not do enough of the East Village, Lower East Side and Upper East Side, but I did visit.

Every weekday morning I dropped my daughter to her school in the Upper West Side and walked back to our flat on West 27th Street from Columbus Circle at 7.40am.  And every morning I took a different route, almost always cutting back and forth and often heading north through the park to come down the east side.  So here are the streets which I went down (actually in this order as it seemed logical that way):  Twelfth Avenue, Eleventh Avenue, Tenth Avenue, Ninth Avenue, Broadway, Eighth Avenue, Seventh Avenue, Sixth Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Park Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Third Avenue, Second Avenue, First Avenue and York Avenue/Sutton Place.

I am not the first person to spend time in New York City and walk it.  Alfred Kazin’s autobiography (1969) is entitled A Walker in the City.  Adam Gopnik’s Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York (2007) frequently discusses his travels around the city.  Philip Lopate’s book Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan (2004) is just that: a whole book devoted to his walking the waterfronts of Manhattan, including The Battery, Battery Park City, The World Trade Center, Tribeca, Soho/Greenwich Village, Chelsea, 42nd Street to Riverside South … and on he goes (we have not even hit the East Side yet).  Lopate also edited the fabulous collection Writing New York: A Literary Anthology (  ).  In the introduction to that collection, Lopate talks of the “walking around poem” (which I had never heard of before), which “is a species of travel literature in which the writer puts himself through culture shock in his own city.”  Various peripatetic poets – including Walt Whitman – used this as a “solution to the problem of integrating the random stimuli of modern life” (p. xx).  And there is also E.B. White’s (1949) Here is New York, about his own walking the city.

And then there’s Broadway, that great street that runs all the way from The Battery downtown up through the top of Manhattan where it crosses into The Bronx, not far from Baker Field, Columbia University’s football stadium (although almost no tourist maps show Broadway above 135th Street – Columbia and City University of New York).  I cannot attest to how Broadway has fared over history, but let me describe to you the parts of Broadway which I know.  It is delightfully diverse, filled with shopping, cafes, of course, theatres and – in mid-town with street studios of major television networks (I watched ABC’s Good Morning America three times from the sidewalk at the corner of 44th Street and Broadway – just go there any weekday between 7.00am and 9.00am, a great New York tourist attraction, and it’s free.

Curiously, there is one part of Broadway which seems lagging:  just south of 42nd Street the street seems to lose all of its energy.  The street appears to narrow, the buildings get smaller, the people disappear and the shops become marginal.  It lasts that way for a few blocks and then picks up coming up to Macy’s and Herald Square (35th-34th Streets): that 34th Street shopping district (and only a block to the Empire State Building) is very dynamic.  But Broadway loses energy once again south of Herald Square until it gets close to Madison Square Park and the glorious “Flatiron Building”, which is located on a triangle block between Broadway and Fifth Avenue just south of West 23rd Street.  This building is truly one of the most fabulous which New York City has to offer.

UC Berkeley Planning Professor Allan Jacobs awarded 2010 Seaside Prize

February 10, 2010

Professor Emeritus Allan B. Jacobs, from the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley, in January 2010 was awarded the 2010 Seaside Prize in Seaside, Florida.  This planned community was the location for most of the shooting of the Jim Carrey film The Truman Show (directed by Peter Weir).

Allan Jacobs taught at Berkeley from 1975 to 2001, following eight years as the Director of City Planning for the City of San Francisco.  I studied with Allan Jacobs at Berkeley during the period 1976-78 when I received my Masters degree in City Planning there, took three courses with him and was his teaching assistant (tutor) for an undergraduate course on introduction to city planning.

He was indeed one of my academic mentors.  Jacobs’ book Looking at Cities (Harvard University Press, 1985 – sadly out of print) was based in part on a graduate course which he taught called “Walking and Seeing the City”.  I was part of the first group to participate in this course (and have an acknowledgement in his book), which consisted of our spending six hours walking different streets and neighbourhoods of San Francisco every Friday afternoon – inevitably ending up at a San Francisco ethnic restaurant for dinner.  And what a course it was!  And the people we met along the way, including legendary (now deceased) San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen and California Democratic Party leader Willie Brown (Mayor of San Francisco from 1996 to 2004, and Speaker of the California State Assembly, 1980 – 1995).

I still walk city streets – wherever I am – seeing them in part through eyes trained by Allan Jacobs.