Tag Archives: Jane Jacobs

restorm: Will Wiles attempts to deconstruct the legacy of “Saint Jane” Jacobs

Thanks to Storm Cunningham, Washington DC @restorm for the link.

Some crusty issues from this one commentator, Will Wiles, bursting and engaging with levels, biases, contradictions, established takes, whatever, in the considered effort to wake us up.

Apart from the fact that cities (as opposed to country towns like Dunedin?) are ‘live wild animals’, it does no harm to consider the urban environment as a dense web or series of interconnected (metaphorical) ‘rooms’, forming the diverse aggregation of human activity.

Various posts at What if? tangle with diversity, infrastructure, mixed use and spatial ideas, fully knowing the machine that drives formation of a spatial plan at DCC will be very far – frighteningly distant – from approaching contemporary urban theory and practice, including the practical weighty mass of real commerce and ethics.

The non application or watering down of ‘local’ discussion and full-blooded, full-bodied debate will be the risk to Dunedin and the region’s future, premised on a GIS mapping exercise that most probably will work like a parking diagram.

And we know what happened to city parking recently… Political decisions made at Council without adequate understanding of interconnectedness, at the business end of people dynamics. Just wait until this non thinking applies to the city as a whole. It’s coming. Start building your stealth bombers.

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### urbanophile.com 1 March 2011
Saint Jane by Will Wiles

Jacobs appealed to me because it chimed with what I saw in cities and what I liked about them – and the Nurbanists have no idea what this quality is. Their agenda for “neighbourhoods”, “contextuality”, “walkability”, is fundamentally anti-urban. These qualities aren’t necessarily bad in themselves – but combined in pursuit of the singular Nurbanist vision, they mean the vivisection of the city into un-urban cells.

The Pelican edition of Death and Life, with cover by Germano Facetti:

Wiles begins…
A spectre is haunting urbanism – the spectre of Jane Jacobs. The American-Canadian writer and activist died in 2006, but she continues to exert influence over the urban debate, primarily via that dreary federacy of messianic dovecote enthusiasts, the “New Urbanists”, who have taken her up as a kind of guiding prophet. Outside the ranks of the Kunstlers and Kriers, there is a great swath of architects, thinkers and writers on the city who have read Jacobs and hold her in high regard. With a touch of embarrassment, I should include myself in this latter category. Not being an architect, I was an auto-didact in urban theory. When I came across a Pelican edition of Jacobs’ best-known book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in a second-hand bookshop almost a decade ago, I had never heard of her. But I loved the Germano Facetti cover design, the back sounded interesting enough, and the price was right, so I took it home.

At that point, my reading on urban theory had been scattershot, based entirely in what I found in 2nd-hand bookshops: Corbu, Lewis Mumford, Thomas Sharp, Steen Eiler Rasmussen, an odd band who had given me all sorts of interesting ideas and imagery, but nothing very coherent. What they had in common, more or less, was that I didn’t really enjoy reading them all that much, and had mostly got through to the end in a spirit of patient self-improvement. I picked up Jacobs, expecting more of the same, and instead ploughed through it in a matter of days. If nothing else, she taught me that book-length urban theory could be hugely entertaining.
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-Will Wiles is a writer and Deputy Editor of Icon, a monthly architecture and design magazine.

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

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‘The scrum and fray of urban life’

Book Review

### thenation.com March 18, 2010
Living for the City: On Jane Jacobs
By Samuel Zipp

This article appeared in the April 5, 2010 edition of The Nation.

Cities, Jane Jacobs famously observed, offer “a problem in handling organised complexity”. In her first and still most famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, Jacobs argued that cities are not chaotic or irrational; they are essentially systems of interrelated variables collected in an organic whole. The challenge, she wrote, was to sense the patterns at work in the vast array of variables. Something similar could be said for writing about cities. How does one coax the thread of a narrative from the scrum and fray of urban life?

In Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, Michael Sorkin, an architect and critic, makes like Jacobs and immerses himself in the rhythms and patter of the street. He has shaped his book according to the contours of his daily stroll across a dozen or so blocks of Lower Manhattan, from the top floor of his five-storey Greenwich Village walk-up to his office in TriBeCa. Walking, Sorkin writes, is “a natural armature for thinking sequentially”, providing opportunities for heady musings on all manner of city life. Yet his peripatetic narrative is anything but linear. Proving there’s a raconteur in every flâneur, Sorkin unspools strands of free-floating observations about a scattered array of urban issues and gathers them into a loose weave along his path downtown. Any full accounting of his rambles would be impossible, but he manages to ruminate on landlord-tenant troubles, the 1811 Manhattan grid, historic preservation, the “ratio of tread to riser” on apartment stairs, elevator etiquette, zoning and housing codes, rent control, the theory of montage, green roofs, public art, crime, gentrification, traffic, urban renewal and public-private partnerships. He also takes diversions into the city thinking of Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau, Ebenezer Howard, Jacob Riis, Le Corbusier, Henri Lefebvre, the Walt Disney Company, the Situationists, the New Urbanists and, of course, Jane Jacobs. It’s a primer on what one might call the “New York school” of urbanism.

Sorkin is a congenial, sometimes irascible guide. Ever the Manhattanite, he lambastes oblivious SUV drivers, callous landlords and “Disneyfied” urban environments (an undying spark for his ire), but he is also aware of his own foibles, including his tendency to lapse into “high ethical mode”. Sorkin’s musings–outrages and enthusiasms alike–converge around his sensitivity to the restless yet productive tension between the city’s role as both public sphere and commercial marketplace, and the intermingled chances city life offers for making meaning and making money. For Sorkin, the city’s hum and buzz is the sound of an endless “dialogue of desire and demand” and the pitched voices of “poets” and “bandits” jostling for each and every advantage.

(via The Nation)

Other reviews:
metropolismag.com
reaktionbooks.co.uk
amazon.com

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In March 2002, the Masterclass! programme hosted two world leaders in architecture and urban design. The British Council, Montana Wines, Fullbright New Zealand and the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) jointly delivered a stimulating programme led by Kelvin Campbell from the United Kingdom and Michael Sorkin from New York.

The Dunedin Masterclass! and Urban Design Masterclass! Lunch were held with assistance from NZIA Southern, Dunedin City Council and Southern Urban Design Forum.

Post by Elizabeth Kerr

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