Jane Jacobs, the one-time Brooklyn Heights resident whose seminal 1961 work, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” is still required reading, celebrated the kind of urban vibrancy that flourishes when developers and city planners follow common-sense guidelines she set out.
Jacobs is on my mind these days. Partly because of the Municipal Art Society’s “Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York” exhibit (closing Jan. 26) — but also because the future of Brooklyn stands to be greatly shaped by the proposed Atlantic Yards mega-development which surely would have earned Jacobs’s ire.
How can I be sure? I went through the principles set forth in Jacobs’s book to create an Atlantic Yards report card (right). This report card covers all of Jacobs’s standards, such as the need for short blocks, a close mingling of buildings that vary in age and condition and even some of her more-obvious guidance: Don’t expect Jacobian endorsement of the mega-development’s 15-story illuminated electronic billboard.
Across-the-board, the mega-development earns almost entirely failing grades.
Jacobs pointed out that “big plans” lead to “big mistakes.” Her thinking also points out that when enormous subsidies are misdirected with disrespect for the city’s vital fabric, those mistakes are bigger and government is much more culpable for the harm.
The “F” grade that Jane Jacobs would have given this project speaks for itself.
Michael D. D. White is a real-estate, housing and public finance attorney, with a masters degree in urban planning. His uncle was publisher of both “Architectural Forum” and “Fortune” when Jane Jacobs worked for “Architectural Forum” and when she wrote the “Fortune” article on urban downtowns that evolved into her seminal book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961). The last chance to see the Jane Jacobs exhibit at the Municipal Art Society (457 Madison Ave., at 51st Street, in Manhattan) is Jan. 26. Call (212) 935-3960 for info.