Tuesday, May 02, 2006
A Couple Of Thoughts...
I survived my first year of graduate school in good order. Some of the highlights were working on a corridor redevelopment plan in Detroit, creating a small TOD that included an extension of the traditional town fabric of Dexter, Michigan, and completing a site plan and financial analysis for the redevelopment of a suburban strip in Ann Arbor into a mixed-use town center. One final highlight was working for Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company during my spring break. Fortunately, they have asked me back for the summer. Hence, the previously mentioned move to Miami. I'm sure my time there will give me plenty to write about -- that is if I have the time.
I would also like to comment briefly on the death of one of my biggest heroes, Jane Jacobs. I originally wrote quite a long post regarding my feelings for her work and its effect on my own, but it unfortunately got lost somewhere in cyberspace last week. If you are reading this you probably have a enough of an understanding that I can simply leave it with my two favorite Jacobs quotes:
"Our songs and cities are the best things about us, songs and cities are so indispensable."
"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody."
Finally, I find it very interesting, if not disturbing that after a week of articles highlighting Ms. Jacobs' many accomplishments and contributions to the field, a rash of people this week have chosen to take cheap shots at not only her work, but the work of the new urbanists. I specifically mean the recent Nicoloai Ouroursoff article in the New York Times, and the most recent Wall Street Journal article by Leonard Gilroy, who is a policy analyst at the infamous Reason Institute. It is quite interesting how these two were able to conveniently use the death of one of the foremost luminaries in the field as a way to take cheap shots at new urbanism, a movement based on principles that they clearly do not comprehend.
If you take a moment to read Gilroy's article you will see that he equates smart growth, high density planning with an "end-state vision of the city." He implies that Smart Growth is a Utopian cure-all for our built maladies. As if those who are proponents of Smart Growth are naive enough to think that we can implement transit-oriented development and all will be right with the world.
Gilroy further comments that new urbanism is no different than the "social engineering mentality of those who wrought the disaster of postwar urban renewal." Clearly, the man is misinformed.
However, what particularly bothers me about Gilroy's article is that he tries to place himself, a defender of the "market oriented" suburban pattern, between Jacobs and the new urbanists, as if Jacobs herself would defend the sprawling patterns that inevitably occur because of our antiquated postwar financing and zoning regulations. The issues are much deeper than Gilroy leads the reader to believe.
Furthermore, he says that, " ...you can't create a vibrant city or neighborhood. The best cities and neighborhoods just happen, and the best thing we can do is to step out of the way of innovators and entrepreneurs."
Cities and neighborhoods do not just happen. This is a complete oversimplification of the historical processes, policies, and power struggles that have forever shaped the urban landscape. Gilroy would do well to understand that you don't just wish upon a city and *poof* Greenwich Village, or Charleston, North Carolina.
Finally, like most other critics of smart growth and new urbanism, neither Ouroursoff or Gilroy proposed any type of alternative solution, idea, or thought on how cities should grow and change. This is where I would like the critics to step-up and stop rehashing old arguments that just make them look ignorant. Until they do, all of their critiques seem as hollow as they claim new urbanism to be.
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