The View From 1776

Pope Jane: Counterpoint to a Theme

A reader identified only as Kitchen has submitted a different perspective on Jane Jacobs and her relation to both liberals and conservatives.


There’s certainly a bit to chew on in this view of Jane Jacobs. It’s not what you normally see from any of the mainstream media. As I have previously suggested, urban planners seem to latch onto the Jacobs mantra while undermining most of what she advocated.

When Amanda Burden and Alex Garvin beat their collective chests in homage to Jacobs while planning (and now executing) the systemic destruction of Manhattan’s West Side ... along with large parts of Brooklyn, Harlem and so on, you understand it’s not only Bush and Rummy who are liars. Does any one else’s stomach turn when Burden says that the West Chelsea plan (with it’s skyscrapers) are “in the Jacob’s mold?”

Is all this Jacobian self-flagellation merely revisionism, or outright stealing of a legacy? I suspect we’ll see more of it.

The important thing is to stand up to these people who pass for urban planners (quickly and appropriately becoming a discredited profession thanks to real estate shills like Mitchell Moss, Brad Lander and Jonathan Bowles), and to the news media of whatever stripe, hold them accountable and bear witness. Pope Jane is not your goddess!

It’s important, as Brewton suggests, that neighborhoods and communities are seen ... as he suggests ... as having grown from an incremental layering and adjusting of the neighborhood. This is good not only for the inter-connective web of community members. When you know the people and merchants on your block and beyond, it creates a sense of place, but also becomes a barrier to disinvestment.

Funny thing is, this view of incremental layering (in the last few decades) comes from a series of on-the-air essays by Eric Severied, that self-serving CBS “liberal” media commentator from the 1960’s. Heresy? Not really. Severied put more thought and analysis into his occasional three-minute essays than a full year of babble from the right-wing controlled media at CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. The notion of individual spontaneity and community is not an idea owned by the right-wing, and is not synonymous with extreme capitalism.

The one thing that got me about Brewton’s article, aside from some of the underlying substance, is that he is quick to label and blame “liberals” for killing Jane Jacobs vision. If nothing else, Jacobs was liberal, progressive, and leftist. So much so that she left her country when it had no clothes. Even Hanoi Jane didn’t go that far.

Doctoroff, Burden, Garvin and all the others are not liberal or progressive. They are in bed with large corporate developers ... who most of us see as conservative. While I have been quick to criticize neo-classic liberalism, it’s primary because those who see themselves in that model are, when the day is done, simply hacks (Quinn, Stringer, et al). And hacks sell out for gain, either personal, but more often political gain.

They simply want to destroy neighborhoods, drive out low-income tenants, hurt the people that do actually need the social programs, and turn the city into a homogenous suburbia (which does not have to be all white as long as it’s all rich). In the end, they climb the hack ladder.

But this is true for conservative hacks as well (Herman Badillo is a good example). So it’s unfortunate that recognizing a clearer view of Jacobs comes from drivel-driven Fox News wannabees.

Yes, the Tower-in-the-Park developments create snake pits of crime, but it’s a snake pit of corporations, developers-turned-politicians and hack politicians who wrap bad development in the guise of motherhood, apple pie, saving Broadway, the Olympics ... and now promises of jobs for minorities. No wonder groups like Working Families (AKA Wrecking Families) Party, Acorn, Drum Major Institute, Jobs with Justice are seeking one payoff after another for their so-called community, while destroying other local communities.

It’s ironic that a conservative journal is cheering the preservation of Greenwich Village. After all, isn’t that where all the lefty’s are?

In quoting Smith, would Brewton equally advocate measures to prevent large-scale destruction of neighborhoods by private developers without zoning and financial aid from City Hall? Would he advocate rent control, which we all know is the poster child of the left, but which also (before the Republicans and weak Democrats in Albany turned it into an actual subsidy in 1994) helped preserve the livability and viability of some of NYC’s best neighborhoods (Upper East Side and the Upper West Side)?

After all, that would be a limitation on capitalism, a regulation, a tempering of (what we see now) an overheated real estate market. Coming from a right-wing orthodox view, I doubt it.

So yes, chew on Jacobs because she thought. Although she created an orthodoxy in some circles, it wasn’t her fault. But you can’t have her. We don’t give her to Amanda Burden, the New York Times, or to Fox News.

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