Hillary as president, big burst of traffic. Mexico shows the amazing advance of solar power, something that may save the planet even if You-Know-Who is elected, meh. Oh, well.
Anyhoo, I just saw this email from Randy McDonald: “I’d be pretty curious to see your reaction to Jacobs on the blog. I know you’re a Moses fan, but that’s it.”
So, at his request, I’ll talk about Jane Jacobs. I did not intend to say anything, because why speak ill of the dead? I’m sure that she was a very nice person.
But my short version is: Death and Life of Great American Cities is bullshit.
Now, bullshit is a technical term. Bullshit is basically truthiness by another name. And Jacobs was truthy. She made claims about social cohesion coming from architecture for which she had no evidence. She refused to acknowledge that the pathologies of American cities in the 1960s were due to racism, not construction. She blasted entirely functional and pleasant “towers in the park” buildings but ignored the way well-intentioned traffic engineers were making suburbs unnecessarily unpleasant.
In fact, you can see how much bullshit she wrote from her defenders. Here is an essay Randy linked to called “Was Jane Jacobs right?” The dude manages to contradict himself. First, he claims that Torontonian neighborhoods have gentrified and become full of retail monocultures because of too much construction. Well, that is the purest form of bullshit: as Randy has documented, rising rents are creating such monocultures in old neighborhoods. Then he confuses typology for hypothesis testing, by showing us that dense districts in Milan are more dense. (No, really. That is what he shows.)
In a normal world, I might like Jane Jacobs. I am by no means ideologically averse to regulations that drive up housing costs. (Frex, requiring first-floor retail on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn.) She was right about highway building. (I like that Moses built stuff; I am less convinced that he built the right stuff, although really do wish the Cross-Brooklyn existed.) She was certainly right about most urban planning of the time, and her arguments apply to modern suburban planning quite well.
But we do not live in a normal world. We live in a world where Jacobite (Jacobin?) ideology means that everyone thinks it is entirely okay that the law protects cute streets like mine from the scourge of high rises. (Calling Eric Moore!) Hell, from the scourge of triple-deckers.
We live in a world where people can pretend that filtering does not exist. (The link goes to a study of the California housing market. Theory here.) And while the worst problems are in fact in the suburbs, where I suspect Jacobs would be fine with replacing quarter-acre plots with “missing middle” construction, the fact that we have decided to preserve our older neighborhoods in amber is creating just as many problems.
In short ... I usually do not buy slippery slope arguments, but it seems to me that the United States slid all the way down the goddamned slope that Jacobs greased back in the 1960s. If we need to bulldoze the West Village to get back to a normal housing market that serves all Americans (while making our cities greener in the process) then so be it.
Jane Jacobs caused none of that, of course. But she was emblematic. Her ideas have enabled much of the horror show that is the current American economy. Ironically, Canadian cities are doing (slightly!) better (in the face of worse pressure) because they are less beholden to her ideas than American ones.
Hasta la vista, cuteness. Bring on more buildings!
I hope that changed your mind, Randy! And even if it didn’t, when are you coming to D.C.?