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Questions For Jane Jacobs

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  • eric.britton@ecoplan.org
    From: David Brook [mailto:dbrook@carsharing-pdx.com] Sent: Monday, April 10, 2000 4:04 AM Subject: NY Times 4/9: There s hope for the future
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 10, 2000
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      From: David Brook [mailto:dbrook@...]
      Sent: Monday, April 10, 2000 4:04 AM
      Subject: NY Times 4/9: There's hope for the future

      Questions For Jane Jacobs

      Joys in the Hood

      The pioneering urban sociologist says the
      suburbs are an interesting case study, but she
      still wouldn't want to live there.


      [Q] You're[Image]
      known as one of the
      greatest champions of New York City
      neighborhood life. Why did you leave Greenwich
      Village for Toronto?

      You know, I wasn't leaving Greenwich Village
      for Toronto. I was leaving the United States
      for Canada. And it was because of the Vietnam
      War, which neither Greenwich Village nor
      Toronto had anything to do with instigating.
      I'm glad I was brought up an American, but I'm
      not cut out to be a citizen of an empire. And I
      like it here. I like the civility and
      politeness. It's not a cruel city.

      Was it hard to make the adjustment after life
      in Greenwich Village?

      It's remarkably like living in Greenwich
      Village. People think living in Greenwich
      Village is terribly exotic in some way, but
      actually, you raise children, you make meals,
      you feel very good if you can get new curtains
      for your windows. So the neighborhood I live in
      is very similar.

      It seems that some of the architects and
      developers in America today, inspired by the
      ideas in your book "The Death and Life of Great
      American Cities," are now experimenting with
      new ways to build planned communities --
      communities that look pretty suburban -- yet
      patterned on mixed-use urban neighborhoods.

      Yeah, I see those.

      Have you been to any of them, like Seaside, in

      No. I've just seen the pictures of them. But
      where I think the New Urbanism will have the
      most difference is in in-filling suburbs, which
      we've been needing to do for a long time. Here
      we've got all these existing suburbs that -- I
      don't want to say they're no good. There's a
      lot that they offer that is good. And people
      are ingenious about the way that they use them.

      Ingenious in what ways?

      Lots of people who lost their jobs earlier in
      the 90's were very valuable, skilled people.
      And lots of people today have arranged to have
      home offices. And one thing that has heartened
      me is how many women in suburbs have their own
      businesses, performing useful operations that
      just didn't exist in suburbs before. Some
      didn't exist anywhere. Some have to do with
      child care, some have to do with making houses
      better. Women have almost taken over the real
      estate business in the suburbs.

      And what did you mean by the in-filling of the

      There's a lot of underused land that's kind of
      a nuisance. For instance, all those malls.
      There are too many of them, and they're too
      boring. Really, buildings and other facilities
      could fit into those places. This happened in
      cities long ago: they had large backyards and
      side yards, and another house would be put into
      the backyard. You could get to it from the
      front yard with its own little walk. Some of
      the most charming places in Manhattan Island
      are like that and have been kept. It's a very
      old urban device. I think it will very likely
      become a suburban device.

      So you're in favor of these new suburban

      Well, I'm in favor of lots of choices. There is
      no way that you can make things by one pattern
      and satisfy everyone's aspirations. And that's
      a good thing. Suburbs are among the choices,
      and there are people who want them. Their
      children may not want to stay there, but that's
      O.K. What I object to is that largely through
      the compulsion of certain financing
      arrangements, mainly centralized under the
      government, suburbs of a certain kind have
      taken way more than their share of choices and
      the market.

      In your new book, "The Nature of Economies,"
      you use the example of nature to show that
      diversity is an essential element of economic
      growth. So what do you make of the phenomenal
      suburban growth fueled by the relatively
      specialized new economy?

      You mean like Silicon Valley? It really is a
      remarkably varied collection of services and
      suppliers. The businesses that make up a place
      like Silicon Valley are terribly diverse. The
      place wouldn't work if it weren't. Everything
      from temporary workers when places are growing
      up rapidly to the venture capitalists that are
      financing the whole thing.

      What would you tell people who are concerned
      about the effects of suburban sprawl on the
      life of their community?

      There's no reason why anyone should listen to
      me on suburbs, because I don't especially like
      suburbs and I don't understand them the way
      people who live in modern suburbs understand
      them. And especially if I were to give any
      suggestions about what should be done with
      suburbs. That's one of the terrible things that
      happened to cities. People who not only didn't
      care about cities, but even hated them, began
      to prescribe for them. It was disastrous! No
      matter how well they meant or how much they
      thought they loved humankind.
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