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Howard Husock
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Benjamin Hemric June 28, 2012 at 9:34 PM
Ehrenhalt on Jacobs and Bushwick and Greenwich Village

Ehrenhalt's comments on Jacobs and Bushwick and Greenwich Village are shorter -- but just as misguided (and unintentionally distorted) as those on the Financial District.

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1) Alan Ehrenhalt wrote:

"It's tempting to wonder what Jane Jacobs would think of present-day Bushwick if she were alive and meandering down its streets . . . But she would . . . find little of the diversity she favored; indeed, she would encounter an outright scorn for diversity, if that means a large influx of while middle-class residents and rising rents that threaten the poor people residing there . . . . Probably she would shrug and say that one can't expect miracles. Bushwick would never come to resemble the Greenwich Village of the 1950s that she considered a model of successful urban life."

Benjamin Hemric writes:

Again, Ehrenhalt seems to have greatly misunderstood (and thus unintentionally misrepresented) Jacobs' work.

Generally speaking, in her writings on cities Jacobs is not interested in producing an "end product," but is interested, rather, in understanding the processes of urban growth, stagnation and decay. Jacobs was NOT interested in producing endless replications of successful urban districts -- and, in particular, Greenwich Village was not a "model" (in this sense) of successful urban life. Rather Jacobs was interested in figuring out how urban districts (whatever kind of district such a district might be) that were stagnating or decaying could be made to grow and thrive instead.

Jacobs work is also concerned with the self-destruction of diversity and rising rents in successful urban districts, etc., and she recommends ways to fight it. Most of the ways involve creating more successful neighborhoods -- creating more supply to meet the demand. (In later years, Jacobs continued to reaffirm this view, but also discussed additional strategies to address the problems of rising rents and the displacement of people, businesses and factories.)

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2) Alan Ehrenhalt wrote:

Then again, she wouldn't find the Greenwich Village of the 1950s if she returned to the Village now . . . .

Benjamin Hemric writes:

Ehrenhalt seems to be implying that Jacobs's work is somehow blind to the problems of what might be called hyper-gentrification and the self-destruction of diversity. (On the next page, though, Ehrenhalt does mention that Jacobs did indeed write about the self-destruction of diversity, but the way he describes it, it almost seems like he's saying that the statement is just one isolated comment.)

Actually "Death and Life . . . " is amazingly prescient about the problem of the self-destruction of diversity and even what might be called the hyper-gentrification of Greenwich Village. Jacobs has an entire chapter on the problems of the self-destruction of diversity, and also discusses it (along with might be called the hyper-gentrification of Greenwich Village) throughout the book.

One example, for instance, is Jacobs' discussion (from page 49 MLE, onward) of the remodeled buildings across the street from her house (containing new and affluent residents), and how no one from these buildings looked out, as everyone else in the neighborhood did, when a little girl put up a fuss because she didn't want to go with a "strange" man (who turned out to be her father).

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3) Alan Ehrenhalt wrote:

"There is plenty of activity on the street, if not the intricate "sidewalk ballet" that Jacobs talked about."

Benjamin Hemric writes:

Here Ehrenhalt seems to be making a very common mistake, implying that Jacobs felt that the intricate "ballet of Hudson St." was the one and only "ballet" that a successful city district could have. The point of Jacobs' metaphor of the sidewalk ballet is that she's saying that in a successful urban district, people form a constant presence on the street, not as in "a simple-minded precision dance [like the Rockettes] with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse [pg. 65, MLE]." She is NOT saying that the people have to be the same ones (or the same kind) that were on her street in the 1950s!

In Chapter Two: The uses of sidewalks: safety (the famous Ballet of Hudson Street chapter), Jacobs writes (emphasis is added -- BH):

"Under the seeming disorder of the old city, WHEREVER THE OLD CITY IS WORKING SUCCESSFULLY, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city . . . . The ballet of THE GOOD CITY SIDEWALK never repeats itself from place to place . . . " (Pages 65-66, MLE)

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4) Alan Ehrenhalt wrote:

"Anybody making a list in 1960 of places in New York likely to become centers of renewed residential life would almost certainly have put Wall Street at the bottom, as Jacobs did."

Benjamin Hemric writes:

Again, Jacobs was not interested in making a list of places in New York likely to become centers of renewed residential life. Jacobs was interested in understanding what the factors are that stimulate growth and health or stagnation or decay in urban districts (whatever kind of urban district the district might be).

While it's true that, along these lines, Jacobs did not foresee how a vast demand for living in cities would overpower the negatives that certain urban districts possessed (and thus make them somewhat "successful" despite their negatives) -- at the time her critics were scoffing that there wouldn't even be enough demand to revitalize additional districts -- she did discuss the need for cities to create more successful urban districts in order to accommodate (and also stimulate) future growth and economic development.

Benjamin Hemric
Thursday, June 28, 2012, 9:35 p.m.
Benjamin Hemric June 28, 2012 at 6:55 PM
PART THREE (of three)

Usually when I write about how an author has misunderstood and, however unintentionally, mischaracterized the work of Jane Jacobs, I like to provide quotes to demonstrate, point by point, where I believe the author has been wrong in his / her mischaracterization of Jacobs' writings. I like to show exactly where, in fact, Jacobs has actually said something different from what an author claims she "said."

In this case, however, there are too many quotes that I would have to post in an already overlong series of comments, and it's easier to suggest that those who are interested just read Chapter 8, "The need for primary mixed uses," and then decide for themselves whether or not Jacobs' work has been correctly understood and characterized. Much of the counter evidence is very easy to find: e.g., on page 204 of the Modern Library Edition, Jacobs explicitly discusses the tower-in-the-park plan to introduce 4,000 people into the area. But some of the relevant writings, especially in terms of the larger issues, are more easily overlooked (or found in other chapters).

Along these lines, I'd like to provide the following quotes which people might be prone to overlook. (All pages are from the Modern Library Edition of "Death and Life of Great American Cities," and any emphasis or added text within brackets is mine -- BH)

- - - - - - - - - - -

One of the big mistakes that Mr. Ehrenhalt makes -- a very common mistake that many others also make -- is to think that in her writings Jacobs is just concerned with the social or "atmospheric" effects of the generator of diversity that she is discussing. But Jacobs is interested just as much, if not more so, with the ECONOMIC effects. With respect to mixed-uses in the Financial District, for instance, she writes the following:

"On successful city streets, people must appear at different times . . . I have already explained this necessity in social terms . . . Now I shall point out its ECONOMIC effects." (page 198, MLE)

"Most consumer enterprises are just as dependent as parks on people going to and fro throughout the day, but with this difference: If parks like idle, it is [just] bad for them . . . but they do not disappear as a consequence. If consumer enterprises lie idle for much of the day they may disappear. Or, to be more accurate, in most such cases they never appear in the first place." (pp. 198-199, MLE)

". . . with primary mixtures, it is every-day, ordinary performance in mixing people, as pools of ECONOMIC mutual support, that counts. This is the point, and it is a tangible, concrete ECONOMIC matter, NOT a vaguely "atmospheric" effect." (pg. 214, MLE)

"All these lacks [of goods, services, amenities], which may seem on the surface to be frivolous, are [in fact] a handicap [to the Financial District]. Firm after firm has left for mixed-use midtown . . . . These losses, in turn, have badly undermined the district's once supreme convenience for face-to-face business contacts . . . The district has become second-rate in its very function . . . which is the foundation of its prestige and usefulness and its reason for being." (page 201, MLE)

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Contrary to myth, Jacobs distinguishes between downtown city districts and residential city districts, and she is just as interested in the revitalization of downtowns as she is of residential districts -- maybe even more so. On pages 214-215 she writes the following:

"I have been dwelling on downtowns for two reasons in particular. First, insufficient primary mixture is typically the principal fault in our downtowns, and often the only disastrous basic fault. Most big-city downtowns fulfill -- or in the past did fulfill -- all four of the necessary conditions for generating diversity. That is why they were able to become downtowns . . . .

The second reason for emphasizing primary mixtures downtown is the direct [deleterious] effect on other parts of cities . . . ."

- - - - - - - - -

To the extent that another NYC district is a model for the revitalization of the Financial District, it is the mixed use, "downtown," Carnegie Hall district (with W. 57th St. as a main street), that serves as a model -- not the part of Greenwich Village that Jacobs lived in (with Hudson St. as a main street). (See pages 218-219 for Jacobs' discussion of the mixed-use "downtown" Carnegie Hall district.)

- - - - - - - -

The first part of the Chapter, pages 187-228, is a discussion of the need for mixed primary uses in downtowns and the problems created for them by separating out of uses; it is the second part of the chapter, pages 228-232, where Jacobs focuses on the need for mixed uses in districts that are primarily residential.

Benjamin Hemric
Thursday, June 28, 2012, 6:50 p.m.
PART TWO (of three?)

As I mention in my previous comment (PART ONE), I believe Mr. Ehrenhalt has seriously misunderstood (and thus unintentional distorted) Jacobs' writings in "Death and Life of Great American Cities" in general and what she had to say about the Financial District, in particular.

In "Death and Life . . ." Jacobs looks at various city districts -- NOT ONLY RESIDENTIAL DISTRICTS, but office building districts, wholesaling districts, etc. -- and tries to understand why the successful ones (whatever kind they be) thrive, or decline and spontaneous regenerate, and why the unsuccessful ones (whatever kind they be) just stagnate and decay. She was not, contrary to myth, trying to replicate Greenwich Village and Hudson Street all over the New York City and all over America.

In Chapter 8 of the book, she discusses the need that city districts have for mixed primary uses and she uses as her example / case study the faltering retail/business environment of the Financial District. Because it was primarily a single-use district (one with a very high density single use at that), this district had trouble supporting a diversity of services, particularly a diversity of retail activities. She points out that one of the solutions proposed by the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, for tower-in-the-park housing developments, would not successfully work to revitalize the retail/business environment of the Financial District.

So to go through the various points quickly:

With regard to [1], Jacobs never said that the Financial District could never qualify as community in the sense in which she used the word. She was not interested in the Financial District becoming a community. She was interested in the Financial District revitalizing its retail sector and becoming a successful downtown again.

With regard to [2] Jacobs never said that Wall St. and its environs could never attract enough resident to acquire a diversity of jobs. She said that the plans to residentialize the district -- especially through tower-in-the-park developments as proposed -- would not be sufficient to revitalize the area's retail and its attraction for jobs, etc.

And in this contention she was correct. Tower-in-the-park residential developments (like South Bridge, which was built) would not have revitalized the area's retail, etc. And even now, with office building conversions, people still complain about the dearth of retail in the area. Ehrenhalt even quotes a resident along these lines.

With regard to [3]: Jacobs did not say that Wall St. could never possess the amenities that could bring a significant core of visitors from outside. In fact, in Chapter 8 she suggests what kind of developments might work, in her estimation, to help attract outsiders and help generate amenities.

Regarding [4]: She never said that it would be unlikely that the number of residents in the area would exceed 4,000. She said the proposal for tower-in-the-park projects would bring about 4,000 residents in and that these would be insufficient to revitalize the area's retail, etc.

Regarding [5]: Jacobs did not get these things wrong, and she did not get them right -- she was talking about something else entirely.

Regarding [6]: While Greenwich Village was one a successful neighborhood that Jacobs wrote about, she also wrote about other successful neighborhoods too, in New York (e.g., the Carnegie Hall district, the Upper East Side, etc.) and elsewhere. She was not interested in replicating Greenwich Village or the other successful urban districts she found, but in understanding how to fix unsuccessful urban districts, whatever they may be and however they might be. She was not trying to make Lower Broadway or Wall Street into Hudson Street, or into W. 57th St. (Carnegie Hall district) or Madison Avenue in the 70's or 80's. Rather she wanted Lower Broadway and Wall St. to be revitalized in the ways that suited them best and her suggestions for their revitalization were nothing like Hudson St., or W. 57th St., etc.

Benjamin Hemric
Wed., June 27, 2012, 10:50 p.m.
PART ONE (of three?)

Haven't had a chance to read the entire book. However, as a life-long resident of New York (who's lived his entire adult life in Lower Manhattan), and as someone with a particular interest in Jane Jacobs (and the myths that surround her -- which I hope to write about), I've taken a quick look at a number of parts of Chapter Three, "Re-creation in New York," that deal with Jane Jacobs and New York (including Lower Manhattan and Bushwick, etc.). I see that in this chapter, Mr. Ehrenhalt discusses, among other things, the very interesting question of whether Jacobs' writings in "Death and Life of Great American Cities" (1961) were right or wrong about New York (including Lower Manhattan and Bushwick).

It seems to me that Ehrenhalt's assessment in this chapter is seriously misguided, as he (like so many others who've written about Jacobs) winds up discussing the myths about what Jacobs wrote, rather than what Jacobs actually did write. As a result, he misunderstands and seriously distorts (however unintentionally) her writings.

Here's what Mr. Ehrenhalt has to say about Jacobs writings on the Financial District [added text and numbering is mine -- BH]:

"[1]Jane Jacobs believed the Financial District could never qualify as a community in the sense in which she used the word . . . .

[2] . . . Jacobs devotes several pages to her argument that Wall Street and its environs could never attract enough residents to acquire a diversity of jobs that would keep workers in the neighborhood beyond the end of the conventional workday, or [3] possess the amenities that could bring a significant core of visitors from outside . . . [4] She warned that the number of residents was unlikely ever to exceed 1 percent of the daytime workforce [4,000 people] . . .

[5] Jacobs for all her prescience about so many things got much of this wrong. . . In other ways, however, her warnings remain relevant. [6] The neighborhoods Jacobs admired, including the Greenwich Village in which she lived were suffused with diversity of use . . . maintaining the network of casual but reliable relationships that [7] created a genuine sense of community well-being . . . but it would be a considerable exaggeration to say that [the people who live in Lower Manhattan] create the kind of street life Jacobs was talking about."

Benjamin Hemric
Wed., June 27, 2012, 10:15 p.m.
The population in Chicago has been declining for years. I can find no empirical evidence that indicates the white population is increasing either, everything I have read shows the opposite. There may be certain neighborhoods that are doing well, that doesn't change the overall trend however.
I, too, was a big fan of Ehrenhalt’s work at Governing, and I liked the Lost City when I read it in grad school.

But I side with Joel Kotkin on these issues, and found The Great Inversion unconvincing. Is gentrification real? Sure. Does it display the resilience and life of cities? Yes. But Ehrenhalt insists that “demographic inversion” is much more than just gentrification. That’s where he loses me.

His argument is weak in two ways. (1) The statistics don’t support him. He knows this, so he’s constantly hedging (“When it comes to measuring demographic inversion, raw census numbers are an ineffective blunt instrument (p. 6)”). As if he would not be all over those same census figures if they supported his argument. (2) His logic is flawed. You write in your review “…the inversion, to the extent that it is occurring, is the product of real preferences…” Yes, this seems to me the essence of his argument. Look at the decisions that are being made by those with the freedom to act in accord with their preferences, beliefs and desires. That means look at what the wealthy are doing. The wealthy are the trendsetters and trend-definers.

Ehrenhalt places way too much weight on preferences and not enough on necessities. The American city peaked around WWII, but not because everyone was choosing out of their own free will to opt for an urban form of life. No-they lived in cities because they needed to be there. Necessity need not mean social engineering. It could mean better schools, or more and better-paying jobs, or more safety.

He writes on p. 9: "A significant cadre of urban advocates, including mayors of some of the nation’s largest cities, continue to insist that the middle class will not return to the central city in meaningful numbers until the public schools improve, but I think these people have it backward. The schools improve after the middle class arrives. Schools are not the first piece of the urban revival puzzle that falls into place. They are among the final pieces."

On the K-12 reform issue, I cannot accept that we should stop insisting on policy changes and trust more in demographics. Sorry to be unimaginative, but the middle class won’t move back to cities until suburban school systems cease to outperform urban systems by such wide margins. And that’s government’s job.

(By the way, as Tocqueville explains, in a democracy, the wealthy are not the trend setters. In European aristocracies, the poor and middle classes imitated the upper class. It works the other way in America.)

Should America become more urban? Should government play a role in making America more urban? I think that these are extremely interesting questions, but I have to say that this book did not help me very much with them.
This is a trend that is currently being reversed in New York City and Chicago. White population is increasing in these cities. Families and empty nesters are relocating back into the city and families with children are choosing to stay in the city instead of fleeing to the suburbs. The situation in Chicago is a tale of two cities. The safe neighborhoods are progressive and just as safe as most of the burbs. Then you have the violent neighborhoods, mostly south and westside. Rarely do these two paths cross but until crime is under control, gentrification will not happen as quickly as most would like.

I'm single living in the city but if I were married or had kids, there is no way I'd stay in the city.
Young yuppies loved the cities too. And they all moved to the burbs when they hit 35.
"The isolation of suburban living"? You can be isolated in a city too, sometimes more so. Young people like cities, right up until the time they start having kids and realize urban centers are not as safe and have inferior schools.

The cities that DO have decent schools and good public safety are unaffordable to most average people. The extra layer of government and the taxation that goes with it is not exactly enticing either. If anything I see cities like Chicago failing, they are running out of money and crime is getting worse. I don't see why people would be rushing to live there.